Scandalous Justice:

Nick Howard
21 min readFeb 6, 2024

The Absence of Due Process in Conservative Evangelical Scandals

We should never undertake the task of rebuking another’s sin unless, cross-examining our own conscience, we can assure ourselves, before God, that we are acting from love.

Augustine, Commentary on Galatians

PREFACE

This is an article about British conservative evangelical leaders failing to apply due process in their handling of scandals. It will define due process and briefly review the Smyth scandal (Introduction); examine one aspect of the Fletcher scandal (Part 1); and survey the Sizer scandal (Part 2, published separately and at a later date).

In both of the latter cases, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, one of the most influential churches in Britain, has received significant assistance from the National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC). These cases are therefore relevant to Anglican and nonconformist evangelicals alike.

William Taylor, Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, and John Stevens, National Director of FIEC

Justice is one of the major themes of the Bible. In view of the cross, it could be said that love and justice are the two greatest themes of the Bible. This two-part article will argue that British evangelical leaders have mishandled three successive scandals; that repentance and redress are, in some cases, still lacking; and that until justice is upheld God’s people will remain blameworthy and our fellowship will remain impaired.

INTRODUCTION: DUE PROCESS AND THE SMYTH SCANDAL

The phrase “due process” comes from the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. It’s shorthand for the principle that allegations should be carefully and impartially examined before judicial decisions are made — a principle found in the Bible in passages such as 2 Chronicles 19:5–8.

One form of due process is a judge and jury trial with lawyers for the prosecution and the defence. But it’s a mistake to think that a public jury trial is the only true vehicle for due process. There are many situations where the basic features of due process can and should be applied without the expense and infrastructure of a public jury trial. The core features of biblical due process are as follows.

The Gathering and Examining of Facts

Due process requires the facts of a case to be sought out (Leviticus 5:1) and carefully considered (2 Chronicles 19:5–7). This means due process is usually time-consuming. In serious cases, a speedy condemnation or exoneration likely indicates a lack of proper investigation and therefore a lack of due process.

Sometimes facts can’t be gathered unless witnesses come forward. Generally speaking, Christians with relevant information should be willing to provide it, in order to aid the workings of due process. Any failure of judicial decision-makers to disclose or engage with facts contravenes the next feature of due process.

Transparency

Due process requires that justice should not only be done but should also be seen to be done. While it’s usually inevitable that one side will be disappointed with the outcome, both sides—and public onlookers—should be satisfied with the basic handling of the case.

For justice to be seen to be done, onlookers need access to as much of the evidence and judicial reasoning as possible. In a serious case, a guilty or not guilty verdict should never be issued without, first, public explanation of the facts; and, second, point-by-point engagement with the allegations. This will happen as a matter of course in a courtroom trial, as each side presents its arguments. In other judicial situations, the decision-makers (e.g., an organisation’s trustees) should show, when issuing their verdict, that they’ve taken all the different aspects of the case into consideration, usually by issuing a detailed written statement or report.

The value of transparency can be seen in Ruth 4, where Boaz invites ten elders to observe the complex legal deal-making that will lead to his marriage to Ruth. The openness of the negotiating helps the town accept the outcome.

Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 4:2, Paul speaks of the openness of his ministry as grounds for widespread moral approval: “by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” This implies that refusing to state the truth openly (e.g., issuing a verdict without explaining the factual grounds for that verdict) cannot be commended.

Another relevant passage is Genesis 14, which tells the story of Abraham’s successful military campaign against the northern raiders who seized people and goods from Sodom. After Abraham successfully recovered those stolen possessions, he was entitled to a share of the plunder, and his allies duly took their share. But Abraham told the king of Sodom he wouldn’t accept anything that had originally belonged to the king, “lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’” (verse 23). Abraham presumably didn’t want it to be rumoured that he had profited from Sodom’s immorality. In light of this episode, God’s people should, where possible, follow Abraham’s example by avoiding conduct that might be viewed negatively by onlookers. Paul encourages a similar sensitivity to what people might say or think by instructing Christians to “give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17; see also Titus 2:7–8). When Abraham’s “lest someone says” principle is applied to a judicial context, it should encourage all parties to be as transparent as possible.

Impartiality

Due process also requires impartiality (2 Chronicles 19:7). If the investigators have relational, financial, or organisational ties to the accuser or the accused, the impartiality of the investigation will be questionable. Total independence can in some circumstances be impossible to achieve, but in such cases special attention should be paid to the other aspects of due process, so that — as far as possible — doubts to do with partiality can be set aside.

