Stephen Parsons; Sunday, June 26, 2022; 12:00 PM-12:50 PM
The Church of England like many churches around the world has been facing an avalanche of sexual abuse stories in recent years. My paper is not to focus on the sensationalist side of these stories but rather to look at the way that some of these accounts have distinctive cultic elements. Strong personalities like Jonathan Fletcher and John Smyth have operated within Anglican evangelical networks, using conservative theology and charismatic personalities to captivate and, at the same time, risk harm to many privileged young men. These attended summer camps and came under the spell of their mesmeric preaching. Some of the homoerotic abusive behaviour which took place has now been extensively documented by various reports. Much soul-searching has been taking place among many church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. He knew personally, in the 70s, some of the key personalities involved in the summer camps at the heart of the abuse. He also became a leader while still at university. The paper proposed will be summarising this developing story up till June 2022. It will also show how the wider Church of England is waking up to the force of cultic methods which have been operating in its midst for decades. The paper will hopefully assist individuals to see how main-stream churches like the Church of England can be led astray by cultic dynamics which can be harmful and abusive to those caught up in them.
Stephen Parsonsis a retired Anglican priest living near Carlisle, England. His interest in cultic and high demand religious groups goes back to the 80s when he researched material for a book on Christian healing. He realised that among practitioners of spiritual healing there were some whose healing practice was abusive and exploited the vulnerability of the sick. This led eventually to a study of abusive Christianity, Ungodly Fear, which collected and interpreted stories of individuals who had joined certain fundamentalist Christian groups in the UK but suffered in the encounter. Since the book appeared in 2000, and especially since retirement in 2010, he has been reading widely in the areas of social psychology and psychoanalytic theory to understand this phenomenon of abuse within certain churches. He runs a blog, www.survivingchurch.org which attempts to set out the fruits of this study and reflection. The blog is also a forum for discussion and support for those meeting the abusive side of a religious group. He hopes to continue this task of holding up a mirror to church institutions. They sometimes become abusive in a variety of ways, sometimes without understanding the processes and without any insight into what is going on.