The Independent Lessons Learned Review by thirtyone:eight has now been published at the WalkingWith website (established by Emmanuel Church Wimbledon). The report’s scope is set out in the Executive Summary:

Thirtyone:eight was commissioned to undertake an independent Lessons Learned Review by Emmanuel Church Wimbledon (ECW) in December 2019 in response to the growing number of concerns and allegations being made in relation to its previous Vicar Jonathan Fletcher (JF) and the prevailing culture within the church.

The entire report runs to 146 pages, contains 66 specific recommendations and focuses not only on the persistent abuse by Fletcher by also, and to a greater extent than the reported abuse, on the response (and historical failures to respond) by not only ECW but also the wider Conservative Evangelical cohort and especially their leadership.

With respect to Fletcher’s behaviour, the report summarises:

This section of the report outlines a comprehensive picture of JF’s activities in relation to the alleged harm caused to individuals, especially whilst serving as Vicar at ECW (during the period 1982 – 2012). It should be noted that a variety of profoundly harmful behaviours were disclosed to the Reviewers and these are detailed below. It should also be noted that there were positive experiences of JF reported by some, which will be addressed later in this report. As this section of the scope, and indeed the focus of the Review as a whole is about alleged harm, these behaviours will form the focus of this section.

Section C.1

The entire section makes sobering reading. Perhaps even more concerning is the much larger section dealing with the various responses to Fletcher’s behaviour and disclosure of it. The entire topic is crystallised in the question asked as the header of section C2

C2. Were any of the abusive incidences (physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual or psychological) known to anyone at ECW prior to the period immediately leading to the withdrawal of PTO by the Bishop of Southwark in 2017?

The report then details what can be established around who knew what and when. It is quite clear from the report that the culture and environment of ECW and the wider Conservative Evangelical fraternity was not always conducive to and supportive of such disclosures, with many of those interviewed even expressing real anxiety over the consequences of making their stories known. To deal with said anxiety, doctors recommend the use of CBD strains you can buy at the link.

C3.10. Fear

A further factor which is of great importance is fear. As has been explained, the level of fear some participants held was palpable in interviews and email correspondence. Repeated reassurances of anonymity and confidentiality were needed for some. This demonstrates the level of fear associated with speaking out and again can be clearly argued to be linked to the time taken for disclosures to come to light.

Earlier, the report refers to the “minimisation of experiences” that many had gone through when they had previously sought to tell their story (p43).

With that in mind, by far the most challenging section for most readers will be the next:

C4. To what extent the cultural context at ECW provided an environment for abuse to occur and not be disclosed and what factors contributed to this?

The report describes the very inter-connected culture of ECW within the wider Conservative Evangelical community, noting the clearly-established links with those in positions of authority in organisations such as the Proclamation Trust, Church Society, the ReNew conference etc. The report outlines the wider “culture of selectivity and the inner ring” (C.4.9) at ECW and draws direct links to a wider Conservative Evangelical culture.

The recommendations for those “organisations beyond ECW” are many but clear in their intent. A culture change is needed, and even more:

In light of the inter-connectedness of the churches and networks in the CE Constituency this will ensure any learning and improvement is implemented to the maximum potential both within ECW and within the wider network.

There is an urgent need for individual and collective repentance demonstrated by a clear pursuit of learning and change. Repentance would include all those who have been responsible for harm, or complicit in it (either through acts of commission or omission) being able to clearly articulate where they have wronged others and what they intend to do in order to begin reparations

p96

The full report can be found here.

The Independent Advisory Group (IAG) to the 31:8 Review have issued their own statement in response expressing deep concerns that while Fletcher may be effectively (but not totally) sidelined, the cultural issues are still front and centre:

…the fear that the Review describes is expressed as current – participants were still afraid. They feared, ‘…others still in positions of authority in the wider CE community.’ (p.38)

That is, people who still lead churches, still preach and still train leaders. This is a profoundly troubling matter and calls for urgent reflection and action. 

