The evangelical community in the U.K. is being rocked by a horrific abuse scandal, involving Jonathan Fletcher — arguably the leading evangelical figure in Britain for the past several decades.
On this episode of The Roys Report, Lee Furney—the first survivor of Fletcher’s abuse to go public —speaks out.
As Furney recounts, Fletcher groomed and abused young men who attended his prominent church in Wimbledon, England, for 30 years. Fletcher also reportedly abused youth at evangelical camps designed to train young men from elite schools to be future leaders.
Some of those who attended these camps, run by the Iwerne Trust, include the late theologian John Stott; Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury; and Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of the popular Alpha Course.
But it isn’t just Fletcher whose abuse is now being confirmed.
John Smyth, head of the Iwerne camps, also abused young men, dating back to the 1970s and 80s. Yet sadly, when Smyth’s abuse was uncovered, it wasn’t reported to police. Instead, the Iwerne Trust handled the matter in-house and sent Smyth to Africa, where he continued his abuse.
This story, which Furney called the “mother of all abuse stories,” is rocking the Church of England—and has many parallels to the recently-exposed Ravi Zacharias sex abuse scandal.
Furney, who works with churches in Malawi, not only draws these parallels, but also explores root causes and solutions.
LEE FURNEY, JULIE ROYS
This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.
JULIE ROYS 00:00
He’s been called the Pope of Evangelical conservativism. Jonathan Fletcher also is a serial abuser who subjected dozens of young men to ice baths, naked beatings and sex acts, according to a newly released report. Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And joining me today is Lee Furney. Lee is the first survivor of Jonathan Fletcher’s horrific abuse to go public. And as you’ll hear from Lee in the next hour, Fletcher groomed and abuse young men who attended his prominent church in Wimbledon England for 30 years. Fletcher also reportedly abused youth that at evangelical camps designed to train boys and young men from elite schools to be future leaders. Some of those who attended these camps run by what was called the Iwerne Trust include the late theologian John Stott, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of the popular ALPHA course. But it isn’t just Fletcher, whose abuse is now being confirmed. John Smyth, head of the Iwerne Camps, also abused young men dating back to the 1970s and 80s. Yet sadly, when Smyth’s abuse was uncovered, it wasn’t reported to police. Instead, the Iwerne Trust handled the matter in house, and then sent Smyth to Africa, where he continued his abuse. This story, which Furney calls ‘ the mother of all abuse stories’ is rocking the Church of England. It’s also sending shockwaves through the Anglican community in the US and around the world. And it has many parallels to the recently exposed Ravi Zacharias sex abuse scandal. In the next hour, we’ll explore this tragic story in detail and discuss the culture that allowed both Fletchers and Smyth’s abuse to continue for so long. We’ll also discuss solutions and next steps. So, I think this is going to be an extremely important podcast. But before I dive into my discussion with Lee, I’d like to thank my sponsors, Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington. I’m so grateful to partner with my friends at Judson University. Judson is a top ranked Christian university providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. The school also offers more than 60 majors and great leadership opportunities. For more information just go to Judsonu.edu. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. To check them out, just go to buyacar123.com. Well, again, joining me today is Lee Furney, the first survivor of Jonathan Fletcher’s abused who’s willing to be named. Lee attended Fletcher’s church in South London for five years. And for two years, he lived in a house with Fletcher as an apprentice. Lee also was the first to make a formal complaint regarding Fletcher’s coercive control some 20 years ago, and over the past several years, he’s spoken with dozens of victims about Jonathan Fletcher and John Smyth. And I’ve gotten to know Lee a bit over the past few months. And I’ve learned that he’s a man who cares deeply about abuse survivors, and also about the integrity of the church. So Lee, thank you so much for joining me and for having the courage to speak out about this horrific abuse in the church.
LEE FURNEY 03:17
Hi, Julie. Good to speak with you too.
JULIE ROYS 03:19
I should mention that you’re joining me from Malawi, where you’ve pastored a church. You’re now working to equip church leaders there. So, despite everything that’s happened, you stayed in the church, you’re in ministry, right?
LEE FURNEY 03:31
Yes, I’m involved in ministry in Malawi. I was pastoring a church there for about eight years. And then another guy is taken on a sort of replanted church, and we’re trying to get behind him and have a local leader lead, rather than me calling the shots. So, we’re really pleased that one of the local guys is doing great things.
JULIE ROYS 03:51
Wow. And that’s a wonderful thing when you can pass on ministry to the nationals. And they can take it and run with it and do much more than we can who come in from the west. But great to hear that and great to hear that you’re in ministry. But we have been in conversation about what’s happened with Jonathan Fletcher. And you’ve been anticipating this report. Obviously, it was many months in the making. And in the UK, this is like major news. You have one of the most respected journalists in all of England who’s reporting on this. And of course, that gives it a high profile. The Church of England obviously is high profile. But most of my listeners are in the US. And so I think I’d just like to start there. If you could explain why people in the US and evangelicals in the US should care about this scandal that’s happened across the Atlantic. I mean, how does it impact us here but also just evangelicalism in general?
LEE FURNEY 04:49
Yes, I think that’s first of all is the link is evangelicalism. In the US, it’s often associated with high profile figures. You might sort of think of a Tim Keller or whoever. And so, we’re looking at sort of equivalence in the UK. High profile figures who are known for their theological orthodoxy, in quite a mixed denomination. Their domination is not so much importance. But we’re talking about the known conservative evangelicals. And the way it maps is very much like the Ravi Zacharias scandal. Lots of similar lines. So, there’s a lot of sort of joint learning that we can do together.
JULIE ROYS 05:26
And in the UK, unlike in the US, evangelicalism is more of a minority among Christians, is that correct?
