Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Did only evangelicals cane?

The story of John Smyth and his attempts to literally beat sin out of otherwise ordinarily developing young men is disgusting and disgraceful.

But that is no reason to give up on logic and facts.

Between the New York Times article linked to above and this Giles Fraser column I find a couple of things not well thought through.

First, a claim that Smyth represents an unchecked development in evangelical theology (or, at least, British evangelical theology). The NYT article and the Fraser column do not actually bring forth one further example of a Smyth at work within evangelicalism. Not one. Let alone, say, 100 caners or even 1 published author boldly declaring caning as the logical outcome of Romans and Galatians on justification by faith. Now, that would be a sign of evangelical perversity.

Rather, Fraser links Smyth to the general theme of British public schools, that caning was essential to discipline and to ensuring that young men grew up morally upright. Reputable newspapers and popular columnists ought to do more work than this lazy elision from one rogue, viciously obsessive evangelical to a whole system of education as a sign of evangelicalism's nasty ills.

The point would be stronger if evangelicals exclusively held headmasterships and masters' position through the British and empire public/independent school system. Let me recall how many evangelicals there were among the headmaster and masters I knew in my school days at Christ's College (when caning was permitted) ... hmm ... fingers of one hand ... maybe 2 out of some 50 staff. And definitely not the HM of that day who was moderately Anglican!

Secondly, Fraser claims that

"Part of the purpose of empire was to promote evangelical Christianity. But the empire was no place for effeminate Christians. And so the ability to take a good beating became training for the sort of mental toughness that was required to rule the world."

This is simply baloney. As the empire advanced, evangelicals often and in many places struggled to get into the territories the British were controlling. No doubt there were one or two places where evangelicals were welcomed by the bureaucracy but my understanding - correct me if I am wrong - is that evangelical advancement was not at the forefront of empire advancer thinking.

Indeed, here in NZ, evangelicals arrived before "the empire" arrived. And once "the empire" was established here (1840 and all that) we soon had an empire-established bishop and whatever kind of man Selwyn was as a muscular Christian, he was NOT AN EVANGELICAL. Try telling the Williams family about Selwyn and his love for evangelicals! Try telling the Nelson and Christchurch Dioceses about how evangelical their first bishops were (not!).

So, let's be alarmed, disturbed and leave no stone unturned in investigations of Smyth's misdeeds. Let evangelicalism be open and honest about rogues in its past and in its midst. By all means examine evangelicalism for its explicit or implicit support of violence as key to holiness. (Though because it has never been part of my experience, through many evangelical contexts (SU, TSCF, CMS Youth, CUs at two universities, friends from many evangelical parishes, I would be surprised to find Smyth's misdeeds frequently and widely repeated, if at all.)

So, please, let's not damn evangelicalism unnecessarily by lazy-thinking associations; let's not get our facts wrong (what's the term ... "alternative facts") and let's not overlook all the rogue Christians who have actually been non-evangelicals. I could give names ...!

I will publish comments about evangelicalism's currently alleged association with violence as a means of sanctifying disciples of Christ. But I will not publish a comment which even implies in a distant manner the You Know What issue which is being fasted from through Lent on this blog.

26 comments:

Andrei said...

Children are still beaten at school in Asian countries like Malaysia and Korea, maybe even in Japan

But the one country in the Western world where it remains is the USA where it is still practiced and in some cases commonly is in Bible belt states.

I don't know how that effects the thesis of this post but I put it out there

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
I don't think those observations affect my thesis that evangelicalism is not intrinsically prone to elders/seniors caning younger disciples to instil holiness in them.

If one wishes to argue that evangelicalism has adherents who believe in corporal punishment of children by parents or by teachers then I accept that and it is quite possible that more evangelicals support corporal punishment than other kinds of Christians.

But smacking naughty children in homes or schools is not the same issue as Fraser is addressing re Smyth and his non-parental, non-pedagogical relationship to young men he met through camps, conferences and other Christian meetings.

Andrei said...