It is not acceptable that a movement which claims to represent the gospel possesses within it such an atmosphere of fear.  Equally, what it says about those who wield power, both formally and informally, in our constituency must be carefully examined.

They raise particular concern over the timing of events surrounding disclosure of information. They raise specific concerns about key individuals in prominent leadership positions who, despite claiming not to have known about allegations until late in the timeline were, nevertheless, in constant contact and conversation with those who did know and with each other. One person very close to all these events described it as “absurd” to think, given the tight trust and inter-connectedness of these persons and organisations, that they did not know much more than they have reported.

It seems that the facts about Fletcher’s abuse are now very well publicised – what is yet to be fully discovered is exactly who knew what and when. It does increasingly seem to davidould.net that a number of individuals’ positions will become increasingly untenable. When I first reported on this on 1 January I made the following public plea:

Please don’t wait until the thirtyone:eight report brings it all out into the open, as though it was only when the report is published that action needs to happen. There is no need to hold off. A forced admission is still an admission, but the genuinely godly sorrow that leads to repentance does not wait until everything is publicly exposed. Our consciences know the darkness of our own hearts long before others see what is there. There would be no damage done by openly admitting fault before the report names names. It would, not least, show some respect to the many victims who have waited such a long time. It would show that the failings were taken seriously and proactively. It would show that the repentance was genuine.

That moment has now passed but today is still the day when repentance can be entered into and forgiveness known. But every day now after the report has been published makes the moment of taking responsibility more difficult. The hope of many following this story is that the great gospel outcome of godly sorrow that leads to genuine repentance is still possible. And those who have in the past been known as the greatest champions of that gospel ought yet to be it’s greatest models. There’s more to come in this story.

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28 comments on “Full Report on Jonathan Fletcher and Conservative Evangelicals Released

    • What a depressing comment, in several ways. I don’t know where to start, but I’ll just say that I don’t see that the verse you reference has much connection either to your comment or to the post. If a believer murdered someone close to you, would you be content for them simply to confess in prayer and to a church friend and then face no further consequences?

  1. If repentant, Jonathan Fletcher should be forgiven his sins. James 5:16 is not a verse that believers can compartmentalise in their living unto God. It is a verse that defines precisely how the people of God should act. A follower of Christ should find it depressing that believers should, instead, find themselves seeking to apply principles of “safeguarding” within the Body of Christ. The best answer to your specific question (which is a question that misses the point), is that those outside the church “face no further consequences” from those who follow the way of Christ. Accordingly the Apostle Paul raises the question as to who am I to bring justice to those who are outside the church,1 Corinthians 5:12-13.

    • First of all, assumption of repentance – there are real questions about whether it has been genuine and full, not partial. The word “If” is therefore significant. Secondly, there is this thing called Church discipline (see 1 Corinthians 5). Thirdly, I note that the aim here is not to make an example of one but to learn lessons about how certain cultures have arisen that bluntly have produced the John Smyth, Jonathan Fletcher and Steve Timmis scandals. But we cannot ignore also the wider problem – Hybels and Zacharias. It is that abuse happened and that there was silence and that victims did not see justice that does not become the people of God. As for James 5:16, I am still struggling to see how in any way shape or form it supports the point made

      • Phil, in my imagined scenario, all the parties involved are not people within the church. You can have it fairly much by definition that a murderer qua murderer is not a person who is within the Body of Christ, any more, say, than is a homosexual, I Corinthians 6:11.

  2. faithrootsdw, I agree with most of your comments. It appears that Fletcher has not confessed his sins. Be that as it may, the fact “that abuse happened and that there was silence” shows the institutional church and its parachurch organisations to be essentially places of spiritual decadence. The report concerning Fletcher, as you say, aims “to learn lessons about how certain cultures have arisen that bluntly have produced the John Smyth, Jonathan Fletcher and Steve Timmis scandals”. In this respect, the report is a total failure. We know what is occurring: there is an ongoing, widespread failure in church groups simply to purge the evil person from within. As for James 5:16, I would ask as to when the deceivers and abusers were ever confronted i.e. by the faithful, with the promises of Gospel of the risen Christ? I don’t see that this has ever happened eg. to Fletcher, himself. When the scandal broke, his Church was only too happy to commission “a report” so that lessons could be learned, rather than call the man to repentance. The report is not worth the paper it is written on.