At Least Two Witnesses

Both the Old and New Testaments, mindful of the danger of a malicious witness, insist that “every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1). “Witness” doesn’t necessarily mean “eyewitness”. Leviticus 5:1 says that a witness is someone who has “seen or come to know.

Leviticus 5:1 also speaks of “a public adjuration to testify”, which is a call for anyone with relevant information to come forward. Cases that at first seem hopelessly difficult to adjudicate, because they appear to hinge on one person’s word against another’s, may change in nature if just one additional witness provides supportive information.

Both Sides Heard

Decision-makers should seek out the best possible representations of both sides of the case. As it says in Proverbs 18:17, “The first to state his case seems right, until his opponent begins to cross-examine him.” When one side isn’t given the opportunity to address the allegations or to respond to the other side’s arguments, several of the other features of due process will inevitably be lacking.

Seriousness Calls for Seniority

Exodus 18:26 says that Israel’s newly appointed judges brought “any hard case” to Moses, while “any small matter they decided themselves”. This establishes the principle that senior leaders will deal with more serious cases themselves. It also implicitly establishes a rudimentary right of appeal, so that senior leaders can be made aware of a case’s existence.

In view of this principle, any complaints process that deliberately insulates the leader of an organisation from serious matters is a bad system. The system should have the opposite effect, ensuring that serious cases come to the attention of the most senior leaders.

This feature of due process is the reason why a leader shouldn’t seek to draw a line under a scandal by simply saying, “I never knew about this.” Instead the leader should say, “I should have known about this and was wrongly kept in the dark by the people in my organisation who knew about it and should have told me.” The people who failed to tell the leader should then be identified and held accountable. If it turns out that senior leaders did know, they themselves must be held accountable. If a leader merely says “I never knew about this” and leaves things there, biblical due process has not been upheld.

Just as hard cases should reach the eyes of senior leaders, criminal cases should reach the proper civil authorities (usually the police). It’s a grievous failure of biblical due process when a Christian organisation withholds evidence of a crime from civil authorities (Romans 13:1 — 5).

False Testimony Is Its Own Offence

Many judicial systems treat perjury — false testimony given while under oath in court — as an imprisonable offence in its own right. The sin of dishonesty is especially serious in a judicial context, which can’t operate properly without an accurate account of the relevant events (see, for example, the story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21:1–16).

Speaking untruthfully in an important context—as distinct from loose speech about insignificant matters—can be a disqualifying offence for a Christian leader. Dishonest speech by a Christian leader in a judicial context should certainly be treated as a disqualifying offence.

Retributory Punishment

Due process isn’t complete until those who are guilty have received the appropriate punishment for their offence. Unjustified leniency is a temptation that should be resisted (1 Samuel 15:7–11). Punishment is necessary not only for the sake of the offender’s victims, or for the sake of the offender’s own moral training, or for the sake of deterring others from committing the same offence. Those aims are worthy, but they aren’t the primary purpose of punishment, which is retribution: the expression of God’s anger against the offender (Romans 13:3–4). While it’s gloriously true that Christ was punished in our place, and believers enjoy God’s full pardon in heaven, Scripture consistently teaches that God approves when his people are duly punished for earthly offences (Romans 13:1–5; 1 Peter 2:13–15).

Due Process in the Local Church

Sometimes judgments will be necessary within the local church (1 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 6:1–8). The correct procedure to be followed in that specific context is set out in Matthew 18:15–20. To begin with, an individual who seems guilty of wrongdoing should be approached privately by one person. If the alleged wrongdoer refuses to repent, the matter should then be established by two or three witnesses (Jesus cites Deuteronomy 19:15). If repentance is still lacking, the matter should then be announced to the whole church (this instruction is further proof of the importance of transparency in biblical justice). And if the offender refuses to take that third opportunity to repent, the church should “treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17), i.e., excommunicate him.

The Value of Due Process

Due process is the strongest means of defence against mob justice: the age-old danger of premature condemnation at the hands of a crowd, which nowadays often happens via social media. By waiting to gather evidence and hear the other side of the story, decision-makers committed to due process can stop false accusations in their tracks, thereby preventing serious miscarriages of justice.

Due process is also the strongest means of defence against the illegitimate use of power by those in authority. Where due process is properly followed, cover-ups are harder to sustain and wrongdoing is more likely to come to light.

