Church Society and the Andreyevs
This post is about Church Society’s handling of a complaint made against it by Mrs Kate Andreyev. The evidence set out below shows that Church Society (CS) cannot be trusted to respond to complaints with integrity.
A Promised Investigation
On 11 February 2021, Rev Andrew Towner, the Chair of CS’s Council, wrote to Mrs Kate Andreyev to address what he described as her ‘complaint against Church Society’. He said, ‘We recognise the need for an independent external investigation to give full weight to your allegations, and are working to make this happen.’ Rev Towner stressed the importance of procedure: ‘Our process, which has been endorsed externally, has been that decisions on your complaint have only been taken by those not named within it.’ He also set out a timeline for further action: ‘I hope to be able to write to you within 6 weeks at the latest to confirm the details of an appointment to take that investigation forward.’
Change of Direction
CS went on to pursue an entirely different course of action. There was no independent investigation. Six months after Rev Towner’s letter, CS published a long document about the Andreyevs written by its Director, Rev Dr Lee Gatiss, one of the individuals Mrs Andreyev had named in her criticisms.
In that document, Dr Gatiss offered an explanation for CS’s change of course (p. 40). He quoted these words from one of Mrs Andreyev’s tweets: ‘For an investigation to be truly independent, it mustn’t be commissioned or paid for by the organisation being investigated’; and he then made the following observation: ‘So it would seem to be impossible for CS to commission any review that would be considered acceptable to Mrs Andreyev in any case.’ However, Mrs Andreyev’s full tweet communicates a different message:
By quoting only the first half of Mrs Andreyev’s very reasonable tweet, Dr Gatiss seriously misrepresented her position. The whole tweet provided no justification for CS’s change of approach. What’s more, Mrs Andreyev’s tweet wasn’t even discussing Church Society’s offer of an investigation: it was part of a discussion about the thirtyone:eight report on Jonathan Fletcher.
Dr Gatiss also quoted from an open letter in Evangelicals Now (EN), co-written by Mrs Andreyev and two other authors (I was one of them). In that letter, we said, ‘Church Society should simply address our grievances publicly on a point-by-point basis.’ That sentence was interpreted by CS as a ‘refusal’ by Mrs Andreyev of the investigation that Rev Towner had promised. (The correct interpretation was that point-by-point responses might remove the need for independent investigations.) In order to make our joint statement serve his purpose, Dr Gatiss had to supply words of his own. In the document’s executive summary, he said, ‘Her subsequent public letter to Evangelicals Now in April 2021, however, called for a point-by-point response to her allegations rather than any external investigation commissioned by or paid for by Church Society.’ Every word from ‘rather’ onwards is Dr Gatiss’s invention. It is his interpretation presented as factual reporting.
At least one CS leader recognised that Mrs Andreyev’s supposed refusal may not have been a refusal at all. In a communication revealed via Subject Access Request (SAR), one unnamed CS leader asks another,
Are we assuming her refusal [of an independent investigation] on the basis of the joint EN letter or something more concrete in private correspondence with you?
The question is then rephrased:
Is there a clear statement of refusal from KA [Mrs Andreyev] that I can point or refer to?
CS had no answer to those excellent questions from one of its own leaders. The only evidence for Mrs Andreyev’s supposed refusal was the sentence in EN that the leader rightly viewed as insufficiently ‘concrete’. On top of that, CS was aware that Mrs Andreyev was still expecting its promised investigation (and therefore couldn’t have refused it), because she said so, repeatedly, as Dr Gatiss himself acknowledged.
Dr Gatiss’s Dishonesty
In his report, Dr Gatiss claims that the Andreyevs ‘publicly stated that any external investigation should not be commissioned or paid for by us [i.e., CS]’ (p. 40). That is false. Dr Gatiss says that something pivotal happened; it never happened. The closest the Andreyevs came to saying anything of the sort was in the tweet displayed above, where Mrs Andreyev, in the midst of a discussion about the Jonathan Fletcher scandal, pointed out that an investigation cannot be truly independent when paid for or commissioned by the organisation being investigated. Mrs Andreyev then immediately qualified that statement, showing she is not opposed to such investigations. There is therefore no factual basis for Dr Gatiss’s claim. It’s deeply demoralising to see an evangelical leader saying something demonstrably false in order to protect his organisation from the expense and potential hazards of an external investigation.
