‘Pope of Evangelical Conservatism’ at Center of UK Abuse Scandal

By Julie Roys
Jonathan Fletcher
Jonathan Fletcher, the so-called "pope of evangelical conservativism," and former vicar at the prominent Emmanuel Wimbledon Church in England.

He’s been called the “pope of evangelical conservativism.” And in the U.K., 78-year-old Jonathan Fletcher has been one of the most influential evangelical figures for decades.

Yet Fletcher, the vicar of the prominent Emmanuel Church Wimbledon, has now been revealed as a serial abuser. And he’s at the center of what one victim has called the “mother of all abuse stories.”

According to a report released this week, Fletcher subjected dozens of young men to ice baths, naked beatings, and sex acts over 30 years. And sadly, though Fletcher’s abuse was known for decades, his church did nothing because, as victims put it, Fletcher was “untouchable.”

The report is the result of a 15-month investigation, conducted by the safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight, and commissioned by Emmanuel Church Wimbledon (ECW). It describes horrific abuse and has sent shock waves through U.K. society and the Church of England.

After the report published, ECW apologized for its “failure to provide effective internal and external accountability.” Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, reiterated an apology to all victims of church abuse.

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The report included the testimony of 27 alleged victims of Fletcher’s. But according to The Telegraph, these victims are likely the “tip of the iceberg.” Together, they give a very sobering account.

“There were reports of naked massages and saunas, forfeits (punishments) including smacking with a gym shoe, and ice baths,” the report states.

In addition, the report included one serious incident of sexual abuse.

“One participant reported that (Fletcher) told him to perform a sex act in front of him and when he did not, (Fletcher) performed the act instead.”

The report concludes, “This behaviour 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.”

Victim Describes Abuse the Church Failed to Address

Lee Furney, the only one of Fletcher’s abuse survivors who’s been willing to reveal his identity, told The Roys Report that he reported Fletcher’s coercive control, spiritual abuse, and unorthodox methods to ECW 20 years ago.

In the early 2000s, Furney was an apprentice to Fletcher and lived in a house with him.

Furney said Fletcher would invite him to play tennis or squash, and afterwards “seemed particularly keen” to get him into the sauna. Furney said Fletcher also repeatedly urged Furney to get a professional massage. Fletcher would use this approach with victims, Furney said, and then suggest giving each other massages to save money.

Furney said he responded by laughing in Fletcher’s face. Then, Fletcher became abusive, Furney said. And Furney went from being in Fletcher’s “cubicle of charm” to his “crucible of condemnation.” Furney said Fletcher punished him by isolating and humiliating him, and taking away opportunities to do things like preach.

“I just remember the look on his face. And he was just able to turn his face to be completely intimidating,” Furney said. “And this is the guy that you don’t want to displease because . . . he’s got all of this 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 people are going to think that something has gone wrong with you spiritually speaking.”

Furney said he reported Fletcher’s behavior to ECW staff three or four times while at the church.

At first, he said the church responded by telling him that Fletcher was a “great man” and Furney needed “to settle down.”

Another time, Furney said staff told him that someone had tried to confront Fletcher and it “hadn’t gone very well, so you probably shouldn’t cause a fuss either.”

Then, when Furney heard Fletcher was giving men back rubs and cold baths at the house where they lived, he complained again. At that point, Furney said the church said it would investigate Fletcher, but it never did.

Furney, who now lives in Malawi and works to encourage and equip churches, said ECW and the Church of England did nothing about Fletcher until 2017 when other abuse victims began speaking out.

Only then did the church strip Fletcher of his permission to officiate. Yet according to Furney, Fletcher continued to minister and preach among those he could convince of his innocence.

In 2019, just before the secular press reported Fletcher’s abuse, the church sent Furney a letter concerning the abuse he had experienced decades earlier.

“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 cover themselves when their story breaks.’ And lo and behold . . . that was because they knew it was about to break.”

More Abuse & Cover-Up

Fletcher is the second prominent, conservative evangelical in England to be exposed as an abuser in the past several years.

In 2017, Britain’s Channel 4 News broadcast a documentary, revealing that John Smyth—someone whose prominence at one time eclipsed Fletcher’s—had subjected young men to sadomasochistic physical abuse, beginning in the 1970s.

From 1974—1981, Smyth was the chairman of the Iwerne Trust, a group that ran a system of evangelical camps for boys from elite schools throughout England. The purpose of the camps was to develop Christian leaders to serve in prominent positions throughout British society and the church.

John Smyth
John Smyth

Some of those who have attended Iwerne camps include the late theologian John Stott; the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby; and Nicky Gumbel, vicar of one of the largest churches in England and pioneer of the hugely popular Alpha Course.

Yet according to multiple reports that have come out in the past several years, these camps served as centers for grooming and abuse for both Fletcher and Smyth.

