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.
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:
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
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.