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