Well, well, some of you may have noticed that SMC has revamped its website, and made many changes, including a new booklet “Welcome to Struthers Memorial Church – information about our church branches and what we believe”. The booklet is for some reason hidden away in the “What’s on” section, but it is at least there.
Seems to me there are some other changes as well – things like the section on the Baptism in the Spirit no longer refers to signs following, and there is little reference to deliverance. It is mentioned in the summer camps section, but not on the main pages about “what we believe”.
One of the things I find most ironic is that the changes made are all in line with things suggested on the Latigo site. That being the case, I am assuming that the leadership of SMC will be writing to Latigo to withdraw the comments made when preaching against them from the pulpit (see quotes on the Latigo site), thank the Latigo authors for their insight and apolgise that they did not listen to their comments earlier. I presume they will also confirm from the pulpit that everyone should now study the Latigo site in as much detail as possible to see what other helpful suggestions have been made.
I won’t hold my breath waiting for either of these outcomes, reasonable as they may be but, either way, I think this is the end of SMC as we know it. Until now, they claimed this unique authority and that they didn’t need anything else at all, just this hotline to God. Well, that has cleared proven not to be the case. They have changed what they are doing, presumably in the light of the scrutiny of OSCR, and that means they are not infallible!
With that simple admission, the whole structure comes tumbling down. No longer can they tell people who to marry or which university to go to. Hallelujah! I look forward to seeing what other changes might occur, and to seeing a copy of the booklet at some point – I wonder why it is not available for download?
I do find the detail of the changes they are making quite interesting, and I also see a lot of parallels to the Charity Commission review of the Close Brethern (see [www.thirdsector.co.uk
Some of the quotes form that article are given below. Obviously best to read the whole thing to get the context, but I have quoted a few bits that I think have a lot of parallels to SMC.
This campaign paid dividends last week when the commission, after a year-long dialogue while the tribunal appeal was stayed, announced it would accept a renewed application for registration on the grounds that the Brethren had acknowledged "past mistakes in relation to its disciplinary practices", changed some of these practices and amended their trust deed.
The amendments include a schedule called Faith in Practice, which pledges that the organisation will not act "at any time in a manner that lacks compassion, care or fails to pay due regard to the needs or vulnerabilities of others". One concern of opponents of the Brethren has been that some members have been cut off from their families and even barred from funerals.
Neil Summerton, a historian of the Brethren movements and chair of Partnership, a support body for the more moderate Open Brethren, which parted from the Exclusive Brethren in 1848, says the new trust deed is ground-breaking. "It seems to me that the Plymouth Brethren have given a lot of ground," he says.
Laurie Moffitt, who left the Brethren in 1993, says he is "delighted that the Charity Commission has taken so much care" over the revised trust deed for the Preston Down Trust, but says he is hopeful rather than expectant that the church will now change.
But he says there are reports that individual members, who use computers provided by the church, cannot get onto the Charity Commission’s website to view the decision. He is now working with two current members to distribute hard copies. "That’s the only way the rank and file will get to know of the decision," he says.
Jill Mytton, who left the church in 1960 at the age of 16, agrees it is unlikely that ordinary members will see the decision because the hierarchy – its Australian leader, Bruce Hales, is styled Minister of the Lord in the Recovery – would lose too much face. A spokesman for the Brethren says this suggestion is "completely unsubstantiated".
I found that bit quite interesting – the Brethern congregation had published a booklet, but that current members could not easily access copies. Makes me wonder if that is the reason SMC have not made it possible to download. Not to stop us getting hold of it, I am sure we will one way or another, but to stop their own members seeing it.
Mytton doubts that the organisation will really become more open. "If they were to give it all up, they would in a way cease to exist," she says. "They would lose their identity and become more like the Open Brethren." The revised trust deed maintains the doctrine of separation, but notes that individuals "must ultimately exercise their own judgement" on it.
Charity lawyers appear unsurprised by the commission’s decision and suggest it is unlikely to mean much for other religious organisations. Benjamin James, a partner at Wallace LLP, says that in many respects "what was going on with the Brethren from a religious point of view was no different from other religions. It has always been my position that since the Brethren became more open, it met the threshold to be a charity."
Yup, interesting phrase there. “Since the Brethern became more open…” SMC really should have paid attention to the comments on Latigo back in 2010, showing a bit of humility instead of the usual arrogance.
Stephanie Biden, a partner at Bates Wells Braithwaite, says…
"The trade-off that the Brethren have made in order to get charitable status is that they are now accountable in how they administer their church practices and the working of their doctrine to a secular regulator," she says.
Brilliant – that’s the bit I love. Assuming the same applies to SMC, they will for the first time be accountable! Wooooonderful!
"Shrinking", formerly known as "shutting up", is imposed on dissenting or disaffected members, according to Barker; they are sent to live alone, and are brought only food and reading material. They can go to work or attend school and are visited by elders to discuss their situation, but cannot attend any services or meetings. In the new appendix to its governing document, Faith in Practice, the Preston Down Trust, a PBCC congregation, says shrinking is "relatively rare as pastoral care is intended and does in most cases resolve the matter".
Barker said the Brethren also practise "excommunication", formerly known as "withdrawal". Some people excommunicated from the PBCC "have found themselves ejected from their homes, completely cut off from their family and friends, having nowhere to go and no one to whom they felt they could turn". Faith in Practice says that excommunicated Brethren are given "follow-up pastoral and shepherd care in view of the possibility of re-including the person concerned in fellowship".
Interesting.I can't find it at the moment, but I did read on one of the comments that they have also now said that the practice will to apply to anyone under 16. Wonder if SMC will same the say re some of their practices, and how they will correct past examples that did not meet their new standards.
This is already a long post (how unlike me!) but I would like to finish with two quotes form the full report by the Charity Commission.
The Commission provided PDT with a summary of the allegations so that they had the opportunity to make representations in reply; these were taken into
account by the Commission. In making its representations PDT indicated that some of the allegations must be of an historic nature but did acknowledge past mistakes in relation to its Disciplinary Practices. They further demonstrated a willingness to make amends for these and to do what they could as a Christian organisation to ensure, as far as it was consistent with its religious beliefs, it would act with Christian compassion in the future, particularly in its dealings with disciplines of the Disciplinary Practices and in its relations with former members of the Brethren.
Having fully considered all of the available evidence albeit untested by cross examination, the Commission concluded, on balance, that there were elements of detriment and harm which emanated from doctrine and practices of the Brethren and which had a negative impact on the wider community as well as individuals. In particular the nature and impact of the Disciplinary Practices and the impact of the doctrines and practices on those who leave and on children within the PBCC may have consequences for society."
I think it is pretty likely that there will be a similar set of allegations in the case of SMC, and I look forward to their willingness to make amends
. That is the least they can do.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/29/2014 10:46PM by ThePetitor.