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Oh dear, yet another religious abuse cover-up

Posted by Simon Parke, 08 February 2017, 4.18pm

You may well know the emerging story, with the investigation led by Channel 4 news.

It is presently allegation, because the accused, John Smyth, has gone to ground in South Africa.

Even his daughter is begging him to come and face up to the accusations.

And there are a fair few, led by Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Guildford who recalls ‘an excruciating beating’ in Smyth’s ‘infamous garden shed.’

It was in this same shed, in the late 70s and 80s, that Mr Smyth allegedly recited bible passages to 22 young men before beating them with a cane.

I wonder which verses he chose?

But there are plenty of other ‘unfortunate’ stories.

On his Christian camps, away from his garden shed, some had to wear nappies to cover the wounds.

Boys were punished for wearing underwear.

Oh and prayers were undertaken naked….and breathe.

The allegations are not new. They first came to light in 1981. Both the Iwerne Trust, where Smyth was a big shot, and Winchester College, who sent him lots of young people, were aware of them.

But neither did anything, neither mentioned anything to the police.

‘Different times’ and all that.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was involved in these camps, denies all knowledge - and there’s no particular reason to disbelieve him.

But there does seem to be a lot of silence, a lot of people denying all knowledge.

They can’t all have been looking the other way during the naked prayers, off-site that night, helping in the kitchen, sorting out the fire, ordering the milk, preparing the bible talk for tomorrow etc,

So many people ‘who had absolutely no idea!’

Let the cover-up begin.

And why?

I presume conservative evangelicals wished to preserve their good name rather than face the truth.

‘Reputation above truth!’

And perhaps they dressed it up as protecting God’s name, making a virtue of their deceit.

‘Our dear Lord’s name above truth!’

But that never works. As with the Roman Catholic story, God is now simply perceived as a serial abuser.

God is in the truth - and nowhere else.

And much ringing of hands by people after the cover-up has failed doesn’t really work.

So what have we learned?

Groups protect themselves, all groups… and this elitest bunch of evangelicals appear to have been no different.

I don’t have a problem with the truth. It’s much better noticed, even if it’s uncomfortable and some of my truth is.

So this piece is not trying to demonise an individual. We’re all speckled, with large doses of madness within.

But it is a rage against the process, the systematic cover-up of an abuse of power that damaged so many…and so many young people.

His circle of friends and colleagues just hoped he’d go away, and he did… he went away to Zimbabwe, where he started again.

‘But, well, at least it’s in Africa somewhere, miles away, so no harm done to our Lord’s name!’

What’s the background to this?

Perhaps the punishing god of the evangelicals –an unpleasant character who exhibits some deeply unattractive traits – made this whole scenario more likely.

If God is so drawn to punishment, (and a lot of it eternal) perhaps its natural that his leaders on earth are.

It sort-of makes sense.

Were these boys somehow ‘taking the blame’ like Jesus did?

I don’t know.

But whatever the story, here was a man working through his own demons on young people, and supported in this by his silent fellow leaders.

And we have to say, their Jesus isn’t kind about those who abuse children. He does rage rather.

As he says in Luke 17.2. ‘It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round their necks than cause one of my little ones to stumble.’

That probably wasn’t the verse Smyth was reading to his victims in the garden shed.

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