This is an overview of the situation with John Smyth. Who he is? And what allegedly happened in the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. These allegations of abuse are quite disturbing and this most may be difficult for some people to process.
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
“The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it.”
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
Ephesians 6:14 NIV
**NOTE this is a difficult post to read and goes into graphic details about abuse and sexual talk. Be forewarned if this is uncomfortable as you have been told.**
May the family of Guide Nyachuru find justice
This is a fast moving story and the amount of news pouring out about John Smyth and the allegations of abuse are quite disturbing. My predication is that we are at the tip of the iceberg and in the days and weeks to come more information will come forward. Likewise here in the United States all eyes are on P.J. Smyth who is the Senior Pastor of Covenant Life Church to see what happens and how they will respond as this gets worse. P.J. is the son of John Smyth. But lets get into the post and give an overview of John Smyth and look into the allegations. As a warning some of this is graphic and hard of process. So if you find this uncomfortable consider yourself having been warned. Also I am dealing with news and cultural issues on differing continents. If I say something that is wrong about British culture then please correct me.
Who is John Smyth?
John Smyth was at one time a part time judge and a famous barrister in the United Kingdom. For those of you who are not British a barrister is a lawyer. He is best known for his morality crusades that have defined him in his life. In the 1970’s in the United Kingdom he was the “go to barrister” who Mary Whitehouse used. Mary Whitehouse went on a campaign to “clean up TV” which began in 1964. You can read Mary’s obituary in the Guardian here, and learn more about her here. John Smyth is most well known for representing Mary Whitehouse in legal action against the Gay News in 1977. The Gay News published a poem “about a homosexual centurion’s love for Christ at his Crucifixion.” The paper was found to have committed blasphemy. Then in 1980 he pursued legal action against the National Theater for staging a play that featured a gay rape scene. He was active in the public for regularly writing letters to the London Times in which he advocated censorship. Of all the issues that he was concerned with the biggest one which would mark his career is his efforts to fight homosexuality. In the blog Bartholomew’s Thoughts on Religion you can access the PDF files of John Smyth’s books that he has written. Eventually when he moved to Cape Town, South Africa he was involved in the efforts to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal. In South Africa he ran the Justice Alliance. You can see the biography here through the internet achieve. Since the scandal involving John Smyth has come public some of these websites have been taken down. But through the internet archive you can still access and read them. John Smyth is married to his wife Anne. He has 4 children and 9 grandchildren. His hobbies are skiing, mountain walking which is most likely hiking, and squash.
Allegations in the United Kingdom
From 1974 until 1981 John Smyth was the Chairman of Irwerne Trust. Irwerne Trust was a non-denominational Christian ministry that was a Christian camp. It was very influential in British evangelicalism. Individuals like John Stott were involved in this part of evangelicalism. Irwerne Trust focused on building Christian character and teaching and instructing the leaders of tomorrow. Today it is known as Iwerne Holidays. The victims were students mostly from Winchester College which is a public school I believe. What had happened is that John Smyth had groomed and grown close to the boys he selected. He had them over for lunch, got involved in their lives, and built trust with them. Eventually John Smyth turned the conversations to masturbation, pornography and young people’s sexual habits. Allegedly when the young boys told him about their masturbation habits he believed that they need to be “purified.” That the desire to masturbate needed to be purged. What John Smyth would do is then take the young men home in Hampshire and bring them into his shed in the backyard. Allegedly he would tell the boys to take off their clothes and he would bend them over and take a cane and lash them on their buttocks. Here is how one of the victims described the situation in the London Telegraph:
But as I took my clothes off in that garden shed, I slowly realised that sex was not what Smyth had in mind. As soon as I was naked, he asked me to bend over, said a short prayer and then encouraged me to pray out loud while he removed a cane from the stack. I was stunned by how hard he hit me that first time and gasped with what little breath I had left.
That was the first of the 8,000 or so strokes he would make on my bared bottom over the next four years; each and every stroke delivered with the same extraordinary ferocity. After 10 strokes, I felt my skin burn. After 20, I felt blood trickling down from my buttocks to my legs. At 30, he stopped and embraced me from behind, leaning against my back, nuzzling his face against my neck and whispering how proud he was of me.
I never felt or saw him have an erection and he never touched me sexually, although he, too, was often naked and groaning in spiritual ecstasy while doing the beating. He did the same thing, pretty much every time.
It was not the conventional sexual abuse that people might imagine; it was something more complex. It often crossed my mind that in his upbringing in a religious sect, he was repeating an experience from his own childhood.
John Smyth allegedly beat the young boys so savagely that their skin would be ripped and blood would flow down their legs. 8 boys received a total of 14,000 lashes while 2 received 8,000 strokes over a three year period. It appears only after one of the boys attempted suicide did Winchester College learn of the situation. In 1982 John Smyth was banned and told not to contact nor work with young people again. However, neither Irwerne Trust nor Winchester College reported the situation to the police. And with that John Smyth left the United Kingdom and moved to Zimbabwe. For more information on the situation I would recommend the following articles.
