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Goodbye to trust

 This page has been restored temporarily for the convenience of those who've received correspondence criticising my alleged views

The issue of evolution and creation remains a sensitive one for many Christians, particularly perhaps for those of the scientifically literate who find fundamentalist claims that the Genesis creation account is literal history, quite untenable. My own fellowship has been destroyed in circumstances connected with just this issue, and to save repeated attempts to summarise the difficulties I’ve faced at my own church congregation since early 2010, I’ve decided to write them down. It may, perhaps, help or forewarn others; it may, I hope, encourage some to resist the fundamentalists and insist that faith and science can and should go together.

(In this web copy, I've omitted or substituted some names. The church is referred to as XXXX and individual names replaced by letters. For those unfamiliar with the Christadelphian church, the denomination of which I’m a member, see the bottom of this page)

Early in 2010 objections were raised to my voicing the view that God may have used a process of evolution to bring about His creation, and that the various forms of life developed through common descent. The objections were mostly in connection with a Bible School discussion (from people whose offspring I didn’t teach), and with a Sunday evening presentation in April which apparently upset people (who, in some cases, weren’t actually there to hear). To make matters more difficult, my main critic happened also to be Secretary of the congregation, i.e. the local Christadelphian church. My own views are on the Evolution and Creation pages on this site and in a letter to which I was one of the signatories, which the editor of the ‘Christadelphian’ magazine, the main periodical of the denomination, refused to publish.

These objections led to the church arranging committee preventing me taking part in church duties till an experienced member had led a discussion with me. He did, and concluded that my beliefs presented no problem that should prevent my full participation in church duties. Nonetheless my principal critic, in his role as secretary, failed to reveal this information to a June church members’ meeting (EMM) from which I was absent, and the meeting voted to continue my exclusion till some ‘concerns were worked through’. The committee then took two months (!) to say exactly what they wanted to ask me about, though during that period they did find time, in a cheap and petty move, to remove my name from the Christadelphian diary (where speakers are listed) without having the courtesy to tell me.

Notwithstanding the delay, I co-operated in good faith and spent many hours in discussion with various members of the committee. As a result, a majority of them agreed in October that I should resume participation and that a recommendation to that effect should be put to the next members’ meeting. Instead of honouring the majority view the Secretary broke ranks, stepped down from his post and, refusing to discuss his differences with me on a calm personal basis, circulated a six page tirade against me just before the members’ meeting, The document contained a ‘resume of events’ which included wrong or misleading information, but in the interests of harmony – and perhaps ill-advisedly in hindsight – I held back from issuing a response. The members’ meeting went ahead despite my being unable to attend it, and the result was a painful debate and eventually, a tied vote on my resuming participation. 

After the tied vote, it would have been quite straightforward for the committee to honour their majority agreement - that is a key principle – and with me, to try and allay some people’s concerns about their recommendation, offering some reassurances. For my part, I spoke to a series of people to do just that. What actually happened was that the committee gave in to my main critic and several weeks later called a ballot on a ‘statement’ not only containing a diametrically opposite recommendation to their earlier proposal, but adding far more draconian restrictions on me and, in a covering letter, calling in emotional terms for everyone to endorse the statement.

The statement included no indication that anyone was at fault but me, and ‘required’ me to agree “not to raise divisive issues our ecclesia or any other, nor to promote his views on the origin of Adam and Eve”, and not to do any ecclesial duties till at least the end of 2011. I pointed out that, because Christadelphian meetings are autonomous, it wasn’t for my own to veto what others could ask me to talk about; and stressed that if we were to move on, all the difficulties must be put set aside – including all inquisitions, tense debates, bans, restrictions, votes and the like .