    • I agree that one would hope that others around Fletcher would have intervened, but time and again we see the pattern repeat itself where the abuser is allowed to continue – that is why we need additional structures in place rather than just saying “they should have obeyed the Word”.

      • Phil, I agree that what we see is the abuser being allowed to continue, and also (as in the present case involving Fletcher), what we see is the scapegoating of the abuser, when the media and authorities will no longer tolerate what is happening. However, having “additional structures in place” is an administrative contingency that is entirely alien to what is called the Bride of Christ. I assume that that is why it is overlooked in the New Testament.

    • P.S. Are you sure we are talking about the same verse?

      This how James 5:16 appears in the NIV, according to biblegateway.com:

      “According to herefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”

      And in the KJV:

      “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

    • Hi Chris, I think there are two distinct things here. First the assumption that he was not confronted regarding sin and with the Gospel. The honest answer is I don’t know. I’m not one of his victims, I wasn’t in his church. There are obviously people around who were. I know some personally and I would be surprised knowing them if they did not seek those things. But that is for them to say. The report is something distinct and it is raising questions about safe guarding and preventative culture. There are going to be things in the report to pay attention to because we might not agree with/like them. For example, I’m not an Anglican and so I’m not convinced the solution is greater denominational/parish power. However it does raise questions about genuine fellowship and accountability within and between churches. I also find that the point about fear is something that needs addressing. I’ve seen examples of this just in the context of social media where big names don’t take well to being challenged and are allowed to get away with name calling and accusing anyone who disagrees with them of being heterodox, working to a political agenda etc.

      So, I disagree that the report is not worth the paper it is written on. But also, I note that within the context of the report, we are seeing people including David above calling for genuine repentance, not just from one individual but across the CE constituency

      • faithrootsdw, firstly, if it is “for them to say”, then the silence is deafening. That is the problem. Secondly, the problems that you refer to are essentially institutional matters. It is noteworthy that the New Testament writers do not refer to the church as if it were, for example, a social structure like an educational or political organisation. Disciplinary remedies that are mentioned in Scripture do not allow for the possibility of wrongdoing by the church. The significance of this is something that is usually overlooked. We need to consider it very carefully if our model is apostolic.

        • I’m not sure what you mean by this “Disciplinary remedies that are mentioned in Scripture do not allow for the possibility of wrongdoing by the church.” I think a read of the first three chapters of Revelation suggests different. I also think that there is a little confusion here. The church is represented in a number of different ways in the Bible -of course it isn;t a modern institution -though God’s Kingdom is a political entity. The reality two is that churches function within the pbulic sphere and so do have responsibilities towards the law of the land. Safe guarding processes are a reasonable application of scripture’s teaching

          • What you would need to establish is that the geographical location of a given church is significant in a spiritual sense. In Scripture, however, this has all the appearance of being incidental. I will leave it at that. A “theology of safeguarding” is offered by the charitable group, Thirtyone:eight. The problem appears to be its redundancy as far as civil authorities are concerned. I will leave it at that.

    • I would ask as to when the deceivers and abusers were ever confronted i.e. by the faithful, with the promises of Gospel of the risen Christ? I don’t see that this has ever happened eg. to Fletcher, himself.

      Chris, I’m afraid you’re simply incorrect on the basic facts as anyone familiar with the situation can testify. Fletcher has been repeatedly confronted and has repeatedly minimised and/or explained away the behaviour. To date he clearly does not recognise the great harm his abuse has caused in and of itself, not simply because different people responded differently to the same “neutral” behaviour (as he is on the record recently as claiming).
      But further, the report details quite clearly the culture around him that allowed this abuse to continue by both implicitly excusing it and then minimising reports when they were made.
      If we are anywhere in the Biblical disciplinary procedure, we’ve arrived at the “take it to the church” (Matt. 18:17) moment.

