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P.J. Smyth, His Father, and Covenant Life Church

I figured it would be a matter of time before TWW caught onto the story of John Smyth, the father of Covenant Life Church senior pastor P.J. Smyth.

The elder Smyth, who ran various youth camps and also worked as an attorney advocating Christian values in the legal system, is under investigation for a mountain of abuses at the camps he ran.

Deb provides the TWW perspective here.

Obviously, the story is problematic on several levels:

(1) John allegedly engaged in abuses at the camps he ran in England;

(2) When the charges of abuse began to materialize, he left England and set up shop in Zimbabwe.

(3) In Zimbabwe, he allegedly engaged in more abuses. One youth died on Smyth’s watch: his naked body was found in a pool. He was arrested and even charged with a crime.

(4) Smyth then took off for South Africa, where he resumed his legal career, campaigning for Christian values.

The alleged abuses are pretty horrific: canings, sexual abuse, mental cruelty. While he has not been found guilty in a court of law, the Archbishop of Canterbury has apologized. Ergo, I’d say the accusations are credible and likely true.

Of course, if those are true, that does not necessarily implicate his son, P.J. Smyth. It IS possible, after all, that the elder Smyth could have raised his own son a certain way while treating the youths at his camps a totally different way. He could have shielded P.J. from what was going on at the camps.

But Wilhelm does raise some important issues:

(1) How could P.J. not have known about the abuses? I do think that he owes everyone an explanation regarding his involvment with the camps. How often was he there? To what extent did he interact with other youths at the camp? Was he ever in charge of anything? Did any of the youths report anything to him? If so, what did he do with it?

(2) I’ll admit: I am not impressed with P.J.’s apparent evasiveness in his public statements. While he might be doing the, “there’s an investigation that is ongoing and I’ve been advised to keep my mouth shut” routine, I do think he needs to nip this in the bud and explain what he knew and when he knew it. If he was aware of the abuses and did not report them, then he owes an explanation to the larger Church.

It is one thing if he saw abuses when he was a child–I don’t expect a young child to turn his father in–but it is a totally different matter if he was an adult and was aware of these things.

Could he have been in the dark? Possibly, but, as I said, he owes everyone an explanation that is credible. And given that the victims are also going to be testifying, he’d better be telling the truth. Because the truth will come out.

Covenant Life Church is in quite the quandary in no small part due to their failure to report alleged abuses to authorities. The pastoral staff at CLC covered up for at least one known sexual abuser, and another among their ranks–a former children’s minister–is facing trial.

Now, CLC, seeking to move on from those scandals, has a lead pastor who is either an innocent bystander who was in the dark, or was complicit in egregious abuses by his father.

As I look at all of this, I cannot help but make some sobering observations.

(1) The Church needs to do a better job policing her ranks, in particular her leaders. When I say “Church”, I’m not simply talking about local bodies or even denominational leadership–those go without saying. Oh noes, I’m referring to para-Christian groups who run youth retreats, camps, rehab camps (such as Teen Challenge) and other organizations ostensibly set up to teach youth, some even aimed at troubled youth.

(2) Along the lines of (1), parents need to be more active in these endeavors. Parents should chaperone at camps. We need to be honest here: teenagers, whose hormones have rocketed to Mach 9, are going to want to experiment.

I’m not endorsing the solo version of that practice, but they need to have it drilled into them: keep their hands off other peoples’ bodies. And it takes adults who will address these matters soberly to help them toward that end.

Adults will need to ensure that protections are in place to minimize potential porn exposure.

(3) Along the lines of (2), parents need to be honest about the sexual baggage they allow into their homes. Probably everyone born after 1960 has had at least some porn exposure–yes, even the ladies, as the sales numbers for Fifty Shades of Gray reflect. If you’re surfing the porn on the web, trust me: your kids are going to find out. If you’re stashing smut in your bedroom or attics, they’ll find it.

And when your kids end up with the porn addiction from Hell, you will have some contributory guilt.

Please follow my advice: If you have any sort of porn or other fetish materials in your home, don’t waste any time. Get that crap out of your house. NOW!.

You need to also provide appropriate Internet controls. While you cannot protect your children from every item of smut out there, you do owe it to them to do the reasonable due diligence on your end.

(4) Churches need to foster a culture where everyone is accountable and no one is above the rules.

TWW spends a lot of energy trying to blame the prominent abuses on complimentarianism or patriarchy or other authoritarian structures. Fact is, abusers can–and do–lurk and strike in egalitarian circles, too.

All it takes is a body where (a) people think “it can’t happen here”, or (b) protections are not in place, or (c) some leaders are effectively above the rules, so people fail to see what they see.

In the Scriptures, Paul ripped Peter about a matter “to his face”. Peter was the top dog of the Twelve, but Paul had the stones to set him straight in public.

THAT is what I mean by accountability.

If you’re a pastor, and you get offended when someone asks you a hard question, then you’re the one who has a problem.

(5) Churches need to apply–strictly–the requirements of 1 Timothy and Titus for all would-be pastors, deacons, elders, and others in ministerial capacity. Even those serving on teaching rotations need to be subjected to thorough background and character checks. That means that, if they are married, I want to know how they are as a couple. I want to observe them. I want to know what kind of spiritual mileage they have. If they’ve made some bad calls in life, I want to know how they responded.

I’m a firm believer that, if churches did a better job vetting their pastors according to Scriptural requirements–rather than looking for someone who has credentials and charisma–you’d keep about 80 percent of the wolves outside the gate.

One thought on “P.J. Smyth, His Father, and Covenant Life Church

  • singleman says:

    Probably everyone born after 1960 has had at least some porn exposure

    Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953, so it’s been around longer than that. I was born before 1960 and I discovered my father’s stash of those magazines when I was 11 or 12.

    You’re correct about the ladies. Various surveys have shown increasing porn use among women.

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