Not so long ago I read a story from a non English source about the ABC and the Ecumenical Patriarch issuing a joint statement condemning people trafficking - a froth piece really but I thought to share it with you

But when I searched "Justin Welby" this piece of nastiness turned up

Very disheartening - not something I cared share

But the striking thing to me was that this is a tale of the English ruling classes - the ABC appears in it because these are the circles in which he moves and always has - along with the Tony Blairs, David Camerons and Theresa Mays - fancy public schools, Oxford and Cambridge etc etc

The contrast between these people and their privileged backgrounds and that of Vladimir Putin's who was raised in a Leningrad Khrushchyovka with communal kitchen and shared bathroom and toilet facilities could not be more striking. And you can't help but wonder if the antipathy towards VVP held by these people arises from some sort of snobbery, all the more marked because he is actually a lot smarter than they, very well educated and multilingual despite his humble origins whereas thes born to rule Oxbridge types are credentialed rather than educated in anything other than which fork to use for which course in a formal dining room setting

I never encountered beating at school until I came here as a child - it was a shock and my introduction to it came within my first week in kiwi school when I was thrashed along with another new arrival for what offense I do not know. We were suddenly dragged to the front of the class and beaten with a strap, my companion wet his pants. I was about 10 at the time

But I do know I have had a lifelong antipathy towards the Anglo Saxon ruling classes ever since - a chip on the shoulder you might say

Andrei said...

Another observation

One of my daughters was a Roald Dahl fan and was given the book "Boy" for her birthday

And a shocking chapter in it, one that shocked her so much she brought it to me after she read it, involved a description of a beating at Repton School administered by the then rector who shortly thereafter became the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop in fact who crowned the present Queen a point made in this chapter of the book

Are you familiar with this book?

Brian Kelly said...

It's also quite possible that more evangelicals have children than other kinds of Christians.

My own education was at the hands (quite literally) of the Order of Christian Brothers of Ireland - not an evangelical among them but plenty of belts.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
No I am not familiar with that book but I am not surprised about various things you say above re corporal punishment (e.g. it being administered to yourself for obscure if not unknown (unknowable) reasons). The past is a different country and it is sometimes difficult to know how anyone managed to travel through it!

Brian Kelly said...

"Credentialed rather than educated" - that's a good description of the English class system - which is very much alive among English charismatic evangelicals, where private school backgrounds, connections and an interest in sport matter rather more than they care to admit and certainly more than theological depth.
The late John Richardson often commented on this and how he felt stigmatised for his lower middle class grammar school background in upper class public school company - although he was considerably more acute theologically than most of his contemporaries.
As for English public schools, I recall reading somewhere about a shortsighted headmaster in Victorian days who thrashed some boys sent to him with a note stating 'These boys are to be confirmed' which he misread as 'caned'. Public school headmasters were of course men in holy orders.

Peter Carrell said...

Cutting a medium length story short, my wife and I once had dinner with the Welbys (when they were at Cranmer Hall, Durham, early 1990s). It was a lovely evening but there was absolutely no doubt that we were supping at the highest level of British society!

Father Ron said...

Peter, 2 of my wife's English brothers worked in the mission field in Africa; one in Zululand from Selly Oak and the other in Tanzania with USPG. They have a better understanding of theAnglican missionary environment than some others commenting on this subject. Though both working for different agencies, both now agree that the official line was that of a Victorian outlook towards moral probity - which has resulted in a mostly negative attitude in the receiving Commonwealth countries towards the more open gender and sexuality situation found in Western nations - thus the advent of GAFCON in those countries.

In Southern and Central Africa, with the influence of the more Anglo-catholic missionary societies - UMCA and SPG - there is now a more open attitude towards gender and sexuality - reflected in the less homophobic and sexist attitudes of the local Anglican Churches and Governments. Archbishop Despond Tutu is a product of such an Anglo-Catholic missionary influence, the fruits of which are now evident in South Africa - which stands alone amongst the Anglican Church os Africa in condemning sexism and homophobia.

Andrei said...

" It was a lovely evening but there was absolutely no doubt that we were supping at the highest level of British society!"

Maybe that statement hints at what ails the Anglican Communion - the cares and concerns of the upper middle class in which it finds itself embroiled in endless debates are not the issues of the "hoi polloi" and certainly not the issues the residents of Kibera where life is very very hard indeed

What does the Church have to offer in this world of tears?

Sanctuary from our daily troubles and a hope for the future in the World to come

Jean said...