LEE FURNEY 05:30
That’s right. Yes, we’ve been on the backfoot for quite a while. And it’s tough going. I think that’s part of the deal is that people are so busy trying to do what the sergeant major says, in the army sort of sphere. And the last thing they want to do is, is do some friendly fire. And that’s what people fear. But actually, we need to deal with their own problems.
JULIE ROYS 05:45
But it is tough when you have a movement, that’s a minority movement already. And then to have a scandal like this come out, which is not just with Jonathan Fletcher. And I mentioned this does go back with another very prominent evangelical. In fact, you’ve called this when we talked months ago, the mother of all abuse stories. So, I think to really unpack this, we need to take a look at sort of the background of it. You know what, what happened? Again, what makes this so huge is it a part of a system preceding Fletcher’s abuse. And also concurrent with it was this abuse of this other large figure who again, in the US, probably nobody’s heard of, but his name is John Smyth. And these two abusers are in many ways intertwined. So, let’s start with John Smyth and his abuse, which goes back to as I understand it, the 1970s and 1980s. Who is John Smyth, and what did he do?
LEE FURNEY 06:51
Right, so John Smyth was an eminent lawyer. He was the Queen’s counsel, so sort of top of the tree in terms of law. And he was part of the same sort of social circle and Christian circle as Jonathan Fletcher from the early days, right back in the 70s, and 80s, when his abusing began. And the place where all this centered around was some summer camps that were run in order to win the next generation of Christian leaders, which in itself, is a noble cause. However, everyone on that summer camp needed to have attended a private school. Many were from Oxford and Cambridge. And they all went to these Iwerne holidays. And the idea was to be strategic, was the word that they used, to try and select ministry leaders for tomorrow. Of course, it was elitist, and pride was coming into the church and worldly methods were being used to develop leaders. And then through their camp system, this abuser, John Smyth, was grooming people in order to abuse them and to get his way with them. And so often, the grooming would happen on camp, and then the abuse would happen off camp. So, he’d lure people in and be very friendly to them, inviting them out to the house and meals and pool parties and that kind of thing. Together with his wife. And that’s when things would go wrong. So, with spiritual abuse, he’d use the Bible, and he would offer them a sort of elitist form of Christianity. If they wanted to be really first-class Christian, shall we say. Then he offered them methods to do that. So what he would do would be to ask invasive questions. He’d often ask boys about masturbation, and they would own up to this trusted Christian father figure and tell them what was going on. And then he’d suggest that he would beat them in order to to help them with their struggle against sin, as he’d say. And so basically, the young people thought that they were getting some help with their spirituality. In fact, it was John Smyth getting what he wanted, as he took these guys down to his garden shed and beat them, and repeatedly so, and the beatings were so bad, that some of the guys had to wear adult sized diapers in order to stop the bleeding the next day. So, it was really tragic stuff.
JULIE ROYS 09:18
It’s so tragic! And to think that it happened with a man who was a trusted Christian leader. Again, a big figure in evangelicalism there in the UK. And so, Smyth and Fletcher were both involved in these Iwerne camps concurrently. But Smith came before Fletcher. Correct?
LEE FURNEY 09:36
Right. Smyth was the leader of the camps at the time. So, he was actually the one who was supposed to be the sort of under Shepherd leading the camps. But was actually the chief abuser. Fletcher was there at the time. They were concurrent, but Fletcher’s profile wasn’t quite as big. It was still very large within the camp circuits. And it was said by some of the Smyth victims that you can look out onto the sports fields, and there would be Smyth with a circle of boys around him. And there would be Fletcher. And they seem to be in competition in order to gather the coterie or their disciples around them. And John Smith used to warn the boys against Fletcher. That he would do something evil to them, even at that stage. And actually, one of the most severe Smyth victims said that, you know, this is a crazy witness. Here’s a guy who was beaten so many times and caused so much anguish, that he tried to take his own life on a couple of occasions. Fortunately, he’s still with us today, and is a great friend and a lovely man. And he says he was thankful with Smyth that was straightforward beatings. Whereas Fletcher got inside people’s heads and messed them up psychologically. So, here’s someone who’s had hundreds of beatings, tried to commit suicide, and sees actually the Fletcher stuff being even worse than Smyth.
JULIE ROYS 11:07
Wow, it’s so heartbreaking. What’s especially heartbreaking I think, is that this all could have been stopped decades ago. As I understand there was in 1982, because of, I don’t know if it was this gentleman or somebody else, but one of the victims of John Smyth attempted suicide. And as a result, there was a report done, an investigation within the Iwerne Trust. And they found that the scale and severity of the practices were horrific. Eight victims received about 14,000 beatings, two of them having some 8000 strokes over three years. This came out again, the Iwerne Trust, they knew about this in 1982. There was a school associated with Yorn Winchester College, and they found out about it. And as I understand it, what they did is said, You just keep John Smyth away from us. And then he gets shipped off to Zimbabwe, and then repeats it. How on earth does that happen?
LEE FURNEY 12:13
Right, and this is, I think, some of the relevance of our conversation to today’s listeners. That if you don’t deal with abuse properly, in the past, its going to come back in the present and into the future. And it must be dealt with properly. You can’t do half a job. And many people feel very awkward. They don’t want to get involved with these things. You know, it’s shameful, it’s messy, but you must deal with these things. So that report that was produced at that time, says that it was illegal, the behavior, and yet it wasn’t reported to the police at the time. And why wasn’t it reported to the police at the time? Well, a story given by the guy who took over the campus from John Smyth. None other than Jonathan Fletcher’s own brother, David. What he said it was because the victims didn’t want it known. And the parents didn’t want it known. And they’d suffered enough. Whereas privately he was telling other people that on these camps, some of the parents were from the upper echelons of society. They were front page, profile people, and they couldn’t afford to expose them to that shame. And so that’s why the cover up really took place. And so that’s what happened. They offered Smyth the Gentlemen’s agreements, and said to him, if he didn’t abuse any more, and promised not to, and promised to see a psychiatrist, then they would forget about it. He actually was around in the country for a little while and even studies at one of the top theological colleges for a while he was trying to get jobs in churches there. And again, rather than expose him at the time and reveal what was going on, they wanted to keep a lid on things. And so, it was a cat and mouse game, with him still trying to continue in the UK. And then eventually they persuaded him to go to Africa. And just stop and think about that. And I’ve lived in Africa for the last 10 years, that they decided to get rid of their trash by exporting it to Africa, and telling him to be a good boy, and hoping for the best. And the best is not what happened when he got to Africa by any means.
