Friday, December 10, 2021

Thoughts on 'Bleeding for Jesus' by Andrew Graystone

A number of people have asked to see my review that was published in the EN December edition. So here it is:

I’ve been reading Andrew Graystone’s ‘Bleeding for Jesus’ book about how John Smyth was able to abuse people for so long. It’s a hard but necessary book to read, and I think it challenges Evangelicals to respond to the following points.


I’d already looked at this issue some years ago, and my thoughts here are not based on the specific details Graystone outlines, but rather on the general events that took place.


Firstly, why didn’t any conservative evangelicals write this book? When I first discovered parts of Smyth’s abuse, I was shocked that this story hadn’t been openly told by the community in which the abuse occurred. Whilst the Bible openly describes the catastrophes of sin amongst God’s people, this community kept quiet. But the Smyth abuse is a story that had to be told, for the sake of righteousness—to publicly say a great wrong had been done, and to help us learn how to avoid such abuse in the present and future. 


Now there has been some online criticism of Graystone’s writing, including one person writing responses to what they say are inaccuracies in the book. To which I ask, ‘why didn’t you tell the story then? Why not speak out sooner? Why wait for this book before publicly giving information?’ Some might say, ‘We were waiting for the Makin report,’ but the Makin report is too limited in scope to justify that. Evangelicals need to understand that refusing to transparently tell the truth of abuse will no longer work in this day and age. And if evangelicals refuse to tell the truth, people from outside the tribe will do if for us. And if we don’t like the way they tell the story, then we should have told the story truthfully in the first place. 


I am thankful to Graystone for telling this story, and appreciate God’s common grace in using Kathy Newman and Channel 4 to expose sin. God has dealt kindly by offering prophetic voices. Will we listen? Or will we harden our hearts?


Secondly, the book is a helpful explanation of how abusers function, so that we can guard against it; not just in terms of grooming (which is always evolving, so we need more than this book), but in terms of how Smyth could only do what he did for so long because he had the support of so many people. He was able to be a preacher for over fifty years, being invited to speak at a variety of places that gave him access to boys and young men. He had people vouch for him when others questioned him. He had people fund him when others spoke out about him. There is a huge lesson here, it takes a village to abuse a boy. Abusers need enablers to continue doing what they do. If we are part of this village, what changes will we now make? If no changes are made, the system is still in place for the next abuser to use.


Thirdly, there is a stark contrast between the response of the Bulawayo pastors compared to the UK church leaders. On discovering Smyth’s abuse, these men put adverts in the papers and contacted schools, warning them about Smyth, and they even took legal action. The UK response was frankly pathetic. Some might think this was just because of the lack of safeguarding training in those days, but even without modern safeguarding training, the Zimbabwe pastors knew how to respond to a wolf in sheep’s clothing.


Fourthly, the book highlights the hypocrisy of evangelicals campaigning against homosexuality whilst abusing men and boys. It’s no use us evangelicals levelling this critique merely at Smyth, for our village has failed abuse survivors over the last 50 years. We still have lessons to learn from Smyth and have sometimes repeated mistakes in the aftermath of the Fletcher abuse revelations. We hardly have a leg to stand on to preach about sexuality. You might stay we still have the Bible to stand on, but then let’s stand on it ourselves and apply what it says about abuse, and repent.

(previously published in Evangelicals Now 


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Thursday, February 11, 2021

When Majority Cultures Co-opt Minorities' Self-Theologising

When the theology books don't talk about an aspect of your culture, you have to do what's called 'self-theologising'. Most theology resources made in the UK are middle class theologising, showing what the Bible says about various aspects of middle class culture. At the same time, minority cultures have been self-theologising about issues that are not mentioned much in the mainstream. In my experience, there is a very challenging dynamic at play when majority cultures try to use minority culture's theologising. Here's things I've observed as a lower-class, disabled pastor, whose majority of friends are minorities of various sorts:

1) Majority cultures have a tendency to co-opt minority cultures for their own purposes. 
An example could be when as white people, we see a young black christian, and think, he could really help our ministry be more diverse. From that point, a whole plan is made for this person's life that ultimately helps the majority culture's vision, not the young man's.

2) Majority culture groups tend to use minorities' self-theolgizing as a way of boosting the majority's brand, rather than considering how the minority culture wants to be presented.
This might happen in video snippets, where words from a working class theologian are recorded, but the logos presented, and the overall presentation, communicate that credit is due to the majority culture organisation. In some cases the organisation makes money off of this process, whilst the theologiser is not fairly paid.

3) Majority cultures tend to give themselves greater license with how they use minorities.
An example could be a white author using sermons from a black working class pastor, to write their book. They borrow ideas from his research, without asking the black pastor if this was ok. If on the other hand, they were thinking of using say, Vaungh Robert's sermons, they undoubtedly would have asked permission first. 

4) Majority cultures tend to presume the minorities have greatly benefitted from their resources.
This could be someone looking at a training program run by minorities, and saying, 'Well of course, you've taken the stuff you learned at our college, and tweaked it for your context.' The reality can sometimes be that people often sat frustrated through majority culture programs, and looked elsewhere for help with their theologising. 

5) Cross-Pollination doesn't occur because the self-theologising is rationed.
Cross-pollination happens when different cultures sit round the table and learn from each other about how the Bible speaks to every aspect of life (including our blindspots). Sadly, gatekeepers from the dominant culture tend to decide the agenda for what's discussed at the table. This means that the sub-dominant culture cannot present all its findings. Sometimes, the minorities don't even get an equal seat at the table, but are left at the kiddy table as it were.

6) Minority cultures are swimming upstream when they self-theologise. 
Apart from the lack of resources including funding available to self-theologise, it takes a tremendous amount of work to be taken seriously, and to show gaps in the majority culture's grid. Often to do this, we have to accept compromises along the way, be treated as poster boys for other organisations, all whilst doing cross-cultural communication with the dominant culture. This can all be very tiring, and some may just give up, and stay in the comfort of their own group.