Jonathan Fletcher, a leading evangelical figure within the Church of England, was banned from preaching following allegations of abuse, The Daily Telegraph has reported.
The 76-year-old was stripped of his Church powers by the Bishop of Southwark in 2017 following complaints made to the church – Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon – where he used to be minister.
It has been alleged that Mr Fletcher used physical discipline in the context of discipleship, including men hitting other men on their bare buttocks with a gym shoe.
It has also been alleged that Mr Fletcher engaged in fully naked massages with other men, with men taking it in turn to massage each other.
A statement disclosing details about the allegations was read aloud at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London following the report in The Daily Telegraph to halt speculation about what type of abuse may have occurred.
The statement was read in sections by Rev. Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford; Sarah Hall, the safeguarding officer of Emmanuel Church; and Andrew Wales QC, who has been assisting the church.
They emphasised that ‘nothing criminal and nothing to do with children has been alleged’ concerning Mr Fletcher. A full copy of the statement is available online.
Mr Fletcher has responded to the allegations. He has admitted that the beatings took place, but he described them as ‘light-hearted forfeits’ in a ‘system of mutual encouragement’.
And regarding the naked massages with other men, he accepted these had occurred, but he denied they were ‘sexual’ or that he had coerced anyone to massage him.
However, he recognises that he was unwise to involve those to whom he was ministering, and he also apologises to anyone who may have felt pressurised to join in.
He says he is also ‘profoundly sorry’ for any harm that has been done to any individuals affected, and to the cause of conservative evangelicalism.
Mr Fletcher’s actions have been labelled as spiritual abuse – harm caused under the guise of religion usually by someone in authority.
But the phrase spiritual abuse is highly controversial, and many liberal activists are pushing for it to become a crime as a way of marginalising biblical beliefs.
The Evangelical Alliance has previously urged caution over use of the phrase spiritual abuse, saying they are ‘increasingly uneasy’ about the expression.