JULIE ROYS 14:24
Yeah, I mean, from what I’ve read, he set up the Zambezi Ministries, held summer camps for boys. I mean, I’m thinking of the people who shipped him off there. They really allowed him to have access to boys again? It’s stunning to me. He was arrested in 1997 during the investigation of drowning of a 16-year-old boy found naked in a pool at an Anglican prep school. We don’t know what happened. Smyth said the drowning was an accident. And the homicide investigation was eventually dismissed. Then he moves to South Africa, runs this thing called Justice Alliance of South Africa. Again, continues the abuse. And I you know I was born in Zimbabwe. My parents were missionaries there for 10 years, and the thought that that we would send, you know, the West would send someone as a missionary to help, who is really abusing children, is just absolutely horrific. It’s just awful.
LEE FURNEY 15:22
It really is horrific. In fact, at the start, they made him again promise not to do any summer camps when he was abroad. And you’ve guessed it. Within a couple of years that started. But once again, rather than reveal what he was doing at that time, and blow the whistle, they tried to manage the situation. And so rather than stopping it, they would check up and see how it was going. And so, if any of the Iwerne boys went out to Zimbabwe, one of the Iwerne leaders would check up on them when they got back to make sure that they were okay. And this was that system of trying to keep a lid on the scandal, but not protecting people on the ground. And no care really at all for local Zimbabwean people, as long as they’re Iwerne visitors, were okay. And then Smyth continued to abuse there, there was enforced nudity on the camps. And so the boys were told that they couldn’t wear underwear in bed, they had to leave toilet doors open, if they were on the trampoline, they weren’t allowed to wear any clothes. I mean, it was pretty sick stuff. And then the beatings there, some of them were fairly public. So, he’d get a table tennis bat, and spank people with it in front of others. Then he had private beatings with a larger stick as well. And, you know, we don’t know what happened to this poor chap in Nigeria who dies. But he was found dead in swimming pool in the morning. If you’ve ever led on a kid’s camp, you know that you count people out and you count people in. That he was found dead in the pool, and there were bruises on him when they discovered the naked body. So absolutely, you know, top of the scale, tragic stuff. Eventually he flew the nest and went down to South Africa and then started abusing once again there.
JULIE ROYS 17:01
When you say that they thought they could control him and manage him. I mean, it just reminds me of some of the investigations I’ve done where elders find out that their pastor has horrible character. But they think, We can manage him. We can keep it under wraps. And I mean, if there’s one lesson to be learned from this is, when people are abusive and they’re abusers, they should be removed and publicly exposed. But don’t try to manage it, because you can’t. It wasn’t until, as I understand, Smyth’s abuse became public in 2017. Again, when Channel Four there in the UK did a major expose, telling all about the abuse he had done. And then it’s my understanding at that point, that’s when the victims began talking about well, it’s not just Smyth. It’s Fletcher too. Is that right?
LEE FURNEY 18:00
Pretty much. Actually, there was one guy he reported on Smyth in 2012 and went and made a safeguarding report. And the person he made the report to sat on it for a while, and then eventually got up to the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is this sort of Church of England, senior leader, and not much was done. We’re told later on that a warning was given to South Africa where Smyth was at the time, but there was no answer to the email. And they didn’t bother to make a phone call. So, there was another five years of abuse from 2012 to 2017. And then one of the great journalists in the UK exposed him in 2017 with a TV documentary, the victim’s representative, Andrew Graystone, has provided lots of supports for the victims and to help really uncover all of the facts in this case. And between the two of them were able to reveal Smyth as an abuser and to start to bring help and healing into the situation. And then when that broke on the news, there was a massive scandalous sex scandal in the UK. And everyone was shaken by it because it was a top celebrity that was revealed to be an abuser. And it wasn’t just celebrities, but also people like John Smyth, respected people in society, respected people in the church, made it clear that no institution should be sitting there proudly and smugly thinking, It couldn’t happen to us. It can happen in every single place. And that’s what happened in 2017. People suddenly realized, no, not only these things can happen to us. But this has happened to me people would realize, and they started to report on Fletcher. We started then get a stream of reports, saying that not only Smyth but Jonathan Fletcher was an abuser as well.
JULIE ROYS 20:01
And tell me in the UK in the conservative evangelical community, what was the impact of that revelation?
LEE FURNEY 20:10
It was huge. And so, I became a Christian. And when I went off to university, and just very happy time, coming from darkness into light, and the term that was we use at the time was ‘you wanted to be a keen Christian, or a sound Christian. So, you wanted to get your theology right. And a lot of it was theology in the academic form rather than in practice. I know when Steve McAlpine has spoken very well about this, the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. And those two things need to go together.
