The Bishop of Maidstone has encouraged churches under his pastoral care to adhere to a new set of commitments to stop a culture of abuse in conservative evangelical churches.
Rt Rev Rod Thomas has released a document with five commitments concerning safeguarding procedures, the treatment of women and transparency about complementarian beliefs, among other issues.
It's after charity Thirtyone:Eight revealed that the wider church culture at conservative evangelical churches had contributed to the abuse committed by evangelical pastor Jonathan Fletcher.
“One of the things we want to do is to try to ensure that where problems exist, they are addressed,” Bishop Rod told Premier Christian News.
“We've taken some of the criticisms Thirtyone:Eight mounted, very seriously, but then the other is to stop people seeing problems absolutely everywhere when people are exercising perfectly legitimate leadership, and therefore we want to get the right balance that gives assurance to everybody.”
The first commitment says parishes should “act with impartiality and justice” particularly when it comes to women’s voices in ministry. It says parishes should seek to address “the extent to which women’s voices are heard appropriately, the existence of ‘inner circles’ in church life, and the extent to which members of staff or key volunteers are consulted, listened to, and treated fairly”.
The document also encourages churches to clearly “signpost safe pathways for raising concerns” as it emphasises that “safeguarding concerns should always be dealt with via the relevant Parish and Diocesan policies”.
“Recent events have shown the importance of people having an appropriate way of raising concerns. Many of these concerns will be low-level (ie they do not reach the threshold for a formal complaint), but nevertheless it is important that they should be registered, so that patterns can be discerned and addressed at an early stage,” the document reads.
In the third commitment, Parish Pastoral Councils (PPC) are encouraged to “ensure awareness of a PCC’s convictions over men’s and women’s ministry”. The document says that PCCs “should state their complementarian position in an open and transparent manner. Various possibilities may be appropriate, but two in particular would seem important”.
It recommends a sentence of the church’s website as way of providing clarity as well as a notice board in the church’s internal noticeboard.
For the fourth commitment, parishes are recommended to “foster positive working relationships within dioceses” so the “responsibilities that senior clergy in the diocese have for parishes in their area of responsibility is properly acknowledged, and parishes are able to access effectively any support they might need”.
And lastly, the fifth commitment urges a careful review of “a PCC’s own church culture” by referring back the Church Cultures Review Questions produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEE).
“At the heart of all of this lies those who have been damaged by wrong behaviours. And I think we owe it to them to learn the lessons from this and to try to put things right,” Bishop Rod said.
“But we also owe it to the honour of our Lord Jesus Christ, to be good places for proclaiming the Gospel where people know they can be safe and secure,” he concluded.