I have been reading Letters to a Broken Church, edited by Janet Fife and Gilo.
This can be purchased here.
It is not an easy read, by any means and it does come with serious trigger warnings. The book draws on the personal experience of survivors of abuse and their allies to give thirty three essays on various aspects of the abuse crisis facing the Church of England. Some of these essays are very personal, where the writer talks about their own experience of abuse, others take a more analytical approach and speak of strategies to improve and the reasons that the church is failing.
The book was produced in response to the IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) hearings that have been taking place and where the Church of England has been one of the subjects of enquiry. The IICSA has brought to light many factual matters, but it has shown a church that is broken and which needs to be mended if it is to be the church that Christ intended it to be.
We are shown a picture of a church that is amateur and out of its depth in handling matters that are beyond its competence and experience. This is a church where those in power are not sufficiently trained and experienced to manage the complexities of abuse, but who are themselves not held to account for their failures. Nobody is being held to account for what has happened (or failed to happen) at a leadership level. We are seeing a church where protecting the institution from reputational damage is being prioritised over the needs of the survivors.
The church strategy of holding a lessons-learned review is wearing very thin very quickly. Lessons are not being learned. This is evident when the same failures are repeated. Lessons do need to be learned and those who fail to learn the lessons need to be held to account, if necessary removed from office if they are not able to gain the necessary expertise.
What we need are leaders who are willing to lead the church to a better and more compassionate place where it can truly serve all the people of this country. That means that it needs to start with real repentance at an institutional level and a timetable for intentional change. That will lead to short term reputational damage, but longer-term cleansing and growth. We cannot afford to have these failures tolerated and justified any longer.
The management culture that is currently in fashion in the Church of England does not easily find room for those people and issues that are not easy to manage, but a confident church that is open and accountable to the people it serves must embrace a different way of operating if it is to change the culture that allows so much abuse to flourish. Andrew Graystone in his essay An Entirely Different Approach: The Church of England and Survivors of Abuse, sets out such a strategy, which focuses on meeting the needs of the survivors rather than concentrating on making the problem go away and avoiding insurance payouts. Several writers show how the treatment they receive when they have made complaints is like being reabused because they are not adequately supported, or even not supported at all.
Among many excellent essays, the other one that needs to be essential reading is Martyn Percy’s Church, Cricket, Elephants and Armies. He shows very eloquently why the Church of England is not able to manage this crisis itself.
Although the context is different, a book like this shows why the Church of England has been unable to find a way forward in its struggles over human sexuality. Some of the issues are the same, such as abuse of power, bad theology, prioritising the reputation of the institution over justice and the dignity of those who are suffering. On human sexuality, the church has been writing reports and ‘listening’ to the experience of LGBT people for decades, with no progress and very little apparent learning and nobody taking responsibility for making changes. The effect is the same as the repeated ‘lessons learned’ and formal apologies without any institutional change in how people are treated and valued.
We need better leadership in the church. We need leaders who will do what is right, even when it is unpopular and who will show how the Church of England can actually be the type of church that is needed in 21st century England. It needs to put people at the heart of the church, just as Jesus did.