JULIE ROYS 20:49
The fact that you brought this up, the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and how these two have to go together, because most all of my work deals with orthopraxy – the right practice. And what’s so difficult, I think, for Christians is when we have these champions of orthodoxy, like a Ravi Zacharias, you know, or even a John MacArthur or a James MacDonald, and we say, say These guys, these are our champions. They’re great. And because of that, we assume that their heart must be right, that their practice might be right. And what we’re finding I think this is probably the most shocking part of these revelations that have happened within the last five years, has been that it hasn’t been the Joel Osteens, it’s not the Catholic Church that we like to vilify, sometimes. It’s not all of them that we that we can say it’s the doctrine.
LEE FURNEY 21:43
Exactly. And you think that you’re on the right team, and you’ve got your champion, and that you can take your eyes off Jesus and start following them instead. And Fletcher was one who demanded great personal loyalty. And again, you’ve gone wrong at the first base. Our loyalty is to Jesus, first of all. Not to any Christian leader, not to any under-shepherd.
JULIE ROYS 22:03
Well, let’s turn to Jonathan Fletcher. And as I mentioned, when I introduced you, you don’t know about this from reading a report, you know about this firsthand. And I should mention, John Smyth passed away in 2018. So, he’s no longer with us. Jonathan Fletcher, on the other hand, 78 years old right now. But you got to know him 20 some years ago. You were involved in the Wimbledon church, and you got involved as an apprentice. You were living in the house with him. I’m guessing he’s discipling you. That’s not an unusual thing. I mean, it’s somewhat unusual for someone prominent in the church to be a single guy at that stage of the game and living with young men. But again, could be a beautiful discipleship model had Fletcher been a different person. Would you describe the living and working arrangement that you had in the house with Fletcher?
LEE FURNEY 23:00
Right. I was at the church for three years before that and didn’t really know him very much. And so, when I was asked to become a ministry apprentice, we did like a part time teaching course in central London for half the week. And the other half of the week was working for the church. And the living arrangements were some people had a flat down the road, and a couple of people had this sort of double honor not just to work for the church, but to share a house with Fletcher. And because he was the sort of great preacher of his day, he was supposed to be the next John Stott, if you like. Think greats, you know, I share a house with him. Your non-Christian family says to you, isn’t that a little bit odd, you know, sharing with a guy who’s never married, getting on and they start raising their questions. And you say, No, no, it’s all fine. He’s a great guy. And everybody, you know, says that he’s a great man. I was there keen to learn, keen to serve, and tried to do all the right things. And so, the first sort of semester, if you like, when I was there, things were going really well, really well at the church, really went on the course, getting good feedback, and really weel at the house, very much appreciated by Fletcher, but a little bit too much so. And so, he became, you’re trying to sort of develop the sort of Father/Son relationship. Often, he would spend time with people who had had difficult relationships with their own fathers and try to step into that gap and would ask you lots of personal questions. And again, actually questions such as about masturbation, and then want to really try and get a hold of you spiritually speaking. He would say to help you with that, but then that became a very imbalanced power relationship. So, with Fletcher, he used to go for sort of good-looking sporty guys is what they tended to say. So, you know, there’s probably the slight positive out of all of these things, I get a compliment that maybe I’m either good looking or sporty, and sporty is probably the one that we’re going to go for. So, he’d take me to the tennis courts or the squash courts, and play sports, and you wanted to speak to him as your mentor. And I just wanted to, you know, sit down at a table or in the living room and chat things through. But no, he made you play sport first of all, made you run around and get sweaty. And then after you get sweaty, of course, you have a shower, I was used to playing sort of fairly good quality soccer. So, team showers was something that I would do every weekend with a football team. And so, didn’t raise an eyelid when you, you know, go for a shower after a game of tennis. But he seemed particularly keen to get you into the sauna after that. And then he started talking about naked saunas. And so, you might go from the shower to the sauna, but naked sauna really with an older guy who’s your boss? So, I was a no at that point. And he tried a couple of times to persuade me to have a professional massage. He said he couldn’t cope with the stress of ministry unless he had a professional massage. And he did recommend that to me, very, very strongly. Well, here is somebody who’s supposed to be looking after you, mentoring you spiritually, who says, in my view, very, very strongly, I think you should have a professional massage. And what would happen is people would say yes to that, then he would say, you know what, let’s save some money. And why don’t we massage each other? So pretty soon, these guys were getting caught into this trap, where he’d be having nude massages with those that he’s trying to mentor. And if you didn’t say yes, then it was a whole different game. So, when he tried to invite me to have a massage, just from the culture I was from more than anything else, I just laughed in his face and said, You know, wouldn’t be interested in that at all. And you have phrased it fairly awkwardly. But I just remember the look on his face. And you were just able to turn his face to be completely intimidating. And so, there was real anger and intimidation on his face. And this is the guy that you don’t want to displease. Because when you’re told all sorts of great things about him being a good mentor, and then too, he’s got all of his power over this circle of the church, if you want to leave this church with a job, then you need to please this guy. And not pleasing this guy is going to mean that you don’t get a job, you don’t get financed in the future, that people are going to think that something has gone wrong with you spiritually speaking. And here he is, looking at you with those eyes, making you feel that you needed to change your mind. And so that’s what he did. And he tried a couple of times, and I said, No chance, no way. And then, Wade Mullens really got the dynamics and how this works. He talks about there being cubicles of charm and crucibles of condemnation. So, you would move from this cubicle of charm where Fletcher’s saying you’re doing great, the whole church is saying you’re doing great, the course is saying you’re doing great. All of a sudden, you’re isolated, you’re humiliated. Opportunities are taken away from you, you’re not allowed to preach, and you’re on the naughty step. And other people don’t really know why, but because he says so. Then they collude with that, and back him up. And all of a sudden, what was a good start, then became a very difficult last year and a half or so of being at the church.
JULIE ROYS 28:00
And so, you did get on that bad side. And I think it’s important for people to hear your story, because what a lot of people don’t understand is how adult abuse happens. And you describe it so well, this whole grooming process. But it’s interesting, Fletcher when he was confronted, he said, Well, it was all consensual.
