New Alleged Abuse Victim Says John Smyth Made Him Self-Harm To Rid Himself Of 'Sinful' Gay Desires
A new alleged victim of abuse by John Smyth, the former QC at the centre of claims about sadism and beatings towards Christian youth in the 1970s, has said that the same culture of homophobia still exists in "mainstream Christian fundamentalism".
The man has come forward to The Guardian newspaper claiming that he was encouraged to self-harm by Smyth as a way of ridding himself of "sinful" homosexual yearnings.
As a schoolboy he was instructed to "do anything to give myself pain" amid "frightening and blunt" warnings homosexuality which drove him into "a dark place", the paper reported.
Now in his 50s, 'David', which is not his real name, said that Smyth's narrow theology and lack of compassion can still be found in today's Church of England.
He said that Smyth's "brand of Christianity" and "literalistic interpretation of scripture" still thrived in the Church.
"Smyth's actions may have been at the more extreme end of the scale, but the narrowness and lack of compassion remains common in mainstream Christian fundamentalism, especially in its approach to homosexuality," the man told the Guardian.
David encountered Smyth when he was a pupil at Winchester College and a contemporary of Andrew Watson, the bishop of Guildford, who this week disclosed that he had been the victim of "shocking and violent" beatings by Smyth.
Several other men who met Smyth as teenagers at Christian summer camps or the leading private school have come forward to say that they were beaten and whipped until they bled in a garden shed at Smyth's home near Winchester.
Hampshire police opened an investigation into the allegations last month.
The claims were investigated by the Iwerne Trust, which ran the summer camps, and Winchester College in 1982, but neither body informed the police.
David said he was drawn into Smyth's circle after meeting him through Winchester College's Christian Forum and also attended Christian holiday camps in Dorset. He became a "regular visitor to [Smyth's] house, where he offered me 'spiritual guidance'."
Smyth expected to be "told everything" by the young men he invited to his home, according to David. When the young man disclosed his emerging homosexuality, Smyth told him that "Jesus would give me the power to resist" his urges.
David said: "Smyth responded to my anxieties with graphic descriptions of the joys of heterosexual sex and a stark warning that homosexuals could neither enter heaven nor live among the righteous on earth. It was a frightening and blunt message.
"Smyth instructed me to pinch, squeeze or do anything to give myself pain when sinful thoughts arrived. He taught me to harm myself and his demonstrations left me bruised.
"Emotionally, I was in a dark place. I frequently spent a good portion of my 'spiritual counselling' sessions with Smyth in tears yet there was no let up from Smyth. I felt isolated, unable to speak to anyone else. I became depressed and my work suffered."
David "hit rock bottom" one evening at school, he said. His house-master was aware that the boy was troubled, but David did not "admit the real cause of my anxiety".
He eventually realised that "Smyth's brand of Christianity was merely one of many. I saw how to challenge his literalistic interpretation of scripture. By the time I left Winchester, Smyth had lost his hold over me."
However, he said that he disagreed with the Bishop of Guildford, who said earlier this week that "nothing that happened in the Smyth shed was the natural fruit of any Christian theology".
David's assertion that a distorted Christian fundamentalism lay behind Smyth's alleged abuse echoes comments from Alan Wilson, the bishop of Buckingham, who spoke of a "violent theology".
"These camps and [Smyth's] activities had extraordinary influence among senior evangelicals in the Church of England of my generation," Bishop Wilson told Channel 4 News. "Pretty much everybody who was anybody in the leadership of public school Anglican evangelicalism had something to do with John Smyth's operation. And I think that raises all sorts of disturbing questions."
He added: "The theology that these people bring to the table very often has an element of violence and sort of nastiness in it, a kind of element of punitive behaviour. God is seen as this punitive figure who is somehow out to 'get' people and I suppose it does blind people to what's going on in front of them sometimes, when there is that kind of violent basic theology."
Joseph Diwakar, a researcher in church history at Oxford university, said the legacy of "Bash camps" – Christian camps named after the nickname of their founder, EJH Nash – "is the narrow cohort of men at the top of the conservative evangelical Church... This narrow and intimate group of alumni [of Christian camps], and their highly-conservative theology, provide context to the silence over Smyth's crimes."
He added: "[Archbishop of Canterbury Justin] Welby's commitment to justice and the cause of survivors is noble. For conservatives, however, there are more questions to be asked. An organisation and its network of elites, long influential in the Church, has been shown capable of facilitating and concealing the worst types of abuse."
Smyth left the UK to live in Zimbabwe soon after the inquiry conducted by Winchester College. He was the subject of fresh allegations of physical abuse by boys in his care in Zimbabwe, and now lives in South Africa.
Archbishop Welby was a dormitory officer at summer camps run by the Iwerne Trust when Smyth was its chairman. The Archbishop knew Smyth, but was unaware of the allegations of abuse until a disclosure was made to the Church of England in 2013.
David, who said he "still [has] a Christian faith", has contacted the Hampshire police and reported his allegations to Winchester College in the past few days.