According to Proverbs 17:15, whoever acquits the guilty or condemns the innocent is “an abomination to the LORD.” This shows the high seriousness of justice in the sight of God. A Christian entrusted with a decision-making role in a judicial case should not only pray for God’s help, but should also diligently make use of due process as the only responsible way to pursue justice (Deuteronomy 16:19–21).

The Smyth Scandal

Although this article will mainly deal with other scandals, it’s important to note the absence of due process in the handling of the Smyth scandal.

In 1982, the trustees of the Iwerne Trust, which—along with Scripture Union—was responsible for overseeing an evangelical summer camp ministry, investigated John Smyth’s sadistic abuse of teenage boys groomed via the camps. There were at least three major due process failings.

First, the reputation of the trustees’ organisation was at stake, and therefore the trustees cannot be considered impartial judges. Second, the trustees chose not to make their findings public. Third, by failing to inform the police, the trustees stopped due process from happening by the proper route.

The absence of due process led to a 30-year cover-up, which arguably had lethal consequences. At a 1992 camp led by Smyth in Zimbabwe, a 16-year-old named Guide Nyachuru was found naked and dead in a swimming pool. Smyth was charged with culpable homicide, but the case was dismissed because of a conflict of interest unrelated to the evidence.

One review of Smyth’s abuse in the UK concluded, “if Smyth had been prosecuted for the offence of assault or assault occasioning actual bodily harm in the 1980s … there would have been a reasonable prospect of conviction.” In other words, due process would likely have stopped Smyth departing for Africa as a free man, and Guide Nyachuru might still be alive today. Another consequence of a 1980s conviction would have been justice for the British survivors of Smyth’s abuse.

Smyth died in 2018, one year after the cover-up was exposed, and before he faced formal charges in Britain. In this world justice was never done, and the failure of conservative evangelicals to follow due process was largely to blame for that.

The rest of this article will argue that British conservative evangelicalism has made little or no progress either in its understanding of due process or in its commitment to adhere to it.

PART 1: THE ROLE OF ST HELEN’S BISHOPSGATE IN THE FLETCHER SCANDAL

In a letter to members dated 4 June 2021, the churchwardens of St Helen’s Bishopsgate acknowledged that questions had been raised about the conduct of William Taylor (Rector of St Helen’s) and Brian O’Donoghue (a St Helen’s staff member) in connection with the Jonathan Fletcher scandal.

The main question raised about Taylor’s conduct was whether his claim not to have known about Fletcher’s abuse before February 2019 was plausible.

The main question raised about O’Donoghue’s conduct was why—if Taylor’s claim was true—O’Donoghue had failed to inform Taylor before February 2019 about the potential danger posed by Fletcher. According to the churchwardens’ letter, O’Donoghue possessed “limited” information about Fletcher before February 2019. The churchwardens didn’t say what this information was, or when O’Donoghue received it. Due to O’Donoghue’s former position as an AMiE trustee, it’s reasonable to assume he received information about Fletcher’s abusive conduct by late 2018 if not before. (AMiE trustees are thought to have learned about Fletcher’s abuse when Andy Lines, one of Fletcher’s victims, stepped back from ministry for a period of counselling and recovery.)

Brian O’Donoghue’s Safeguarding Failure

The timeframe during which O’Donoghue apparently kept Taylor in the dark is significant. In January 2019, Fletcher took part in a Mission Minded conference, and invitations to the conference were sent out by St Helen’s. Therefore, O’Donoghue’s own church was encouraging people to attend a residential conference where Fletcher would be present, and yet O’Donoghue chose not to give any kind of warning to the church’s lead pastor. This was, on the face of it, a serious safeguarding failure.

The failure was compounded by the fact that O’Donoghue, Taylor, and Fletcher were all at that time trustees of a church named St Peter’s Barge. O’Donoghue surely had a fiduciary duty (i.e., a responsibility connected with his role as a guardian of the church’s work) to inform Taylor about the allegations against Fletcher, their fellow trustee.

It’s possible O’Donoghue had been told that the information given to him about Fletcher was confidential and shouldn’t be shared. If so, that instruction was erroneous, and O’Donoghue should have known it was erroneous. A core safeguarding principle is that protecting people from potential harm overrides confidentiality and is allowed by law. For that reason, one of the first things taught in basic safeguarding training is that confidentiality should never be promised.