LEE FURNEY 28:47
JULIE ROYS 28:48
And so I’m sure, had you participated, like many did, under this situation, he would have said, That’s consensual. But it’s not consensual. I mean, we have this huge differential of power. I mean, just by very nature of the relationship, there’s really not consent there.
LEE FURNEY 29:06
Absolutely not. No. There’s a huge power differential, as you say, and he’s this impossible figure to say No to. Then people were bullied into doing things that they shouldn’t do, and largely because of the levels of trust, and that’s what makes it spiritual abuse. Here’s a guy in a religious setting, who’s got people sharing with him domestically, and he didn’t abuse just domestic people, just people that live with him. But he’s using the name of God and the Word of God to tell them, This is something that you want to be doing. So, he’s putting a huge weight of pressure on the people to do what he wants to. And then all of a sudden, they’re getting physically abused. They’re getting sexually abused. It was sexual as well for some people. And if you didn’t do that, such as myself who said No, and I was 10 years older probably than the other apprentices, and that’s probably the only difference, then you became psychologically abused. And, you know, again, the Ravi Zacharias parallel there as well with the way that he used his power.
JULIE ROYS 30:11
Well, as I understand, you did file a formal complaint. Was that with the Church of England?
LEE FURNEY 30:17
So, I filed a formal complaint with the staff team, and I did that on a number of occasions. So, there was three or four times.
JULIE ROYS 30:24
LEE FURNEY 30:25
I went to Wimbledon and I went and complained to the staff team there and said that it had to stop.
JULIE ROYS 30:31
And the response?
LEE FURNEY 30:33
You were told that he was a great man, it was a great honor to be at the church, and you needed to take the rough with the smooth in life. And you should be thrilled with being here. And so, you really need to settle down. And you’re being told by somebody who had, the class system in the UK is pronounced, you’ve been told by someone who’s got more social power than you, who looks down on you, that really you just need to fit in a little bit more. And you’re, you’re basically being immature as a Christian, and fussy for making these complaints. So that’s what happens first time around. Second time around that you come, then there’s a concession. And you’re told that actually, there was a minister there the year before, who had some problems, and he tried to confront Fletcher, and it hadn’t gone very well. So, you probably shouldn’t cause a fuss either. And then you come around a third time, and you say, No, this is terrible, this is, you know, I’m getting my head kicked in here. It’s absolutely terrible. It’s not just what was happening in private, that you can see in staff meetings. There are people that have left the church because of the way that they’re seen these apprentices, these interns being treated. Why aren’t you doing something to stop this? And again, similar sorts of answers. And then fourth time round, that’s when alarm bells started ringing a little bit more. So, I started hearing some people saying, the individuals were receiving what was termed as back rubs. When I was picturing somebody having, you know, shoulder massage with their shirt on here, where they’re actually pointed towards, which I didn’t know at the time, was a naked massage with the head of the church. And I saw one guy fully clothed being loaded, lowered into a cold bath, and couldn’t work out what was going on at the time. I think it was betrayal blindness, for myself, didn’t realize what was happening. And this guy gets loaded into the cold bath for hours is what was happening, I get chased away. There’s a lot of giggling going on by Fletcher, and you’re normalizing it in your mind. Fletcher had a great way of normalizing things. Trying to normalize touch. So, he wants to sort of play fight or give you one of those sort-of Chinese burns on your arm where you sort of twist the skin and there will be lots of banter to sort of soften you up. And really, he was just trying to move you through the steps in order to get his hands on you. And that’s what happened to people. And so, I complained. I said, Look, you know, I’ve heard these rumors of back rubs, I’ve seen someone getting lowered into a bath. There’s clear favoritism going on here. And unless you dance to his tune, then you’re pushed off a cliff, and you’re condemned. And you as leaders are standing around watching this. Something needs to be done. So, I was assured at that point, that would be investigated. And it did sound very bad. But they were sure that there was a reasonable explanation for it. And of course, there wasn’t a reasonable explanation.
JULIE ROYS 33:34
Again, 20 years ago. How much pain and suffering could have been avoided, had that been taken seriously. But it wasn’t taken seriously, obviously. It was buried, and it wasn’t just by your church. You were telling me that Smyth, for example, when it came out when he was shipped off to Africa, there was a very prominent family who was a part of Nicky Gumbel’s church, that was a part of that, right?
LEE FURNEY 34:01
Right. So, Colman’s Mustard is the sort of most famous brand of mustard in the UK. And the wife was one of the associate ministers at the church, the husband in the various sort of roles, but lots of money. And they supported him to go to Africa. And even when it became apparent that he was abusing in Africa.
JULIE ROYS 34:24
It was just I mean, just pervasive and widespread. The report talks about this, sort of the overlapping networks, and how they kind of work together. And we see that. I mean, I’ve referred to it as the Evangelical Industrial Complex. We have it here in the US, we have a form of it. They are obviously in the UK as well. And so again, this stays buried for decades. The abuse continues by both Fletcher and Smyth. Again in 2017, it breaks, and Fletcher’s victims begin speaking. And the Church of England removes Fletcher from preaching. My understanding though, he’s still did some ministry after that, correct?
LEE FURNEY 35:03
For years. For years. And so, his permission to officiate has been removed. The Church of England themselves don’t notify people properly. So, people don’t know what’s happened, they’ve come to a private arrangement with him. Have we learned nothing? So, he’s allowed to tell the story from his point of view in terms of what’s happened. And even when there were more serious revelations, he was still allowed to do things. So, you know, he had this cohort of very powerful people around him. You said the Industrial Complex is like the Christian mafia. There’s a sort of strong culture of you’re one of us, it’s very tribal. And we look after our own. Criticism is unsustainable. You can’t bring an accusation against people without being pushed off a cliff yourself. Scandals are minimized. This is an iron fist with a velvet glove around it. So, people assume, because of all of this social charm and manners, that everything’s okay. But behind the scenes, what you’ve got is constituency within a domination that’s full of fear. And anybody who breaks ranks, then they get a smear, there’s a story that goes out about them, and they’re shut up.