- “Like John Smyth’s accusers, I bear the scars of a muscular Christian education” (Guardian)
- “‘HOLY’ BEATINGS Who is John Smyth? Barrister who led Iwerne Trust accused of physically abusing boys from Winchester College in Christian Group” (Sun)
- “C of E bishop: I was given ‘excruciating’ beating by John Smyth” (Guardian)
- “Family of lawyer accused of beating boys demanded he stopped working with children “
- “Bishop of Guildford says he was victim of barrister accused of child abuse”
Further Allegations and a Death in Zimbabwe
Smyth then left the United Kingdom and moved to Zimbabwe in 1984. Zimbabwe is a land locked country in Africa. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the west, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east and northeast. The capitol of Zimbabwe is Harare, which by the way is its largest city. There are 13 million people who reside in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe John Smyth founded Zambesi Ministries which attracted the boys from the nearby schools in the area. The abuse allegedly continued however, it took a darker turn in 1992. Guide Nyachuru attended the camp in Ruzawi. Ruzawi is an Anglican prep and boarding school founded in 1928. On the second day there Guide Nyachuru was found dead in the bottom of the swimming pool. He was found naked. His sister Edith Nyachuru identified the body. As the allegations of abuse came forward Edith became rightfully enraged that John Smyth was given a pass in the United Kingdom. If Winchester College or Irwerne Trust had reported the abuse to authorities than Guide Nyachuru would be alive today. In Zimbabwe further allegations of abuse came to the surface. It was learned that John Smyth liked to swim nude with teenagers, and as he did in the United Kingdom inquired about young adults sexual habits. in 1997 John Smyth was charged in the death of Guide Nyachuru and his corrupting activities with young boys. Here is what the Guardian said that was in court documents in Zimbabwe.
Court documents from the time reported by the broadcaster state: “The particular allegations are that [Smyth] made the complainants walk naked to the swimming pool at night; that he took showers with them in the nude; that he talked to them about masturbation and told them to be proud of their ‘dicks’ as Jesus Christ had one; and that he assaulted them on their ‘rear bare buttocks’ with a table tennis bat.”
The charges were dismissed and while I do not know the reason, this is the guess that I have. Transparency International , which is based in Germany, annually does a report that ranks corruption across the globe. From Russia, to Afghanistan, to Nigeria they investigate and rank all countries. The 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Zimbabwe with a score of 22. Transparency ranks 0 as highly corrupt and 100 as clean. Just to give you some understanding Afghanistan is ranked 15, Uzbekistan is ranked 21 and Cambodia is ranked 21. Out of 176 countries with the failed nation state of Somalia being 176 in being most corrupt, Zimbabwe is ranked 154. So knowing how deep an issue corruption is in Zimbabwe what probably happened is that a corrupt court system probably resulted in the case being dismissed or not coming to trial. If that is indeed that case, that’s sad, and a profound tragedy.
Where Things Stand
In 2002 John Smyth left Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa where he participated in morality campaigns and the Justice Alliance. In 2013 one of the victims in the United Kingdom apparently went to the police and that triggered an investigation. On February 2, 2017 Channel 4 News in Great Britain did a 6 month investigation into the charges involving John Smyth. The result of the investigation and broadcast is that Hampshire Police are now investigating the allegations. It was a superb piece of journalism. The Archbishop of Canterbury who worked and knew John Smyth has gone on record of apologizing. Time will tell as to how involved the Church of England was in the cover-up. Plus this raises the question is this the tip of the iceberg in child abuse issues in the Church of England? If bloggers and writers like myself were to probe what would we find?
Analysis and Closing Thoughts
This was a dark post to write. To immerse oneself in reading about violent abuse allegations and lewd sexual talk is hard. This isn’t guy talk, its much darker and disturbing when you consider the ages of John Smyth and the young men he “worked” with at the time. There is one thought that hangs in my head that I need to get off my chest. Many Christians have a warped sense of sexuality and that comes from their religion. How can a guy who was so obsessed with morality, homosexuality and sexual purity engage in such lewd acts that go against what he taught? Was John Smyth’s faith a tool to engage in these dark fantasies and abuse? Was it the method that allowed him to engage in his disturbing and twisted world? I am amazed as to how many Christians who can be adamant about issues like gay marriage can then be in churches that cover up child sex abuse or have the pastor who talks about “my smoking hot wife…” If anything for me that is a signal and a warning about the health of an organization or body. This keeps popping up over and over and I wonder how many Christians can buy into these sick and twisted teachings about purity that is harmful and damaging. Is it possible for Christians to be normal about sex? Can they act like adults, and let people go their way and yes, if they make mistakes let them learn and grow? Evangelical Christians forget that sexuality is a part of being human and its nothing to be ashamed of. What the Christian church should be ashamed and enraged about is that they come down on a 16 year old boy while letting a person who is deviant go from organization to organization with no accountability. This situation with John Smyth disgusts me and I wonder where this scandal is going. Like I said up top the other aspect is what does this mean for P.J. Smyth and Covenant Life Church? I already did the analysis of P.J.’s statements in “Analysis of Covenant Life Church’s P.J. Smyth’s Statements on the Situation Regarding his Father, John Smyth QC“ The next few weeks I think we will learn a lot more…the question is will he spin machine that is Covenant Life Church go into overtime? I will be watching to see what happens. The next post at The Wondering Eagle is going to look at Mark Mitchell in anticipation of what he might say or do. With that said I love you guys!