Krish Kandiah is founder of Home for Good, a UK-based fostering and adoption charity.
Rainbow-colored vans and buses were a regular sight in my hometown during my childhood in southern England. Emblazoned with a large red cross on the window and the words Jesus People Loving People on the side, wherever the vehicles stopped a team of people would jump out dressed in brightly colored camouflage gear and start an open-air evangelistic meeting. This was how I experienced the Jesus Army.
But this innovative and controversial British group will now no longer be on the streets. Numerous disclosures of the past sexual abuse of children have led not just to the appropriate criminal prosecution of the individuals concerned, but the dissolution of the entire church network.
Despite these tragic and terrible events, some might ask if the disbanding of the entire denomination is too extreme a reaction? Does the total disappearance of a ministry circumvent the Christian potential for change, learning, redemption, forgiveness and restitution?
How should believers react to the awful fact of the increasing number of ministry abuse scandals in the United Kingdom, United States, and beyond? What can we learn from the Jesus Army’s response?
The Jesus Army is not to be confused with the Salvation Army, founded by William and Catherine Booth in 1865 and now numbering 1.7 million members worldwide; nor with the Church of England’s evangelistic organization known as the Church Army, founded in 1882 and now with about 300 evangelists in the UK and Ireland.
The Jesus Army was founded out of a charismatic church in Bugbrooke in 1969 by Noel Stanton, following his personal encounter with charismatic renewal and the Jesus People movement in the US. By 1987, the group had taken on a clear vision to follow in the footsteps of the Salvation Army and sought to reach out to marginalized people in the UK.
At its peak, the Jesus Army had about 2,500 members. They used targeted evangelistic campaigns and a strongly directive form of mentoring and discipleship which became known as “heavy shepherding.” The forcefulness of these practices led to the Jesus Army being removed in 1986 from membership of both the Evangelical Alliance UK (EAUK) and the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
In 1999, the Jesus Army was received back into the EAUK’s membership. Its expulsion and re-inclusion seemed to offer good evidence that discipline for the sake of restoration (as described in 2 Corinthians 2:5–11) can be effective when it comes to churches and denominations.
But after the sentencing in late May of 6 men for the assault of 11 victims from the 1970s to 1990s, the Jesus Army voted to revoke its constitution and to shut down as a national organization. With the winding down of the central overseeing body, individual churches were encouraged to become independent fellowships.
Tragically, such incidents of child sexual abuse are echoed in many different denominations and organizations today. The Church of England is currently facing scrutiny by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IISCA), with more than 3,300 allegations reported so far. In fact, the IICSA recently announced a new investigation that will scrutinize safeguards across the broader spectrum of churches and organizations beyond Anglican and Catholic ones, indicative of the growing number of serious allegations and disclosures. Meanwhile in the US, the Southern Baptist Convention acknowledged both media reports of 700 cases of abuse by affiliated pastors over several decades and its own failure to adequately care for victims.
Some feel that such denominations and ministries are now so tainted that they, like the Jesus Army, should be fully terminated. Others would argue that there is the possibility of redemption even after these most serious of crimes.
The Bible is very clear about the intrinsic value, dignity, and worth of all people, and is particularly outspoken about children and the consequences of crimes and sins against them. There is no excusing or dismissing the evil of the abuse of children. As a foster parent, I have seen too many instances of the horrific impact that sexual abuse has on children. It is vital that we as the church prove to be both above reproach in our safeguarding practices and unfailingly compassionate in our care for victims.
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Source: Christianity Today