A report has been published looking into the lessons to be learned from the misconduct of Jonathan Fletcher during his time as minister of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon.
Among other things, the report suggests there is an ‘unhealthy culture’ within the conservative evangelical networks with which Fletcher was associated.
This culture might only be changed, the report says, if key leaders in those networks step down from their roles.
But the report – published by safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight – has been criticised for being too broad in its attacks on conservative evangelicalism.
Writing in this edition of ET, Richard Turnbull says the call for other evangelical leaders to step down ‘rather smacks of a negative wider agenda’.
And he says the report contains a number of ‘Trojan horses’ which evangelicals, including those outside of Anglicanism, should be wary of.
The report, he says, pushes for women to be represented in all areas of church leadership without properly understanding the biblical position on eldership and preaching held by conservative evangelicals. William Taylor of St Helens Bishopsgate said, ‘Social media comments are clearly politically driven, and this action has significantly cheapened the report itself.’
Taylor said this ‘raises questions for the organisation that produced the report in the first place, and I think that is a very, very great pity’.
However, Taylor later clarified his comments, apologising if his remarks had hurt victims who had participated in the report, or undermined the confidence of victims to report future abuse.
In 2019, Fletcher was banned from preaching in the Church of England after allegations emerged of abuse involving physical discipline and naked massages with other men. Fletcher responded to the allegations, admitting 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.
But in the report, one victim says that Fletcher ‘told him to perform a sex act in front of him. When he did not, Fletcher performed the act instead’. Another reported that Fletcher became ‘sexually aroused during a naked massage’.
Fletcher declined to take up multiple offers to participate in the report. However, when contacted for comment by The Telegraph and asked about the sexual incident, he said, ‘It was 40 years ago and I’m deeply ashamed of that.’
Speaking of those he had ‘spiritually harmed’, he said he was ‘hoping for the day when they’ll recognise my deep penitence and repentance’.