I guess there is little doubt corporal punishment reigned in the days of old but I don't think it was limited to English Public or Kiwi Private schools. The stories I have heard, including my mothers (at a public non-christian girls school) and a friend at my prior church whose farmer dad used to beat her in their shed at home, reflect an era where a 'whipping' was considered acceptable and appropriate discipline. Notwiithstanding the tale told about Mr Symthe seems to beyond even the historical level of acceptance and appears to be a disturbing personal trait of one misguided individual - especially when it is combined with emotional abuse. Notwithstanding the use of extreme physical violence in numerous schools during this period of time will have longstanding influences on the people who were on the receiving end.

No doubt some used (twisted) theology to back up cultures mores of the day... this is not an uncommon practice, if lacking in integrity of interpretation.

It is hard for me to leap from what is described to the Alpha course and today's Anglican communion let alone evangelical christians in particular. The Alpha course came about in my generation whereas canning in schools was ruled out before I came along. It was written by Sandy Miller and does not even touch on mis-interpreted verses such as spare the rod spoil the child. So it is a big leap in connection. I personally don't know of many evangelical kiwi christians who hold to corporal punishment; and any objections that arose to NZ's anti-hitting law (and it is hitting not smacking as some assume) came as frequently from non-christian's as christian's - my workplace at the time was involved with supporting the law change.

Nor can I say much about Justin Welby being part of the upper British Class. Albeit, he was born into it, hiis family life obviously wasn't ideal, his Christian conversion happened in an African hut, and he spent a year or so risking his life in politically unstable countries working in a capacity of reconciling opposing groups; so while one is a product of where one came from no doubt more has shaped him than just the British upper class and life as a business executive. This seems reflected in his efforts to challenge political parties to consider social issues, and his crusade against debt mongers in the UK.

As for the motivation of keeping the Anglican communion together being one still of maintaining a sense of superiority or character building via manly virtues such as discipline. Ummm... well... doesn't seem like the picture I see of the Church here anyway. Perhaps a projection of the past onto the present?

From what I observe ultra conservative Christian's - and of course conservative is a loaded word - tend to be more in favour of physical discipline.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Jean
Yes, I saw that "link" (or smear?) to Alpha and thought it unfair.
I think the connection is that Nicky Gumbel went to eton, like Justin Welby.
But, really, if we make those connections, does that make everyone who went to OBHS a great rugby player because Richie McCaw went there???

Brian Kelly said...

"But, really, if we make those connections, does that make everyone who went to OBHS a great rugby player because Richie McCaw went there???"

I didn't attend there but I did teach there once, as very green 22 year old when their German teacher suddenly died. It did nothing for my aptitude for rugby but fortunately my wife has been able to teach me some of the finer points, like the rules regarding rucks and mauls (this came up the other week in the Six Nations in the England-Italy game where the French famously ref told the English confused about mauls: 'I'm the referee, not your coach.')
On the other hand, if you had said Wesley College, Pukekohe, there could be some basis there. True story: my brother-in-law coached Jonah Lomu there.

As for corporal punishment: the closer one lives to a manual life, whether farming or labouring, the more likely one is exposed to CP. Working class Irish dealing with unruly males and working class Baptists and Methodists in the American South shared a lot in common culturally. It was the same historically in the armies of the world - the Russian army included, which could be very brutal to recruits. That poor Africans are often brutal in their ways is well known too. This has nothing to do with religion and a lot to do with testosterone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, at 7.07pm, Fr Ron mentioned the Voldemort topic.

Nick the village policeman.

Peter Carrell said...

That's right Nick!
(Just checking whether you had turned out for Night Duty or not :) .)
I hummed and hahed about that but decided that it didn't argue for or against The Voldemort option but was making a fair (if arguable) observation about ongoing consequences in the mission fields of this or that theological outlook and related that to the main point of the article above.

Ron, or anyone else: don't try something like that again before end of Lent.

Anonymous said...


Historian Philip Greven studied the association of Protestant religion with the corporal punishment of children.

*The Protestant Temperament* compares Anglican, Evangelical, and Quaker childrearing in colonial America--

https://tinyurl.com/hhfakxw

*Spoil the Rod and Spare the Child* emphasises the religious motivations for, and the harmfulness of, corporal punishment of children--

https://tinyurl.com/j2437rh

The New York Times published a review of *Spoil the Rod and Spare the Child*--

https://tinyurl.com/ztgdr35

Bowman Walton

Andrei said...