Needless to say, the vote went ahead and returned a large majority against me. It’s worth reflecting on the ballot, because I find it perhaps the most disgraceful and underhand episode that I’ve encountered from those given charge of the affairs of a church. It was profoundly unfair both in process and content. Unfair in process because (a) I was given no opportunity to discuss the content of the statement that was circulated and to find words that I could endorse too, so restoring unity; (b) I was given no chance to put my case before people started to return their ballot forms - I was presented with the letter and statement after the documents had been posted to members; (c) the Sunday platform was misused to urge people to, in effect, vote against me, in effect canvassing; (d) people had little time to return papers and very little chance to speak to me even if they’d wished to.

In terms of the content of the statement, the item on me was sandwiched between sections of text with which few if any would disagree – including obviously fine sentiments about unity and a section on the statement of faith itself. Constructing the statement in this way was reminiscent of an underhand political trick: it almost guaranteed that most would vote ‘yes’ even if they would not support point 3 in isolation. And the outcome shows the ploy worked. (Well, so the vote – only 5 in my favour – suggested. Thing is, I know of rather more than that number, people I trust and who were under no pressure to tell me, who tell me quite categorically they voted ‘No’ to the proposal....which raises a very big question mark indeed)

So, I submit the ballot was wrong in principle, unfair in process, unfair in content, inconsistent with good charitable practice and unworthy of a Christian church. And all that at the hands of people I’d regarded as fellow believers, some indeed as friends, for many years.

Following the ballot I didn’t immediately give up on seeking reconciliation, but met with little progress. At first, they maintained the position that unless I endorsed the statement they intended to start a process leading to my expulsion. Realising perhaps how that could break up the congregation, they then issued a letter to the members, essentially subjecting me to indefinite exclusion from active participation, specifically saying the committee had no plans to make any proposal to change the situation. Further discussion led to the profoundly stupid proposal that they’d put the matter to a further vote later in 2011, thus prolonging uncertainty and practically guaranteeing renewed difficulties at a later date. I offered to step aside from active participation for six months, and invited my principal critic to do likewise (refused) as well as to offer some apology or word of conciliation, if not to me, then to others of my family he’d hurt (refused), No progress. Finally, the committee decided that they’d prevent my taking an active part during 2011, but assume that if I was still around (!) they’d deign to accept my participation after that without reigniting the problem with a further church vote.

After which, little communication has taken place. The Christadelphian church has an unfortunate record of sweeping problems under the carpet, letting ‘difficult’ people (for which read, those questioning the conservative point of view) quietly fade out of the picture and out of the church. I can think of too many cases for comfort; maybe I’m just one of the more recent.

All this has been especially difficult given that the opposition to me, the attempts to gag and suppress, have been at the hands of people I’d worshipped with, trusted and socialised with for many years. I have no problem with robust debate about matters of faith (and science): indeed, such a debate is healthy and can be a powerful means of testing the arguments and encouraging people to take faith seriously and search out the truth. But robust debate doesn’t justify deceit, betrayal of trust and character assassination. To me, the ballot episode is redolent of all those things. It turned a congregation where those willing to give a hearing to the views on creation and (yes, and) evolution that I hold were equally balanced by those unwilling, into one where the great majority of members were turned against me by the prejudiced nature of both content and process. It is difficult to describe the sense of betrayal you feel when people you’ve known for close on 20, even 30, years, in effect destroy your fellowship, destroy perhaps your faith in the sense you’ve previously known it. In secular life it’d be deplorable. In the Christian church, such things ought not to be.

Comments and reactions? Write to me here.

Note: The congregation in question is a Christadelphian church. Christadelphians are a lay adventist community with 'Biblical unitarian' (i.e non Trinitarian) beliefs. They have no professional ministry or formal central authority, though a strong de facto influence is exercised by the central publishing organisation based in the UK. Members commonly refer to each other as brothers and sisters. Individual congregations - usually called 'meetings' or 'ecclesias' - are autonomous and administered by a committee of male members, in this case 7, referred to as 'arranging brothers' or ABs. In this particular congregation (XXXX) of some 80 members, the church secretary is chosen from the committee by the other committee members, and the committee decide who goes on the roster to preside at, or give the talks at, the services and weekly Bible study classes. The committee members receive no special training, a fact which is sometimes all too obvious.

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