Report on evangelical leader Jonathan Fletcher reveals sin

Jonathan Fletcher – a key leader among conservative evangelical networks in the Church of England, which have links and share similar theology to Sydney Anglicans – is the subject of a damning review commissioned by the church he led.

Emmanuel Church Wimbledon (ECW), a well-known evangelical parish in London, commissioned an independent review following a number of media reports.

It has uncovered a greater level of abuse. “During the review a serious incident of a sexual nature was reported,” the review by consultants Thirtyone:eight says. “One participant reported that JF [Jonathan Fletcher] told him to perform a sex act in front of him and when he did not, JF performed the act instead. This behaviour demonstrates a gross abuse of power and in the opinion of the reviewers is far beyond anything which can be deemed acceptable or appropriate from a minister in a position of power, trust and responsibility.”

Previous media reports were confirmed. “These included coercion and control, bullying, and some referred to their experiences as spiritual abuse. There were reports of naked massages and saunas, forfeits including smacking with a gym shoe, and ice baths.”

“We however, question whether a church should continue to be defined as entirely successful given the information gathered …”

Jonathan Fletcher was a major player in conservative evangelical networks, serving on key committees and influential in appointing people to lead churches. His victims included young men who became ministers.

His influence grew from an outwardly successful ministry.

“JF was reported by some as an excellent teacher with a rare preaching gift. Under his leadership ECW was perceived by some as a very successful church, as the congregation grew significantly in number and profile. It was a place which became and remains a family to many. It also offered a home to those who wanted to explore Christianity intellectually. It undoubtedly provided solely positive experiences of church life for many who attended. We however, question whether a church should continue to be defined as entirely successful given the information gathered around harmful behaviour experienced and the aspects of unhealthy culture that have been reported.”

The networks influenced by Fletcher were part of a Public (elite) School variety of Christianity that forms a dominant type of evangelicalism within the Church of England.

“The view of leadership, muscular Christianity and exclusivity was reported to pervade much of this culture and was reflected, at least in part at ECW. The focus on public-school background and the connection for many to Iwerne, where for some relationships with JF were established, framed the context and served as a catalyst to some of the harmful relationships later reported. Importantly, it was also a place where models of leadership, discourses of protecting the gospel and the celebration of masculine Christianity were embedded in the lives of many. The relationships formed there continued into adulthood and impacted training choices, career aspirations and theology.”

The Iwerne camping movement is a key part of upper-class evangelicalism in Britain. Public school boys (that is, from upper-class private schools) were evangelised through a holiday camp system. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Alpha’s Nicky Gumbel and the late John Stott all were Iwerne boys – as were virtually all of the posher sort of English evangelical leaders. (That list includes possible victims, rather than perpetrators.)

Iwerne, like many English upper class names, is not pronounced as it is spelt – “you-earn” is how they say it.

Unknown to Sydney Anglicans, who linked with Fletcher on preaching tours of the UK, they were dealing with a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.

“We in Sydney have known Jonathan Fletcher for many years as a visiting preacher,” Mark Thompson, principal of Moore College, told Eternity when the Fletcher allegations came to light in 2019. “He was last invited to speak at Moore College during his visit to Australia in 2014. As principal, I only became aware of concerns surrounding other aspects of Jonathan’s ministry in January 2019, and of the details and extent of those concerns when they became public recently.”

“I have been coming to terms with elements of spiritual manipulation in my own life.” – Andy Lines

Moore College provided respite for one of Fletcher’s high profile victims – Andy Lines who, upon being appointed as a bishop to lead a conservative Anglican alternative to the Church of England, had to take a break.

“I have been coming to terms with elements of spiritual manipulation in my own life,” Lines said in a statement released by GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) UK in 2019.

“It has been a very hard and painful process, requiring months of professional counselling for me to come to terms with what I have experienced. It took considerable time before the light went on, and has required lots of support during three months in Australia.”

The Thirtyone:eight review provides a long list of recommendations for change. Beyond ECW it suggests: “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 conservative evangelical movement in the UK has not thrived in the same way as other parts have, such as the Anglican Church in North America.

Dealing with Jonathan Fletcher in issuing this painful and honest report may see that change.

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