Furney, who’s spoken with dozens of Smyth and Fletcher victims, told The Roys Report: “It was said by some of the Smyth victims, that you could 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.”

In 1982, the Iwerne Trust learned of Smyth’s alleged abuse when one of his victims tried to commit suicide, according to Channel 4 news anchor Cathy Newman.

Newman, who has interviewed numerous Smyth victims, said Smyth “cultivated small groups of followers, over whom he developed a form of psychological control.” Smyth reportedly would invite his favorites to lunch at his home.

“Now in their fifties, (Smyth’s victims) allege Smyth would recite passages of the Bible to them, before beating them with a cane in his garden shed,” Newman said.

In 1982, Iwerne conducted an investigation into Smyth’s alleged abuse and found that the “scale and severity of the practice (spiritually abusive beatings) was horrific . . . eight received about 14,000 beatings: two of them having some 8,000 strokes over three years.”

Yet instead of reporting Smyth to police and publicly exposing him, Iwerne—now the Titus Trust—allowed Smyth to go to Africa to minister. (In 2020—2021, Titus commissioned an independent review of its culture and apologized for “times the Trust has got things wrong.”)

In the 1980s and 90s, Smyth served in Zambesi Ministries, which held summer camps for boys in Zimbabwe. There, Smyth allegedly continued his abuse.

In 1997, Smyth was arrested during an investigation into the drowning of a 16-year-old boy found bruised and naked in a pool at an Anglican prep school in Zimbabwe. Smyth contended that the drowning was an accident, and the homicide investigation was eventually dismissed.

Smyth then moved to South Africa where he ran the Justice Alliance. However, in 2017, after the Channel 4 documentary, the Alliance asked Smyth to step down from leadership.

The next year, Smyth died in his home in Capetown.

True Repentance & Reform Needed

Though Furney says he and other victims are grateful for the latest investigation and report by Thirtyone:eight, he’s disappointed so far in the church’s response.

On Tuesday, Furney told Channel 4 that he would not respond to an invitation to meet with Archbishop Welby because Welby still had not met with Smyth’s victims. According to Furney, Welby has known about these victims for years, and some of them were even friends of Welby’s from his days at Iwerne camps.

However, Furney told The Roys Report that on Wednesday, Welby responded by offering to meet with Smyth victims.

“(I)n many ways, it’s grace. But in many ways, it’s just really sad that it takes that again—secular shame—in order to expose things,” Furney said. “So again, you’ve got this example. It’s the TV journalists . . . It’s often the unlikely sources that God uses in order to bring His justice . . .”

Furney said the current vicar of Emmanuel Wimbledon Church, the Rev. Robin Weekes, also knew about Fletcher’s abuse. But instead of owning his sin, “he’s written (to) minimize what he knew and not be up front about it—not really showing he cares for victims, try to resist the review for as long as possible.”

In an interview, with Channel 4, Rev. Weekes said he was “truly sorry.”

But when asked if he facilitated abuse, Weekes replied: “I’m not sure I’d want to use the word ‘facilitation’ because that makes it sound like it was deliberate and deliberately complicit. But it is true that we did not listen carefully enough to the voices that were pointing out the wrong things in (Fletcher).”

Furney said church leaders, who knew about Fletcher’s abuse of Furney, have now contacted him—but not to apologize. Instead, they’ve asked Furney if he would get other victims to “stop making such a fuss” on social media.

“We’ve got a lockdown situation,” Furney said, “which means the victims, who always get to do the hard work in these situations, will continue until it becomes clear who has done what.”

Furney added that without appropriate resignations, there will not be restoration.



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23 thoughts on “‘Pope of Evangelical Conservatism’ at Center of UK Abuse Scandal”

  1. All the sins and crimes hidden for decades are coming out and there will be MANY evangelical leaders and empires in the US and elsewhere that will crumble as a result. I would not be surprised that these two were very much publicly opposed to buggery but practiced it in private.

      1. No, Julie, but it doesn’t say “‘Pope of UK Evangelical Conservatism.”
        However, I did get saved while I lived in the UK, and I have many relatives there.

        Walter, how do you define “mother church”? I think evangelicalism as a whole is more influenced by American preachers/teachers than by UK ministers. (That’s not necessarily a good thing.)

    1. That’s one of the main problems. Americans have no idea that they are still very much under the influence of “mother church”.

    2. No but all the “insiders” who knew the Fletchers and Smyths are people we’ve heard of and we now have to re-evaluate their “eccentricities” in turn and allow that also their views on almost anything probably aren’t quite balanced either. Millar, Gumbel, Orr-Ewing, Stott: why were they ever celebrities?

  2. ‘Pope of Evangelical Conservatism’….what an OXYMORON!!!
    No surprise. Fallen mankind (yes, that term includes women and “all the colors in the secular rainbow”) proves again that ONLY God and God ONLY gets the ALL the Glory.
    As the Apostle Paul tells to the congregation at Thessaloniki….”No one is to deceive you in any way! For it will not come unless the APOSTASY comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction…..”

