Sunday, 28 June 2009

JA hope that dialogue can be squashed if I am left talking to myself.

A disappointing setback to the Dialogue has been a withdrawal from the process of both Ali and Sarah. Both are quite adamant that nobody tells them what they may do, but only the day after Sarah and I had discussed who would be allowed to post on our forum, the text of the profile etc, she told me that she felt she was neglecting her duties as a mother and would not be able to be a member of the group, let alone run it with me.

Initially I felt like I had been made a fool of, having been encouraged by Sarah to set it up on her behalf, as she is not technically minded, only then to be left looking like she disavowed our joint project. But then it occurred to me that, sadly, this rather illustrates what I have always felt, that while there are good people like her and Ali who really do want to change the fellowship for the better, there are forces within the church which are resistant and will bring pressure to bear to stop members speaking and acting freely.

Naturally I feel very hurt and disappointed, especially by some of the rather defensive and curt correspondence that followed, having felt that we had genuinely made friends, but ultimately, whatever your relationship with a JA member, you have to remember that their first loyalty is to their church and as I am persona non grata, any friendship can only be very tenuous at best.

I know this will sound patronising, but dealing with individual JA members is a little like dealing with my school pupils. They are all up for something, full of passion, keen to get involved and give you lots of assurances....but none of their promises are really worth anything unless you have sent a letter home and got their parents to sign it. A JA is not free to decide anything important without their elder's say-so. Sarah and Ali were absolutely adamant that nobody tells them what to do, but self-evidently this is not so.

I still hope very much that some good can come from the forum, but if John Campbell and the other leaders can bring sufficient pressure to bear to stop members of the JA from taking part (and let's face it, if they can stop independent souls like Sarah and Ali, they will not find it hard to stop others), what dialogue can there be. really?

Another ex-JA has suggested that I am the achilles heel in the plan. Nobody will post on anything with which my name is associated, when I am known to be a critic who has helped people leave, so I am hoping that he may, as he has suggested, take it over.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Jesus Army Dialogue

I have set up Jesus Army Dialogue, a group on Facebook. This is a joint effort between me and Sarah Hughes, a member of the JA I have been making friends with. We really hope that this can be a chance for both sides of the argument to see each others points of view, where previously we have been combative or defensive. We want to build trust, so as to encourage openness and achieve a measure of reconciliation and peace.

The time feels right.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

John Campbell has confirmed that children were beaten by leaders, as well as by their own parents

Ali is back in touch and the air has cleared. He confirms that John "Perceptive" Campbell admitted that in the old days children were rodded by leaders. It is one claim that I had made and which had grieved Ali a great deal, as he is a father and can't imagine letting anyone touch his children.

I am not yet quite clear what John told Ali which led him to feel that I had misled him, but if John admitted even this much, I know that Ali will feel that his mission is justified.

I have told him that I do not believe that the fellowship has rodded children for a very long time, but my concern is that the rodding of children and spooning of babies and toddlers is a shameful part of the fellowship's past, which was discreetly buried when the JFC sought readmission to the Evangelical Alliance, and because of the subsequent denials of this and other things, those who were hurt by the policy feel that their pain isn't taken seriously.

Unless the fellowship is open about this past practice, its claims to have changed cannot really be said to be righteous.


John Campbell has since denied that the conversation, as described in some detail by Ali, ever took place and asked me to remove the suggestion that he made any such concession. Since Ali's account opens his church up to criticism, it is hard to believe that, as a loyal member, he would have made up John's concession. But for the record, John denies that he gave it. It is clear from his response to me that John accepts that my take on events is entirely consistent with Ali's description and that pursuing the matter would be counter-productive.

The fact that Ali is a person capable of being leaned on to cease contact with me, despite his new-found mission, shows that he is a loyal member of his church, so any suggestion that he would have deliberately opened his church up to censure by making up his conversation with John Campbell is clearly improbable.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

In response to the call for openness, the JA has closed the Facebook Group

In response to the call for openness, the JA has closed the Facebook Group in which one member spoke passionately about his intention to root out the fellowship's past abuses and bring healing to people hurt by the church...and thereby make the church a more beautiful Bride of Christ.