The falsehood comes at the most sensitive point in the whole document. As reported by EN, Church Society had announced in February 2021 that it would appoint ‘a suitable external reviewer’ so that ‘the truth shall be made known, that sins shall be repented of, that the wounded shall be consoled, and that we shall learn how to do better in the future.’ Dr Gatiss had to give a persuasive reason for breaking such a grand promise. His false claim that the Andreyevs had stated that any external investigation should not be commissioned or paid for by CS served as the convincing rationale he needed.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time Dr Gatiss has been charged with dishonesty. A year ago, James Mendelsohn and I presented carefully documented evidence showing that Dr Gatiss had falsely claimed not to have known the details of the Stephen Sizer scandal. CS dismissed that evidence without publicly addressing any of the specific points we had made. In other words, CS had nothing substantive to say to exonerate its leader.
Church Society Violated Its Own Rules
According to Rev Towner’s letter to Mrs Andreyev, CS had established a process, approved by an external advisor, for handling the complaint. That process stipulated that decisions on her complaint should only be taken by those not named within it. (All of this demonstrates the seriousness of Mrs Andreyev’s complaint in the eyes of CS and its external advisor.) Yet the process was not followed: it was Dr Gatiss — who had been prominently named by Mrs Andreyev — who took responsibility for compiling the document that replaced the promised investigation. Far from recusing himself as required, he made himself judge and jury of the whole case. CS therefore violated the rules it had itself established.
Failure to Notify Mrs Andreyev
Even if Mrs Andreyev had refused the offer of an investigation, the obvious next step for CS would have been to notify her of the new approach it planned to take. Its failure to do so was possibly the most unconscionable of all the CS Council’s choices. The lack of notification is still more grievous when one considers that CS was aware of Mrs Andreyev’s expectation that the promised investigation would still take place.
In his very next sentences after pledging to send an update ‘within 6 weeks at the latest’, Rev Towner had told Mrs Andreyev,
We desire that our ethos, processes, relationships and every aspect of Church Society be conducted in a godly way. We aspire to be a safe place for those in pain, struggling, broken, hurting or in need of a hearing, and are committed to the processes required towards that. On a personal level, I have wept and mourned for this situation since first we spoke
Those compassionate-sounding statements portrayed CS as an organisation that could be trusted to handle a complaint sensitively. But instead of contacting Mrs Andreyev within the promised timeframe — which it could have done with a single email — CS entered into twenty-four weeks of silence while it compiled its self-exonerating document about the Andreyevs. CS ultimately notified the Andreyevs of its change of plan one day before its document was published! There is a sickening difference between CS’s expressed intentions and its actual treatment of Mrs Andreyev.
Once again, a CS leader had raised an awkward set of questions. The Subject Access Request revealed the following communication:
Was the cancellation of an independent review communicated to KA? I realise, from our vantage point, that we’ve done what was expressly asked of us. But, having publicly announced an independent review, have we confirmed with KA that it’s no longer taking place? I don’t know KA’s reasons for announcing on Twitter that she is still waiting to be told about the independent review (I’ve attached a recent example), but is it possible that we have missed a step somewhere along the lines, which we need to correct for the sake of full transparency?
Those questions received a curt answer that relied on the ‘refusal’ misrepresentation: ‘Since KA refused the investigation, I’m not sure what we have to communicate to her.’
In summary: CS had said to Mrs Andreyev, ‘We recognise the need for an independent external investigation to give full weight to your allegations’, and had told her to expect details of that investigation within weeks. Then CS threw out those plans, acting on a pretext that involved multiple instances of misrepresentation and one outright falsehood — a pretext considered insufficient by one of CS’s own leaders. This change of approach violated CS’s externally-endorsed process, and was only revealed to Mrs Andreyev months later, after the change of plan was complete. The prime movers seem to have been Dr Gatiss and Rev Towner, but these decisions were ultimately taken collectively by the CS Council. Each Council member bears a measure of responsibility.
CS is, to my knowledge, the only organisation that specifically represents conservative evangelicals within the Church of England. That gives it considerable influence within British evangelicalism. It is plain to see from CS’s dealings with Mrs Andreyev that it cannot be trusted to handle a serious complaint. If CS acts like this with one complaint, it’s reasonable to expect that it will act similarly with future complaints. We can assume that its leaders will continue to pursue self-exoneration, whatever they may have been accused of, and whatever processes they may at one time or another have pledged to follow. The tragedy here is that judging by Rev Towner’s 11 February letter, CS knows what it ought to do. It just can’t bring itself to actually do it.
Whenever sin is exposed, it creates a crisis and a crisis is a revealing time. It will reveal the heart of the one who is accused; it will reveal your heart to you; and it will reveal the heart of the structure or organization that is threatened by the truth.