    2 The 2:3

    (Jude 3)
    Post Tenebras Lux

  3. Jennifer Eason

    During his lifetime, C. S. Lewis warned of the many ccunbelievers in clerical collars. How strange that the secular media is speaking prophetically to the church, calling out these scandalous and unrepented sins.

  4. “Pope of [UK] conservative evangelicalism” is definitely overstating Fletcher’s importance – I realise it makes for a better headline but is little more than sensationalism.

    He was influential in his particular network of Anglican conservative evangelicalism through certain camps and conferences, but there are many other conservative evangelical networks such as baptists and independent churches where he was unknown and had no sway or influence.

    That’s not to deny that there are shared cultural issues that need to be paid attention to by all corners of the evangelical church, of course.

    1. “Pope of conservative evangelicalism” definitely overstates his importance. Stott was also occasionally referred to by this title (it’s not meant to be a serious theological statement – in case anyone had not already realised). The difference with Stott is that he WAS very well recognised in the wider evangelical world outside Anglicanism (and even in America) – his books were in nearly every church bookstall and he preached widely.

  5. There is not much left of the evangelical movement in the U.K., a story like this will only make people more cynical of evangelicalism… The U.K is considered a post-Christian country…

    1. I have to respectfully disagree with you. The evangelical movement in the UK has gone through several changes but it is still alive and well. The Lord always has a remnant. Does it need to get its act together? Yes indeed. I also have to say that the UK is comprised of 4 countries, so which one are you referring to as post-christian?

  6. I’m completely blown over by ‘the pope of evangelical conservatism.’ Someone doesn’t know what evangelicalism is (entrepreneurial and freelance) or the pope (the highest official of an institutional order). Of course, neither form is crowning the church in Christ’s glory. The opposite in fact.

  7. My heart goes out to the victims of these crimes, especially at a time in the England and the wider UK when authority figures are publicly being called out and to account. In the church the flock are rarely listened to but the leadership are protected and simply moved on. Unfortunately these things happen more often than we may like to think or imagine but there are millstones that The Lord spoke of for those who are guilty of such abuses. Lord have mercy.

  8. One day the People of God will realize that we don’t need these pope-like figures to follow Jesus.

    You protect the institution at all cost
    Even though it means you’re hurting
    Those God loves
    Hey CEO big-time preacher man
    One day you will answer
    For your sin

    For why you used the Bride
    For your ambition
    For why you took the tithe
    To build your kingdom
    Hey skippy, we will be just fine
    Without your vision
    CEO big-time preacher man

  9. Brit Evangelical

    2.7% of the 16,000 Anglican churches or 425 in England are identified as “Evangelical” using the broadest criteria imaginable, e.g. advertising Evangelical style worship online. Additionally, some churches that publicly identify as “Anglican” aren’t part of the Church of England.

    Theologically, the Anglican version of Evangelicalism is often foreign to the U.S. John Stott denied the existence of hell, favoring annihilation for the lost. He was also an evolutionist. “Evangelical Pope” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby rejects the necessity of conversion. He has been notoriously wishy-washy on same sex marriage and same sex relationships. He’s now “much less certain” about human sexuality. He claims to be a “magpie” theologically. He says he speaks in tongues, loves the Eucharist, uses the Book of Common Prayer, and has been formed by Benedictine influences. His dealings with John Smyth look like his theology. Let him preach and lead, but not in the U.K. Get the problem out of sight. I’m against him and for him too. If this man is capable of giving a straight, honest answer, I can’t find any evidence of it. He is the state church hierarchical bishop personified: theologically elusive, in favor of his audience’s positions, politically savvy, and hopelessly compromised. He is the typical state church bishop, a civil servant at heart, a bureaucrat, never forgetting on what side his bread is buttered as he makes his way to the House of Commons.

    Why do you think so many British evangelical theologians come to the U.S. to teach or so many pulpits are filled by preachers with British accents? Church of England attendance is cratering. 1.4% of Brit population attends an Anglican church in a given year. Only 6% of Brit adults surveyed are practicing Christians (believe, pray, worship). Since 1990, 500 Anglican churches have been closed. (While 425 Mosques have been built.) Many churches are historical sites better known for tourism than worship. Official attendance has halved over the last forty years. An article in the Telegraph noted that at the current rate of decline, the last Anglican will turn off the lights and leave the last Anglican church in 2040.

    The growing churches in Britain are mainly Pentecostal/Charismatic.

  10. This sort of thing is still secretly approved of by many Christians, and still goes on. There is a Catholic school in France run by an Englishman and lives at the school with his mother. He boasts about his celibacy and encourages others to follow. They have the punishment cold showers/baths etc. Opus Dei approve of all this type of thing.

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