If O’Donoghue had admitted his safeguarding failure and apologised as soon as Fletcher’s abuse became public knowledge, he would likely — and probably rightly — have been excused. In many cases (not the most serious ones), safeguarding failures need not be disqualifying if they’re promptly and fully admitted. But St Helen’s chose to take a very different approach that avoided any admission of wrongdoing.

An Unpersuasive Exoneration

In their letter, the churchwardens claimed that Taylor and O’Donoghue had been exonerated by external investigators:

Given the seriousness of the allegations, we commissioned an independent law firm to conduct a fact-finding investigation to establish when William first came to know of Jonathan Fletcher’s conduct, as well as what Brian knew and what he did with that information. This involved approaching key people for their accounts of events and reviewing relevant documents.

Edward Connor Solicitors concluded that “William Taylor did not have knowledge of Jonathan Fletcher’s abuse, prior to 5 February 2019.” This confirmed that William told the truth when he has said that he first learned of Fletcher’s abuse in early February 2019. The lawyers also confirmed that the limited nature of the information provided to Brian and the capacity in which it was provided means that Brian acted properly in not informing William.

This presented the appearance of due process because the exoneration was based on an investigation by an independent law firm. In reality, however, due process was absent, for two reasons.

(1) A Lack of Impartiality

The Chair of Trustees of Edward Connor Solicitors is John Stevens of the FIEC, and Edward Connor’s website describes FIEC as a “sister organisation”. Stevens is a close ministry ally of William Taylor. While Stevens may not himself have been actively involved in the investigation, his position nonetheless undermines the investigation’s impartiality. The investigators would no doubt have been conscious of the working relationship between their firm’s chairman and Taylor. It was therefore not in their interest to ask probing questions potentially leading to an outcome that would have caused relational difficulties for their chairman. They may also have feared potential repercussions if their line of questioning had displeased Taylor, because of Taylor’s access to their own chairman. On top of those considerations, John Stevens had already publicly defended Taylor on the subject of what he knew about Fletcher and when he knew it. Lawyers who want to remain in their firm’s good graces will not be inclined to torpedo their chairman’s public position on a matter.

Change the names and faces, and this point will be plain to see. If an under-fire Prime Minister commissioned an investigation by a law firm chaired by an ally, any resulting exoneration would be treated as laughable. Onlookers would think that justice hadn’t been done, because of the lack of impartiality.

The argument here isn’t that Edward Connor Solicitors is inherently untrustworthy. It may be an excellent law firm, but the point is that in relation to St Helen’s it is perhaps the least independent law firm in Britain.

It should be noted that Edward Connor Solicitors chose to mark its first birthday with a celebration during the 2019 Evangelical Ministry Assembly. The celebration was held near EMA’s venue, and the connection between the two events was highlighted in the subtitle of an FIEC press release at the time. EMA is an annual event run by the Proclamation Trust, an organisation founded by Dick Lucas while he was the rector of St Helen’s. Until 2013, EMA regularly took place at St Helen’s itself. All of this underlines the relational connectedness between Edward Connor Solicitors and St Helen’s, and further demonstrates the problematic lack of impartiality.

It should also be noted that FIEC, John Stevens’s employer, receives benefits with a high financial value from Edward Connor Solicitors. Edward Connor subsidises those free services with money gained from paid work such as the investigation into Taylor and O’Donoghue. In other words, a law firm chaired by FIEC’s National Director took on an investigation into one of his friends, from which FIEC would reap financial gain in the form of free services. This transaction has the appearance of corruption: an all-but-guaranteed win for both St Helen’s and FIEC, with justice left neglected. The screenshot below shows an excerpt from a Facebook post in which Stevens warmly hails the outcome of what he calls “an independent legal review”, not mentioning that he himself chairs the law firm responsible. O’Donoghue can be seen expressing his gratitude.

For the sake of clarity, the allegation here isn’t that corruption has certainly taken place, it’s that the actions of St Helen’s and John Stevens have the appearance of corruption. This is significant because of the “lest it be said” principle discussed earlier. Justice should not only be done, it should also be seen to be done. The appearance of corruption could so easily have been avoided in this case through the use of an impartial law firm. Justice would then have been seen to be done.

Some readers may be outraged to see renowned senior leaders criticised in this way. But the leaders responsible for the Smyth cover-up (a worse offence than anything Stevens and Taylor are accused of in this article) were just as respected and admired in their day as Stevens and Taylor are today. Perhaps the most essential lesson of the Smyth cover-up is that we must never assume that any human leader will do the right thing. Due process is impartial because people aren’t.

