Thirtyone:eight chief executive pulls out of ReNew Conference

(Photo: Facebook/ReNew)

Justin Humphreys, chief executive of safeguarding charity ThirtyOne:Eight, has withdrawn as a speaker from the ReNew Conference 2020.

He had been due to take part in a session at the conservative evangelical conference on 'safe churches in an unsafe world', led by the conservative evangelical Bishop of Maidstone, Rod Thomas.

The conference, taking place online on 14 September, is organised each year by the ReNew network in partnership with Church Society and Anglican Mission in England. 

Humphreys is currently leading an independent review into alleged abuse by the former pastor of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, Jonathan Fletcher, who was also active in the ReNew network.

The findings of the review are not due to be released until after the conference.

Humphreys' decision to withdraw from the conference follows conversations with victims and survivors of abuse in the wider Church context. 

"In listening to the views shared, it has become clear that to proceed with speaking at the ReNew Conference at this time would cause significant distress and anxiety to them," he said. 

In his statement, Humphreys added that it would be "inappropriate and unfair" to comment on the Fletcher review at the conference before the findings are made public. 

"I am concerned not to create any false or unrealistic expectation surrounding my ability to address issues, which may be specifically within the focus of the ongoing Lessons Learned Review commissioned by Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon," he said. 

"Whilst I recognise that the message of creating safer places is perhaps more important now than ever, the opportunities to communicate this must be balanced with the need to be sensitive and maintain focus on those who have already experienced pain, harm and abuse.

"The voices of victims and survivors will often bring sharp perspective and focus to such situations and it is right that these are heard and that actions are considered as a consequence.

"I apologise for any distress that I may have already caused to any victim or survivor. I also apologise for any inconvenience or frustration that this may cause the organisers and delegates of the conference and pray that they will nevertheless have a productive and valuable time together."

Renew trustees said they were "disappointed" but "entirely understand" Humphreys' reasons for withdrawing. 

"The ReNew trustees and planning team believe what the Bible says - namely that we all have sins to repent of which we are blind to and they can be personal and deep and also part of our culture," they said in a statement.

"We had invited Justin Humphreys in good faith recognising that we all have lessons to learn and because we want to repent of our sins.

"We wanted to help churches learn from people's experiences and consider how best to respond in a gospel-centred way.

"It is therefore with regret that we confirm that Justin is unable to address us on this occasion. However, we recognise that seeking to address this issue prior to the publication of the Lessons Learned Review will have caused hurt and upset to survivors and victims of abuse within a church context.

"This was never our intention and we apologise unreservedly for any distress caused."