Corporal Punishment was universal in all walks of life Brian until the 19th century. Its usage and efficacy began to be questioned during the enlightenment and that debate is still simmering

As an aside its use in Russian schools was banned just before the October Revolution in 1917

I think the point here is its ritualistic use in Anglo Saxon educational culture - in that Roald Dahl's autobiographical book "Boy" is highly relevant to this post, particularly the chapter titled "The Headmaster" which describes the flogging of a boy on his naked buttocks by a clergyman who later went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. Roald Dahl seems to have lost his faith as a result of this as did at least one of the victims in the story above. Though another victim went on to become a Bishop in the CoE

There seems to me there are both religious and sexual overtones involved here - it is troublesome

Brian Kelly said...

Brutality in the Russian Army:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedovshchina

Father Ron said...

Dear Peter. I thank you for your breadth of view on what, and what does not, relate to the basic topics of your blog. Here, for the policeman, Nick is more evidence of the universality of Anglicanism, from the retirement sermon of the Anglo-Catholic former bishop of London, Richard Chartres, which bears upon his earlier question as to what constitutes Anglo-Catholic provenance:

"We meet tonight around a symbol of unity that is not merely “illustrative” but as Richard Hooker said “performative”. But our Eucharist also witnesses to the fractures in the one body which Jesus Christ commanded us to re-member. We have not always re-membered him in the here and now, rather we have often dis-membered him. The Eucharist, however, is addressed not to this passing world nor to some other fantasy world but is preparing the way into the next world, the coming world, the great and coming church, servant and midwife of the end time as it is described by the greatest poet of the Christian West, Dante, who saw “all the scattered leaves of the universe bound together in one volume, by love”. - a pretty good testimony against schismatic activity in the Body of Christ.

Bryden Black said...

What a thing to grace the threads of ADU - Smyth’s antics - of which I was made aware myself late last year. For, you see, I met him once in Zimbabwe; and I also attended one of those (notable) English Public Schools; as well as, thirdly, having met some of those folk who attended Basher’s Camps, of the ilk where these alleged canings occurred, at my theological college. All in all, with these three criteria, I sense I’ve some stake in the likes of Fraser’s allegations! Which I also sense to be utter balderdash ...

Peter has canvassed well the sort of “muscular Christianity” represented by our Victorian and Empiric forebears, who also represented the full spectrum of Anglicanism in its day; Evangelicals were but a minority, always. My Evangelical college had similarly a very wide spectrum of types among its membership: the Basher’s Camp ‘set’ represented a mere 5% of the total, and in addition, NONE of those were anything like Mr Smyth (even if a couple were a bit keen and bouncy like him/like Tigger ...).

As is often the case, media mud raking is a favourite sport among some. St Paul exhorts our avoidance of all such antics ... Eph 4:25-5:5, Phil 4:8-9. And while I sympathize with the likes of Andrei’s experience, if I recall correctly my own secondary schooling, only one boy was caned once in my House during my entire five years there—we had other ways and means of cultivating dutiful behaviour!

Andrei said...

"Brutality in the Russian Army:"

You are trolling Brian

But then again you touch on something about rites of passage and initiations which seem universal because all militaries have issues from time to time with hazing that gets out of hand

That's the thing about the fallen human race we can be angelic, noble and reach for the stars or we can be utterly beastial.

I believe though that choosing sanctity is a free choice and even though having made it our goal we slip from time to time, it is still a free choice

And I don't believe that saintliness can be beaten into anyone - it is something you must earnestly seek and work towards of our own volition

David Wilson said...

Bryden,

Please note that there is no suggestion from anyone that the terrible abuse happened at the camps themselves. It is also perhaps disingenuous to change the common term "Bash Camp", derived from the popular nickname of EJH Nash, to "Basher" as this has the effect of reinforcing the false notion that violence was (and is) part of the ethos of these camps. I surmise that 'Bash' was because Nash was a Bible-basher, and no more.

It is true that it was the camps which enabled Smyth, who was not more than one of the senior leaders at the camp, to gain control over the boys and young men affected. The way that they worked was to do what is now called mentoring with individuals. This, after all, is much the way Jesus worked. However, it does give the opportunity for the authority relationship to become abusive.