JULIE ROYS 36:24
The tactics used are just so stinking common.
LEE FURNEY 36:27
JULIE ROYS 36:28
What led to the church finally ordering this investigation in 2019, this independent investigation by this group 31:8?
LEE FURNEY 36:37
The only reason they kicked this off is because somebody leaked this to the newspapers. Daily Telegraph, they broke the story that John Fletcher had had his permission to officiate removed because of concerns. And so that’s what happened, first of all. At that time, people didn’t want to have an investigation in the leadership. They’re against an investigation and the charities commission in the UK, put pressure on the church in order to have an independent investigation. And some ministers of healthy churches, again, put pressure on to do this. The church themselves that met at Wimbledon, they realize that things are going in the wrong direction. And just before things broke in the paper, some of his old apprentices received a letter and very cagey terms, that you may have had a negative experience with that kind of thing. And so, I can remember reading that and saying to my wife, Something big is happening here. And they’re not saying this to help me out. They’re saying this to, to cover themselves, when this story breaks. And lo and behold, you know, that was because they knew it was about to break and it broke in the papers. They formed a response. There’s a little secretive group that was tasked with dealing with this. No victim involvements, no minutes, no identities, who’s involved in the group. And then finally the church shamed really, into conducting an investigation that kicked off, then at the end of 2019, and is just delivered on the 23rd of March.
JULIE ROYS 38:17
Again, different yet so many similarities. It seems like the only thing with so many of these scandals, that gets the organization or the church to deal with it, is public exposure. Without the public exposure, it just doesn’t happen.
LEE FURNEY 38:31
Just praise the Lord for His wonderful design there. That in his grace He has given us secular people, magistrates, and journalists. And if Israel won’t deal with their problems, then He sends us off to Babylon to teach us humility. And it’s the pagans that are going to teach you humility. And that’s what’s happened. And so, the people who have been sorting this out, has been the papers. They’re the ones who have been able to tell the story and work us through this and help us to know what’s happened. There’s been precious little from the church. They just locked down until the report came out. The Smyth victims, they’ve been waiting 40 years, you know, for something.
JULIE ROYS 39:16
It’s interesting, as you’re describing that in in the UK, it was the secular media that brought these things to light. It’s been primarily like with the Ravi situation, that’s been Christian media, bringing it to light and we get so much flack for doing so because people are like, what about the exposure? How does this reflect on the church? And I think this shows, if we don’t deal with this in our own community, and if the church doesn’t deal with it, if the organization doesn’t deal with it, if then the Christian media doesn’t deal with it, eventually it’s going to get to the secular media, and that’s even worse. I am SO glad that finally this report has come out. As you say, took way too long for the victims who have been waiting decades already. But again, what this showed, 30 confirmed victims, again confirming these reports of naked massages, saunas, forfeits including smacking with a gym shoe. What’s a forfeit? That sounds like a British word that’s like a beating?
LEE FURNEY 40:13
Right. So, if you behave well, you get a treat, a piece of chocolate or something. But if you behave badly, you do a forfeit, and you get a beating instead.
JULIE ROYS 40:23
LEE FURNEY 40:23
And so, the sickness of Fletcher’s minds that the forfeits were the beating, the reward was that you got to massage him in the nude. I mean, how, how horrific is that for the for the victims?
JULIE ROYS 40:38
Absolutely horrific. And then there’s something that was new in that report that hadn’t been reported before. And that’s that there was a serious incident of sexual abuse, where a participant reported that Jonathan Fletcher told him to perform a sex act in front of them. When he didn’t, then Jonathan Fletcher performed this sex act instead. The report concluded this behavior demonstrates a gross abuse of power, and in the opinion of the reviewers, is far beyond anything which can be deemed acceptable or appropriate from a minister in a position of power, trust and responsibility. The report is over 140 pages, it’s extensive. What does this mean to you to have a report validate your experience?
LEE FURNEY 41:26
I think he said those words, it was almost as if we could just stop the interview and the recording and take some time to lament what’s happened here. I think there’s something that we don’t take time to do often enough, you get it in the Psalms again, and again. And, and really seeing that put it through to writing to know that these things did happen. And that, you know, we’re writing more in these things. It’s very grievous, what’s happened to the individuals involved. Then the suit happened in our circles. Secondly, there is that level of vindication. Yes, you know, people weren’t making up stories. Fletcher, a prolific abuser, and the bravery of people coming forward. So, people went to report their abuse, to the Review. And they needed reassurance after reassurance that this would not get back to other people. Bear in mind at this point, Fletcher had been retired for seven or eight years. He wasn’t a figure in the constituents anymore, there was still that culture of fear that you can’t bring an accusation against the leader. And many people don’t feel that they could report. First of all, they were invited to report their abuse. Where? To the church itself. There was no safeguarding charity to report it to. So, you had to go to the church itself, and report the abuse to the church itself. In my case, to one of the enablers of his abuse. So that’s what you were invited to do. Here is a letter. There is literally a box in the letter that tells you where to report to, you can report to the minister who enabled his abuse, or to the safeguarding officer there. And if you want to think out of the box, you can go to the diocese and safeguarding officer that you’ve been told for 20 years is a no-good liberal. And you know, that would basically be apostasy to go there to the diocese. So those are the options given to the people to report. So many didn’t report, many had no level of trust, and stayed back. Some brave people did do that, and courageously spoke out. And we’ve been able to now establish that all of these things that were said happened, but actually, there’s far many more victims than we’ve got recorded. There were 27 victims were recorded in that report. Well, that’s the tip of the iceberg for Fletcher’s abuse.