(2) A Lack of Transparency

Biblical due process requires transparency, and in this, too, the investigation commissioned by St Helen’s fell short. No report or detailed statement from the investigators was made available. This meant that onlookers had no access to any evidence or to the reasoning used by the investigators. What did Brian O’Donoghue know about Jonathan Fletcher, and when did he know it? What were his specific reasons for failing to notify William Taylor? Who were the people interviewed by the investigators, and which documents were reviewed? All such questions remain unanswered. There was no legal reason to maintain secrecy because by the time the St Helen’s churchwardens released their letter, Fletcher’s case had already been decided by the Church of England. In public law, this level of secrecy is reserved for terrorism cases where the disclosure of evidence could endanger ongoing security operations. No such justification for secrecy applies to this case.

Even those who are willing to trust that Taylor told the truth and O’Donoghue acted blamelessly in not informing Taylor should agree that the lack of transparency in this case is indefensible. The churchwardens’ statement “Brian acted properly in not informing William” is rather like the statement “Person A acted properly in killing Person B.” Neither use of “properly” should be accepted without substantial further explanation.

It carries little weight, from the perspective of due process, to refer to investigators’ conclusions without showing—through specific, accessible evidence—how they reached those conclusions. Like maths students, the investigators should have shown their working.

A Dangerous Precedent

Consider the precedent that has been set by St Helen’s for other conservative evangelical organisations to copy. Whenever leaders are under suspicion, they can now commission a non-transparent investigation by a law firm with which they have personal ties, and they can point to St Helen’s as the example they’re following. Readers should ask themselves whether this precedent makes another Smyth-style cover-up more, or less, likely.

Steps Towards Resolution: Brian O’Donoghue and John Stevens

Brian O’Donoghue is still on the staff of St Helen’s, but he’s also recently taken on the role of Pioneering and Operations Director of ReNew — an influential leadership position among Anglican evangelicals. The trustees of ReNew should require O’Donoghue to give a public account of his actions. ReNew must show that it’s moved on from the clubby, secretive era of conservative evangelical Anglican leadership.

In particular, O’Donoghue should reveal what he knew about Jonathan Fletcher and when he knew it. O’Donoghue’s wife, Claire, was a trustee of the Titus Trust in the summer of 2017, when Fletcher was unwillingly escorted away from a Titus Trust camp, and so O’Donoghue’s knowledge may date back as far as 2017. O’Donoghue should also explain how he “acted properly in not informing William” (the words of the St Helen’s churchwardens), even though failure to inform contravenes a core safeguarding principle. If O’Donoghue has nothing to hide about what he knew, when he knew it, and why he failed to inform Taylor, then he should reveal all of that information. If, on the other hand, he does have something to hide, he shouldn’t be the Pioneering and Operations Director of ReNew.

John Stevens should have recognised the clear conflict of interest caused by his friendship with William Taylor and his role as chairman of Edward Connor Solicitors. Given that conflict of interest, he should never have allowed the investigation to go ahead and, once it had gone ahead, he should never have described it as “an independent legal review”. If he continues to insist that the review was independent, he’ll be treating God’s people as pliable fools. We aren’t.

The investigation has set a terrible precedent for accused leaders looking to clear their name. The only way for Stevens to dismantle that precedent is by issuing an apology and urging St Helen’s to commission a new investigation that will be truly independent. British evangelicalism cannot continue to accept secretive exonerations overseen — closely or loosely — by friends of the accused.

Steps Towards Resolution: St Helen’s

Christians should refuse to accept investigative standards for their spiritual leaders that they wouldn’t accept for their secular leaders. Sad to say, it’s easy to show that evangelical lawyers shouldn’t be blindly trusted on account of their Christian faith. When an investigation of evangelical leaders is necessary (which it must have been on this occasion, or else the St Helen’s churchwardens wouldn’t have commissioned one, presumably at considerable expense), it should be carried out with exemplary independence and transparency. Neither of those conditions was met in this case.

Someone might say that 1 Corinthians 6:1–8 mandates the use of Christian lawyers (such as the lawyers of Edward Connor Solicitors) in an intra-church judicial matter. But that’s a category error. The St Helen’s churchwardens were hiring investigators, and 1 Corinthians 6 does not ban Christians from using non-Christian investigators. That’s why the trustees of Ravi Zacharias International, knowing they would issue the final verdict themselves, did not act wrongly when they hired a secular law firm to investigate the allegations against Zacharias.

