I must start with a declaration of interest. I worship in a Methodist church in Britain. This is why I have been so interested in the Rev Flowers since he hit the headlines last weekend.
There is an interesting interview on the BBC Radio 4 programme, Sunday, on 24th November 2013, starting at 31:48 into the programme. Please listen to the clip on BBC.co.uk or on the link http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03j8ksr/Sunday_St_Peters_bones_Father_Alec_Reid_Slavery/
Jesus told his followers to be innocent as doves and wily as snakes. Frequently we have been told, from the Old Testament prophets through to the New Testament Epistles, that we should not have hard hearts. If anyone can show me where we are told to have soft heads, please, please, please, answer with the Scriptural reference and I will ensure that it is posted in full. I keep trying, but I cannot find such a reference anywhere in Scripture.
But back to the Methodist Church. The church requires its ministers to self-reflect with colleagues on their work. Its spokesman did not say anything about other areas of their life.
Paul Flowers had a conviction in 1981 for committing a homosexual act with another man in a public toilet. According the the press, the Methodist church statement was to the effect that he was very contrite and enthusiastic about his work so he was allowed to continue in ministry. What is Biblical about that, I wonder. What checks, if any, were made to ensure that he was committed to fidelity within marriage and chastity outside of marriage?
In 1990, celebrating his fortieth birthday, he was convicted of drunk driving. A spokeswoman for the Methodist Church said they were aware of the drink-driving conviction and a disciplinary hearing was held but he had been allowed to continue his role in the church. Again, I ask what checks have been made to ensure that he was not abusing alcohol or any other substance?
Nobody brought to the Methodist church’s attention the fact that he left Lifeline after his expenses were questioned, and the chief executive of that charity has stated that he had wrongfully claimed £75,000 over five years ending in 2004, a problem that cost another £75,000 to sort out. So the Methodist church had as a trustee of the trust that controls its property a man who resigned as a trustee of a charity when his expenses were subject to a check. The charity commission received a report on this but one wonders what it did with the report. Given that a Labour Party place(wo)man was appointed to chair the Charity Commission under the Labour Government, it must be expected that a Labour supporter, and former Labour councillor being subject to such a report during a Labour administration, would cause the report to be buried. The resignation is a matter of public record. why does the Methodist Church not ask all charities where Ministers have been trustees and have resigned for a statement from the charity about the circumstanes of the resignation?
He was a trustee of the Terence Higgins Trust, in connection with which it was written that he was an ‘out gay man’. The biblical requirement for leadership in the church is that one is a man married to one wife? The fact that he was a trustee of the Terence Higgins Trust is surely grounds for a referral to the appropriate disciplinary authority in the church.
He was elected to Bradford Council as a Labour councillor, from which he resigned in 2011. The message for public consumption was that the resination was due to pressue of work as chairman of the Co-operative Bank, but it only happened when ‘inappropriate but not illegal adult content’ material was found on his Bradford City Council computer during a service by the IT department. Unless the true reason for his resignation had been made public, it is difficult to see how this could have been a trigger point for anything by the church.
But it is clear that this man had ‘previous’, to use the vernacular. But how and where does this leave the Methodist Church?
The Connexional Secretary, Mr. Doug Swanney, has told Edward Stourton on the BBC programme linked above that in relation to the conduct of ministers of the Methodist Church “We can only deal with evidence that is presented to us. … The process we ask our ministers to engage in are around self disclosure as we ask them to reflect on their ministry, accompanied as they reflect on their ministry”, and then later, “We don’t think there is any more we could have done”…”We have one instance here and I don’t think that means our system is morally bankrupt” … “We believe that the systems we have are robust” … “I don’t think that the kind of root and branch review that would insinuate there was something rotten everywhere..”
I beg to disagree, strongly disagree, with Mr. Swanney. Let’s start with the principles of self disclosure and self-refection. In the case of someone who uses a position as a minister of the church to get access to people and places he otherwise would not get, can we be assured of their honesty?
There is no suggestion that Mr. Flowers was a paedophile, but paedophiles are generally considered to be cunning schemers and manipulators of people. given that other denominations’ clergy contain paedophiles in their ranks, what is the probability there that there are no paedophiles within the ranks of Methodist clergy? Have the Methodist Church put procedures in place to try to proactively prevent paedophile clergy from causing any harm to any children before the matter reaches the stage of criminal charges? Would a self-reflecting paedophile tell his superintendant minister about his desires or would he reflect that if he simply keeps quiet he is more likely to get away with his little schemes?
When I was employed, I was responsible for managing my employer’s car fleet. My first argument when I was given the responsibility was to insist that every person who was allowed to drive a company car had to give their licence every quarter to their divisional director who would photocopy it and send a copy to me so that I had proof that they did in fact have a licence. This happened because of a report I had seen about someone being given a company car even though he had been disqualified from driving. The driver had had an accident and the employer had been fined for letting him have a company car when he was not qualified to drive it. The only person who objected was a divisional director who had previously failed to disclose an endorsement to the company so that the company could inform the insurers. To me it was quite clear that I had to protect the company from people who might not want to lose their job if they had lost their licence. We had something like 40 cars on the fleet and something like 70 possible drivers. There may only be one or two bad apples in the Methodist barrel, but they need removing before they infect the rest of the crop.
Every public company has to have an audit. 99%+ of all Finance directors are honest, but the company has to have an audit to reassure the shareholders, who are the owners of the company. The finance directors do not take the need for an audit as a personal slight, but as a means of proving that they and the other directors have faithfully fulfilled their stewardship role for the owners. This is the same. If this is how they view keeping evil out of positions of leadership in the church, what is a Methodist audit going to be like. “Are your figures OK and do you have any problems? OK, see you next year.”
How many times do the Connexional Leadership Team want to see promotions like the one this week from a florist which said “It’s been a bad week for Flowers. But if you quote the promotional code “Crystal Methodist” we will give you 10% off”. Let’s be real. Florists aren’t exactly the best known trade for macho and “in your face” advertising.
I had a conversation this week with a non-Christian friend who told me that men wearing dog-collars were more likely to be dishonest and perverts than, in his words, normal people. I do not want to have conversations like that again.
Only by following the Word, in terms of the requirements for a leader, and taking proactive steps to avoid retaining bad apples can any church or denomination possibly be certain of its clergy all doing what God requires.
I wonder whether the Methodist church would care to comment? I will post in full any comment or response they care to make.