JULIE ROYS 43:52
And I think it’s stunning that we have nearly 30 confirmed victims, as you said. That’s the tip of the iceberg, probably. And yet, you’re the only one who felt brave enough–and not to say that the others aren’t brave. But I mean, what I’m saying is the as you describe, there is no safety, even now, to feel like I can come forward, I can say that. And I wonder how much. I mean, as you described in the UK, there’s, there’s sort of a class system. But you also have a church that’s very hierarchical. And, you know, I found if you happen to be the person who’s vulnerable, the person that doesn’t have any letters after their name, the person who, you know, God forbid, is female, also, in this case, it was mostly males. But, you know, you just know going into that room, the person with the doctorate and with all the education is going to be believed and you’re the troublemaker, right?
LEE FURNEY 44:48
Right. So, I left a high paid job in IT and business and went down to a salary of 4000 pounds. And so, I’ve got no financial chance. I’ve got no social status in their circles. I didn’t go to private school, didn’t go to the right university, didn’t go to the summer camps. You can’t bring an accusation against people.
JULIE ROYS 45:13
Well, and the report does validate that there was a cover up. It says, Fletcher’s bullying, spiritual abuse, naked massages and saunas were known about before his permission to officiate was revoked in 2017. Yet, little or no action was taken to address this by role holders and leaders at Emmanuel Church Wimbledon at the time, and there were opportunities for action to have taken place sooner. That’s probably like a major understatement. As we look at this now, as a church, we’ve got this huge dumpster fire. We have dozens of victims. How do we begin to heal? And I know you were asked, because I understand the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, did reach out to you.
LEE FURNEY 46:03
So, before the report came out, he wrote me a personal letter. And we’d been in some online group together discussing these issues. And then he wrote a personal letter to me, inviting me to have a conversation with him. For me, this was wholly inappropriate, because when the Smyth crisis broke in 2017, he had been involved in that crisis from about 2013 onwards. So, you know, he’s been involved for the last seven or eight years. And he’d promised the Smyth victims a meeting to talk through what had happened. And these are the people who have been on the same camps as him that he knows as brothers, and then won’t follow through with that. Won’t meet them, is being advised to avoid them. So, when he offered me a meeting, and I was asked on the TV news about this, I was asked, you know, did I reply to him? And the answer was, No, I didn’t. And I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be off meeting with him when he had made these brilliant guys suffer so much. Just refused all of their reminders to intercede. You’ve asked to meet with us, and you haven’t done it. And so that went out on national television. Guess what happens the next day? There’s an offer from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let’s set up a meeting. And they’ll meet with the guys, which in many ways is grace. But in many ways, it’s just really sad that it takes that again, secular shame in order to expose things. So again, this example it’s the TV journalists, we’ve had the newspaper journalists, you talked about the Christian media in the US with Ravi Zacharias, of course. We must mention Steve Baughman in that. The atheist banjo player. It’s often the unlikely sources that God uses in order to bring His justice and to bring his salvation.
JULIE ROYS 47:59
Yeah, and I misspoke when I said that it was just the Christian media. It wasn’t. He was the very first; The Christian media wouldn’t have touched it. I wouldn’t have even known about the story, had it not been for Steve Baughman. And he has done remarkable work. And I thanked him repeatedly. So, I did misspeak when I said that, and I appreciate you bringing that out. But this is one of the frustrations for me. The Ravi Zacharias, the investigation that was done, brought things to light. But the one thing that hasn’t been investigated is who was complicit within that organization? And what did they do? And they need to be investigated. The cover up itself needs to be investigated, because how many people are complicit? Don’t there need to be resignations from people who were complicit?
LEE FURNEY 48:41
Absolutely right. So, let’s just bring things together. So, with Ravi Zacharias, you’ve got there again, a father figure who’s boasting of Oxford and Cambridge credentials, is involved in massage, and then normalizing the sort of touching experience with a spiritual veneer, and then financial control of his victims. Very, very Fletcher-like. And then it gets exposed, and we realize, there’s been great collusion in order to you know, there’s always collusion in order for an abuser to abuse. And we’ve got a report now, that was produced a couple of days ago, that says that there’s been collusion. My words, not theirs. But it isn’t just one bad apple, the apples grow on trees. And so therefore, you need to have root and branch reform, to work out what’s wrong with the structures, and what’s wrong with the people in those structures. Who knew what and when? And so, the report was very strong on this. There was an independent advisory group that was brought in order to strengthen the armor the report released to make sure that it truly had credibility, and the independent advisory group underlines certain things in the report. It says it is a culture of fear, and there needs to be resignations in order that we have healthy churches in the future. Well, the man or woman has already come out and said that the minister there is going to be staying in post and everybody else in that particular inner circle of evangelicalism is forwarding their excuses to say they didn’t know very much, really. And so, this is pretend. So, we’re all very, very sorry. But no one will take any personal responsibility. And so, when everybody is sorry, and the apology is general, nobody’s really sorry at all. And so, for example, for me, I’ve got people saying to journalists, They are very, very sorry the way that they treated me. Really remorseful. They’ve got great regrets. But they haven’t told me that. And so, if you were really repentant, you’d go to your brother, wouldn’t you or your sister? And you’d say to them, Look, I’ve sinned against you, brother or sister. And there’s been ample time to do that. And instead, it’s been the same people that have been coming to me not to say sorry, to me, but to say to me, Could you get people to stop making such a fuss? Can you get people to take tweets down off social media because you know, these people, and then you’re faced with somebody who hasn’t been in touch with you for 20 years. The last time that you met them, they actually turned their back on you and try to avoid you. Well now, they’re picking up the phone, not to apologize. But to ask you to manage their social media, whilst at the same time, decrying social media to other people in their circles and say, Don’t listen to any of that stuff. Well, of course, this is the last frontier for victims. Where else can they talk about these things? Secular journalists, social media, and we don’t have it in the UK. But we you know, with you in the US, you’ve got there a Christian, investigative journalist that will take these things seriously.