In brief, an apparently serious safeguarding breakdown seems to have been covered up by a law firm chaired by a friend of one of the accused leaders. St Helen’s might protest that there has been no cover-up, but without any published report there is no reliable basis for that claim, and therefore it would be dangerously naive to believe it.

The conduct of the St Helen’s churchwardens should make readers angry. In order to defuse pressing questions about Taylor and O’Donoghue, they’ve treated their congregation contemptuously by spending church funds on an investigation that was never fit for purpose, depriving everybody of true justice. The investigation’s inadequacies mean the original questions have not been defused and remain effectively unanswered. It still seems reasonable to say that either William Taylor lied about when he first heard of Jonathan Fletcher’s abuse, or alternatively Brian O’Donoghue was guilty of a safeguarding offence by neglecting to warn Taylor about Fletcher (an offence since exacerbated by O’Donoghue’s failure to apologise).

The only legitimate way forward would be for St Helen’s to commission a new investigation, with findings published in full, by a law firm with which St Helen’s has no personal ties. If the St Helen’s churchwardens refuse to do that, it would be reasonable to conclude that they’re fearful of what such an investigation would uncover.

The way in which St Helen’s has handled the allegations against Taylor and O’Donoghue disproves its claim to be a church that takes safeguarding seriously. An apparent safeguarding failure has been brushed aside by a legal manoeuvre lacking impartiality and transparency. This amounts to safeguarding negligence.

Side Note: Further Evidence of Safeguarding Negligence at St Helen’s

Safeguarding requires effective action to be taken not only against abusers but also against irresponsible leaders. One part of the Roman Catholic child abuse scandal was the abuse itself; a second part was the failure of local leaders to discipline the perpetrators; and a third part was the failure of senior leaders to discipline negligent local leaders. To give an example of this three part process: Revd John J. Geoghan was a sexually abusive priest in the Archdiocese of Boston; instead of disciplining Geoghan, Cardinal Law moved him from parish to parish; and instead of disciplining Law, the Catholic hierarchy rewarded him with a teaching position in Rome.

St Helen’s has recently participated in a similar three-part process. According to an article in Sheffield’s local newspaper, Tim Cudmore, formerly director of ministry and parish safeguarding officer at Christ Church Fulwood, resigned in 2018 as a result of his abuse of a young female congregation member. The article states that Canon Paul Williams, the senior minister of Christ Church Fulwood, had allowed Cudmore to remain as parish safeguarding officer despite being aware of a 2015 incident involving Cudmore and a different female congregation member. In addition, Williams failed to inform the congregation about Cudmore’s abuse in 2018, when he allowed Cudmore to depart quietly. After these events came to light, Williams himself had to resign from Christ Church Fulwood. But he has since been rewarded with a teaching role at St Helen’s.

Tim Cudmore, the abuser at Christ Church Fulwood, parallels Revd Geoghan in the Archdiocese of Boston; Paul Williams parallels Cardinal Law; and St Helen’s parallels the Roman Catholic hierarchy that rewarded Law with a teaching post in Rome. The evangelical side of the parallel differs from the Roman Catholic side in scale and horror, but it does not differ in the essential nature of the wrongdoing at each step. Such is the attitude towards safeguarding at St Helen’s.

It’s understandable for Paul Williams’s fellow leaders to feel sympathy for him—no one likes to see a pastor’s largely-faithful career end dishonourably—but St Helen’s has gone far beyond sympathy. Teaching is the heart of Christian leadership, as St Helen’s would no doubt agree. By restoring Williams to a regular, prominent teaching ministry, St Helen’s has signalled that his appalling handling of a sexual abuse case was excusable. But it wasn’t excusable, and inexcusable failures of leadership must face hard retributory consequences. If Williams is repentant, he should be forgiven on a personal basis; but he shouldn’t be restored (via regular, prominent teaching) to leadership over God’s people.

Next Steps: Readers of This Article

Readers of this article who belong to St Helen’s or FIEC may not be aware of the power they have. By raising questions publicly and privately, and by refusing to be satisfied with inadequate answers, it’s possible to create a tipping point that leads to organisational repentance. In some situations, it’s right to be politely deferential and back down when requested. This is not one of those situations. The matters raised in this article are too serious to be overlooked and forgotten.

--

--

Nick Howard

🇬🇧➡️🇺🇸 in 2012 | Jewish believer in Jesus as Messiah | Married to Betsy Childs Howard | Dad to Solly and Abel | Pastor of Grace Church Birmingham