His mission was sincere.

Closing the Group, however, suggests that the JA are far from ready for such a revolution.
I have offended Ali, the member of the JA who feels inspired to root out abuse in the JA's past, by wording my last article rather badly so that it left what he sees as a false impression of his feelings. This was never my intention. Ali, so I apologise unreservedly.

The mistake came about because I conflated several people's feelings into one article and Ali has assumed that I am talking about him, when talking about another. It was Sarah who spoke of dirty secrets in the past and who felt that we should forgive, not Z. (click image to make bigger) Sarah did not use the phrase first. I had suggested that they existed and she was using the phrase back to me.

Both Ali and Sarah love God very much and love the JA and want to stay in it. But that doesn't mean that either of them are happy about the JA's past. Ali, I know, is passionately committed to bringing healing for people hurt by what he regards as abuses of authority. This is clearly a sincere position and even though he no longer trusts me and seems to have been convinced by John Campbell that much of what I said was lies, he is still dedicated to bringing healing, which is very much to his credit as a Christian man.

Sarah and Ali want to stay with the JA. But that doesn't mean they are happy to live with the fellowship's invidious past. They are going to do what they can to root it out and make the fellowship address it.

It doesn't bode well for the the future of openness that no sooner had Ali gone to John Campbell, than the JA closed down the Facebook Group.

Anticipating this, however, I have taken screenprints of all recent events on the Group and will publish them in due course, to ensure that they remain visible. Making them invisible has to be the point of closing the Group, after all. And that being the case, you do have to wonder how open the JA really are about addressing the past.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

A new era - one of openness about a cultic past

With Noel's passing has come what appears to be a greater curiosity on the part of members about the fellowship's cultic past. Most current members....including any long term members who joined after the late 1980s... will often have difficulty recognising my description of the church and are therefore understandably irritated by my "propaganda", but several people have now talked to me (both on forums and in private) about the period before they were members and there appears to be an increasing readiness to believe that the fellowship has what one of them calls "dirty secrets".

There is some disagreement about whether bringing the secrets out into the light of day would be healthy. Clearly I think it would, and indeed I have said that without that openness, the church can't genuinely be said to have moved on, especially since the very leader(s) taking over control of the church were the very ones who advocated and enforced the now discredited policies.

What is very clear to me is that around the time of the expulsion from the Evangelical Alliance the elders realised a need to tone down and modify a lot of policies and quietly bury some other more controversial ones, especially as rehabilitation would require the cultivation of powerful friends, who might be a lot less friendly if they realised what had really been going on at Bugbrooke.

Until then their membership of the EA had been largely cosmetic. It gave them some kind of respectability at a time when there was widespread concern in the churches in the UK about their cultic practices. They could say, we are not a cult but a member of the largest body of Evangelicals in the country.
The very fact that they were not in good fellowship with any of these churches gave the EA convenient grounds for dismissing the JA, rather than investigating the nastier controversies at a time when the JA refused to meet to discuss them with John Everett, myself and members of the council.

If new friends were to be cultivated, no longer would people who left be said to be damned, no longer would the JA call themselves the Kingdom of God or other Christians "worldly", no longer would children be rodded or Christmas banned, now children would receive presents and be allowed toys; rather than being shunned, members seeking to leave would be encouraged into looser styles of membership, etc

And if anyone who had been victims o fthe JA's dirty secrets spoke of them again, they would simply be denied and the suggestion would be that critics had simply made these things up out of a hatred for what Jesus was trying to accomplish.

But just a few days ago I urged someone who has been in fellowship for 21 years to just go and ask someone who had been around a lot longer whether children in the past had been punished with rods, and to his credit he admitted that he had lived obliviously in a "happy bubble" all these years. Now he is determined to ask questions. A number of people who have known the church a long time are asking serious questions and I have been asked what form of apology would satisfy me.

Noel's death brings an end of an era and with it the possibility of asking previously unconscienable questions. And there is the slightest chance that good, keen young Christians who love the JA they know will not be happy to live with dirty secrets that their elders and parents were prepared to bury. I dearly hope that they will believe, as I do, that a church can only really move on if it has been honest and open about its past.