JULIE ROYS 51:53
Hmm. I saw the current Vicar of the Wimbledon church interviewed and I think the reporter caught him a little off guard when she said, Did you aid and abet, you know, essentially? Or did were you complicit? He said, Well, that’s really strong. And so, then she rephrased and said, Well, did you inadvertently do that? And then he kind of owned that. But it’s like, come on, this wasn’t inadvertent. It was it was with knowledge.
LEE FURNEY 52:22
That’s right. So, it would be much better to say, Yeah, you know what? I got that terribly, terribly wrong. And this is what I knew, and this is what I did. And I’ve gone to all the people and made that right. And that’s not the case. Instead, he’s rather minimize what he knew and not be upfront about it, not really showing he care for victims, tries to resist the review for as long as possible. And then they review, even criticize him specifically for giving an abusive sermon that defended himself. Very, very disturbing sermon, that would merit some analysis.
JULIE ROYS 52:58
And I think you’re in the position that I think so many people are in the position of as well. And that is, okay, you’ve spoken out about the abuse you suffered, or you were not a survivor, but you were part of the church, you’ve been disillusioned. You’ve been just really discouraged by what you’ve seen. Now we have the church making apologies too little, too late. Nobody really saying, You know what? What I did was awful. And I need to resign and somebody else needs to be in this post. So, you have sort of a half repentance, which really isn’t repentant church, you know, not really dealing with this. And you have scores of victims, who are trying to put together how a church of the God that they love and profess, let them down so badly. How do you deal with that?
LEE FURNEY 53:54
I think tenacity is needed. So there needs to be in some ways, a determination and a strength, but also there needs to be a Christ-like gentleness as well. And so, you know, I’m not out to get anyone and the people that I’ve worked with, you know, like yourself, you’re not doing hit pieces are you? You’re doing the work that you do, in order to honor Christ, and to make sure that people are restored. And so, I want to expose what’s happened, so that the sin is dealt with. So, there can be help, and hope and healing for victims. But also, for those who have enabled or those who have abused, they’re brought to repentance as well, and they’re restored. But if there isn’t repentance, if there isn’t appropriate resignations, then there won’t be restoration. And human sinful instinct kicks in, we want to defend ourselves. We think it’s better to go the way of the world and to minimize and to try and lock down on things rather than be forthright and say, Actually, you don’t even know that half of it. This is what I’ve done wrong as well. And so that would be the way to go, is to be really, really forthcoming. But instead, we’ve got the opposite, we’ve got a lockdown situation. And so there you have it. You’ve got a church who’s paying for a report to be done, there’s not going to be report that’s going to name names. Whilst at the same time that people in the church have been told that if anyone’s done something wrong, we’re going to know about it. So again, there’s duplicity, even in the report process.
JULIE ROYS 55:27
And that’s so typical. The organization that pays for the report also sanitizes the report the way they want or limits the scope of the investigation in the way that they want. And I think the bottom line that breaks my heart, is that as a result, we have an awful lot of Christians who have no church home.
LEE FURNEY 55:48
Yeah, people get disillusioned, they drift away. And, again, that’s why we need to deal with these things. And so, one of the analogies that I use is, the plumbing isn’t very glamorous, but you must deal with the plumbing for the house. Because as much as you want to be having nice dinner parties and having friends over, if you don’t deal with the plumbing, you’re going to be knee deep in a lot of mess. And you’re not going to be having anybody over for dinner at all. And I think that’s been the case with these abuse scandals, is that the plumbing has been neglected. These things haven’t been dealt with. And therefore, we don’t have a safe house to invite people in, and they turn away instead. And we should know this from the scriptures. Not only do we feed the sheep, but also, we need to defend against the wolf, because if we don’t defend against the wolf, we’re not going to have any sheep left. Or again, you can use the analogy elsewhere that we’re supposed to not just teach and train, but we’re supposed to correct and rebuke. And if we don’t correct and rebuke, then everything is going to go wrong with our teaching and training. So, because we want to be successful, because we want to do the nice bits to have lots of sheep in, and we want to do lots of teaching and training, be seen as being a successful church. And with lots of people around for dinner, we neglect the other things. Because we’ve not really listened to the scriptures. We don’t really listen to the Lord Jesus, that we have to do the hard jobs of ministry that don’t make people like us, but actually is the is the medicine that people need.
JULIE ROYS 57:18
Well, Lee, thank you so much. I mean, your heart, your pastoral heart comes through. I’m just heartened that there’s men like you really urging the Church of England and I think as many will listen to this podcast, the church here in the United States to deal with, as you call it, the plumbing, deal with the sin. Because we can’t bury sin. And the gospel is about confessing sin, repenting of it, and receiving the grace of Jesus Christ. I’m so grateful for you. I’m grateful that you came forward; just incredible bravery to do that. So, thank you.
LEE FURNEY 57:49
God bless you, Julie. Thankful for the work that you’re doing as well.
JULIE ROYS 57:52
And thank you for listening to The Roys report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. If you’d like to find me online, just go to Julieroys.com. Also, please subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast or Google podcasts. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, we always appreciate if you help us spread the word by leaving a review or posting this podcast on social media. We really appreciate that. Again, thank you so much for joining me and God bless.