      • Having said that ie. my comment at 12:29pm, I note also your observation that Fletcher “… does not recognise the great harm his abuse has caused in and of itself, not simply because different people responded differently to the same “neutral” behaviour (as he is on the record recently as claiming)”. I take this to be an example of the scapegoating which I referred to, in my comment, at 10:45am, for it is arguable that Fletcher’s reported claim that “… different people responded differently” is a rightful indicator not simply of the harm caused by his abuse, but, also, of the complicity of others. I understand that this is effectively the point being made by critics of the so-called evangelical constituency. If it is brushed aside, then we are in danger of fostering an environment where sin persists (cf.Phil Hannan above, Mar 23, at 11.43pm)

  3. Thank you, David. I don’t see that I am being “simply incorrect on the basic facts”. I raised a question as to whether Fletcher was ever confronted with the promises of the gospel of the risen Christ and called on to repent of his sins. You don’t confirm that he has been. I noted, in one of my comments above, that Fletcher has not confessed his sins. faithrootsdw states above that it is “… for them [i.e. others] to say” i.e. as to whether Fletcher was “confronted regarding sin and with the Gospel” (March 24, at 12:59 am). I agree with that.

    I have not said that Fletcher was not confronted with matters as to his misconduct. Indeed, I would say that that is simply part of the problem. We need to see the critical difference between doing that, and effectively ridding the fellowship forthwith of Fletcher and his wickedness, 1 Corinthians 5:13. We have not arrived at the “take it to the church” moment of Mathew 18:17. A detour was taken, by Thiryone:eight, in order to facilitate a secular agenda. Of course you know perfectly well that Christ came to call sinners to repentance. If so, Fletcher should scarcely have been given even the opportunity to minimise his conduct

    • “I raised a question as to whether Fletcher was ever confronted with the promises of the gospel of the risen Christ and called on to repent of his sins. You don’t confirm that he has been.”

      I’m not sure how to help you here Chris. It is abundantly clear from the report that:
      1. One of the main issues is that JF was not originally confronted about his behaviour.
      2. Since the events of 2017 there has however been a very clear call to repentance placed upon him, which JF has not responded appropriately to. As far as I can tell your contention is that this did not include “the promises of the gospel”. I think that is an unfair claim and an argument from silence.

      How about we don’t assume the worst of this process, and in doing so end up signalling (however inadvertently) that JF has somehow been treated unfairly. He is categorically NOT a victim here.

      • David, I am not in any need of your help, whereas I do assume the worst of this process. I accept what you, now, say i.e. that “[s]ince the events of 2017 there has … been a very clear call to repentance placed upon him”. I have not hitherto seen a published comment to that effect. Furthermore my contention is not that this did not include “the promises of the gospel”. That is an assertion bordering on the facetious. To insist that JF is categorically not a victim here is beside the point. The relevant question concerns whether different people did, in fact, respond differently to his behaviour – and that applies both before and after the behaviour was exposed.

        • the point is that you are second guessing. We don’t have a transcript so we can’t claim to know the detail of conversations -but it is very clear that he has been confronted with a call to repentance. Your thesis was that he was somehow being singled out. But that was not the case. We cannot avoid that we have a range of cases at the moment involving real people, victims and abusers

          • I’m not second guessing anything. As you state above, at 12.59 am, “The honest answer is I don’t know”. So, I would not say that it is very clear that JF has been called to repentance. David’s response likewise is less than convincing, albeit I take it at face value despite the conditions under which he gave it.

            • I don’t know the detail of every conversation had with JF. I cannot presume anything more than that. To be honest I’m not sure what exactly it is you are attempting to argue,.

      • David, I note well your concluding remark above:

        “… today is still the day when repentance can be entered into and forgiveness known. But every day now after the report has been published makes the moment of taking responsibility more difficult. The hope of many following this story is that the great gospel outcome of godly sorrow that leads to genuine repentance is still possible. And those who have in the past been known as the greatest champions of that gospel ought yet to be it’s greatest models”.