I was involved in related camps at the time, and there was nothing in the practice which gave any hint of violence for spiritual gain. Mark Ruston, who prepared the report, was my vicar for a number of years. He was a kind and gentle man and I dread to think how shocked he was with what he discovered.

It seems clear that there are those who are using this affair to grind their own axes even when they are not directly related. For instance the suggestion that evangelical theology is violent does not fit my experience. At the time of the events, the late 1970's, there was little talk of the wrath of God, or hell. From my observations from nearby, it is my impression that the conservative evangelicals in the CofE have become more keen on these since then with the rise of the Proclamation Trust in the 1990's, and the rather neo-Calvanistic slant which has followed. (This is not unconnected with Sydney Anglicanism).

My opinion of Giles Fraser's axe is that he is mistaken to equate the "muscular Christianity" of the public schools with evangelicalism. Many of the products of the Bash Camps are very far from being "muscular". John Stott a "muscular Christian", I think not. Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Guildford, has revealed that he was a victim of Smyth. He is a fine musician, and could have become a professional. He, again, is not "muscular".

Rather, if the violence of corporal punishment in the public school system has fed into this, it is the result of cultural invasion of the Church by the values of the world.

It is interesting to compare the furore over John Smyth with the reaction to the conviction (q.v.) of Peter Ball, the former Bishop of Lewes and then Gloucester. His action seem not dissimilar to those of Smyth. However, his theology and churchmanship were very different. Indeed, his monastic tradition has much closer association with mortification of the flesh than does any evangelical tradition. However, Giles Fraser et. al. were not fulminating against those traditions and theologies. Why not?

In this, what is being lost is concern for the victims, and for others who have suffered abuse. I had a conversation 10 days ago with someone I know who had suffered (unrelated) sexual abuse when a teenager. The revelations of John Smyth had brought it all back to the surface. We need to put away our axes and ready our ears for listening.

Sorry this is so long.

Bryden Black said...

Dear David, You are absolutely right: grinding axes (or teeth for that matter) is most unhelpful. We are in heated agreement.

PS: the Basher nomenclature is not my nickname, nor the likes of Fraser.

Brian Kelly said...

'"Brutality in the Russian Army:"

You are trolling Brian'

Not so, Andrei - I was simply pointing out that Russia, whether under Soviet jackboot or not, has not been the epitome of virtue regarding corporal punishment and indeed the mistreatment of recruits goes far beyond institutional misbehaviour in other countries. This is widely documented across the internet and is reflected in the terrible suicide numbers among Russian conscripts.
Britain had its own share of problems with the number of recruits killing themselves at Deep Cut barracks and this was the subject of official enquiry into bullying.
The welfare of ordinary soldiers is an issue that moves me greatly. They do a wretched job for wretched pay and too many of them end up on the streets after they leave the services. They deserve our gratitude and practical help.

Andrei said...

"This is widely documented across the internet..."

Many things are widely documented across the internet Brian, the moon landing hoax, 9/11 was an inside job and so forth.

What is important is "the narrative"

Evangelicals want to beat the sin out of boys ( the narrative Peter is objecting to and the subject of this post

Catholics (and Anglo Catholics) are kiddy fiddlers - an Anglo Catholic kiddy fiddler was mentioned in a comment higher on this thread

Russians are brutes which you brought up linking English language wikipedia whose source was the NYT

We all have our blinkers and blind spots and we gravitate to reading things that confirm our prejudices and accept them without question and ignore uncomfortable facts that contradict our world view

And we are manipulated by those who rule over us with a barrage of half truths, lies and distortions

Goebbels said "Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth"

It is actually quite frightening if you think about it

But what we have as an anchor is the Church "I am the Way the Truth and the Light no man comes to the Father but by me"

Brian Kelly said...

Most of us don't have the money, time or inclination to discover the whole truth of whatever the cause du jour is.
Perhaps the words of Simon and Garfunkel sum it up: 'A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest' ('The Boxer').

But nobody was saying 'Russians are brutes' (although I am amused now that Russian-beating is a popular sport among the left now that Trump has been elected; I can remember the old Soviet days when Sting earnestly reminded us that 'Russians love their children too', when of course we all believed they ate them). But to observe that life is hard there for many and that alcoholism is widespread isn't prejudice.

All I can say for sure is to agree with Paul that 'All Cretans are liars'. But since this was said by a Cretan, was he speaking the truth? .......