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.