        Yes, that is very well said.

        Likewise the Report states, at p. 96: “……Repentance would include all those who have been responsible for harm, or complicit in it (either through acts of commission or omission) being able to clearly articulate where they have wronged others and what they intend to do in order to begin reparations”.

        But are not those who first commissioned this report among those referred to obliquely in the comments above? Aren’t they also among those “… different people [who] responded differently ” (in JF’s words), to his behaviour eg. Bishop Andy Lines? I find thus the comments above to be disingenuous. This is not a cultural problem in the conservative evangelical world. It is familiar to us all as being the work of the devil (Hebrews 12: 28-29).

  4. As a catholic I know the cycle of disappointment in Clergy well. 2 comments.
    One is that a lot of people are saying “well he is mainly good, but with a bit of bad stuff”…but be careful as often what is reported is the tip of the iceberg, and you may end up supporting a wolf in sheep’s clothin. It is possible that JF engineered his career in order to abuse – not the other way round. That is my conclusion on a lot of Catholic priests. The other point is that the Con Evo church is a bit homo-erotic if that is the right way to put it – lots of strong men full of certainty and passion, and you could imagine that a cycle of very transgressive behaviour in the week followed by a powerful sermon on sin and redemption at the weekend might be quite satisfying if you like that sort of thing, you forgive yourself and wipe the slate clean each week. Its just not a normal healthy human dynamic and so far from the model of leadership set out by Jesus in the Bible. His ministry was full of compassion and kindness and women – and full of concern for people and their problems small or big. Its clear that in his heart JF did not give one hoot for other people, or if he did its a pretty weak hoot, and yet he was a major figure for years. I think the whole Con Evo movement needs to go for therapy and ask how it can be made whole.

  5. I’d suggest the problem at the heart of this tawdry affair is that a particular set of cultural assumptions has, for a certain group of Christians, been imported into their view of how one should best live the Christian life.

    The most obvious home of those cultural assumptions is the English public school – although there are reports that things have been rapidly changing even there. When middle or upper middle class privilege becomes intertwined with evangelical doctrine and practice it seems to result in a toxic mix where some of the most basic teachings of Jesus (which may well be enthusiastically endorsed in public) are simply overridden by the power of the culture. It seems that evangelical doctrine is the loser here rather than the cause for blame.

    Lest anyone suggest my observation is one of resentment against the advantages of an English public school experience, I myself attended such a school. The education was terrific; but much else was far removed from a balanced view of life. Fortunately I was not a border and could return to normality at the end of each day. Pity the Iwerne boys whose Christian holidays at Iwerne camps still held them captive within the narrow bounds of their public school experience! I’m sure the Iwerne project was sincerely conceived; I’m equally sure that it was a mistake. There’s little evidence that Jesus picked his followers from among social or academic elites.

    The power play; the hierarchical structure; the influence through connections; the competitive instinct; the ill-judged self confidence; the superiority; the pride of life and social position; but also the fear; the reluctance to speak out; the imperative to conform; perhaps even the unbalanced sexual overtones; none of these things have any scriptural warrant, yet it would be hard to deny that they are regularly to be observed in some evangelical circles.

    The Jonathan Fletcher story is nowhere near being about the failings of one single man.

    • I think you are completely right, the structure and culture of some churches is not good. I have attended Con Evo churches in London and outside and I have felt the the gospel preached is often a reflection of the personality and pre-judgements of the preachers (obviously a danger for all of us though). And yes pity the Iwerne boys. It would not be far fetched to imagine that JF was abused himself there.

      And yet..away from some of the big men like JF there is also an authenticity in the faith in evangelical churches and a desire to follow Jesus as best that one can in a complex modern world, and many of the clergy and congregation would walk a million miles for you. And in a way if the result of this is that the certain churches humble themselves in a real way, then I think good can come out.

      As the bible says, be wise as a serpent, and also be like a child. Trust no one, but also trust everyone and trust God. We have to do both!

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