On this the 2nd anniversary of 13’s hand-scrawled list of ‘suggestions’, I thought it fitting to post the blog’s swan song.
I’ve been thinking for many weeks how best to wrap up this project. A blip of inspiration appeared on the radar screen some time ago, but it was not substantial enough to begin writing. Now I trust I have discovered a train of thought that will round out the record of this catastrophe rather, for lack of a better word, nicely.
The blip of inspiration was the result of my morbid fascination with shipwrecks. After finishing Erik Larson’s novelised account of the sinking of the Lusitania (highly recommended, though perhaps not narratively as strong as either Devil in the White City or In the Garden of Beasts), I found myself on a ‘Wikiwalk’ during which I stumbled upon a section listing shipwrecks, ordered according to their number of deaths. It is shocking how many people have died in recent times on Asian ferries, and of course anyone living on this side of the Atlantic will be aware of the numbers of migrants from North Africa who have drowned in the Mediterranean these past few years, trying to get to Italy.
What piqued my curiosity were the ships listed as missing or lost before 1800. One of these was a Dutch ship called the Batavia, which went down off the coast of Western Australia en route to the Dutch East Indies in 1629. To Americans, this period is practically pre-history. The Wikipedia page will tell most readers what they may wish to know; there are also a couple of recent books available on Amazon. One of the writers, Peter Fitzsimons, did this entertaining interview on Australian radio about the time his book came out. I won’t detail the story of the Batavia here; it’s a tale of almost unbelievable evil and savagery, though the ending seems to demonstrate an intervention of Providence. While this is cheeky, I have to admit I took great pleasure in reading about certain Dutchmen behaving very badly, and other Dutchmen taking that bad behaviour very seriously.
It’s worth making the point that people don’t take betrayal very seriously these days, especially if they’re not the victims. Mutiny, among his other crimes, earned Jeronimus Cornelisz the gallows, with his hands cut off to boot. In contrast, 54 was told early on by Templar that was 13 was doing was dishonest, the backstabbing of a former friend. 54 didn’t think this was morally or relationally significant enough to do anything about it; maybe he should have–oh, I don’t know–BEEN SUSPICIOUS OF 13.
In past posts we have had lists of home truths embodied or proven by this scam (or is it a sham? Probably a bit of both.). In this last post I will do something similar, drawing on another real-life of event and its fall-out as a parallel story, and for direction in subject matter.
I was in London last Wednesday, and thus had the opportunity to pick up a copy of the Evening Standard. The front page headline was not about Grenfell Tower, cladding, or Glastonbury. Instead, I read this ⇒
I remember when I first came across the term ‘football [soccer] hooliganism’, back in 2012, my first year in the UK. I sat at my computer in our Headington flat living room on yet another ‘Wikiwalk’, which eventually brought me to the page on the Hillsborough Disaster. I was captivated by the story at the time; I’d not been aware until this past week that that same year, an independent panel published its findings, and in 2014, a new inquest into the events of 15 April 1989 began, and took more than two years to complete. The verdict and results were released in 2016. And now, criminal charges have been brought against responsible parties who were spared accountability by the systems–legal and political–again and again. The campaign of the Hillsborough Families and survivors for justice and acknowledgment of the truth is a fight nearly as old as I am.
The Hillsborough Disaster was a human crush at an FA semi-final match at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs. But it became more than the chaos that killed 96 people. It’s turned out to be both the events of that day, and the cover-up that began while people were still being injured and killed. One thirty-year-long miscarriage of justice.
Those who enable and work a corrupt system know they can often wear down victims of injustice through long waits, setbacks, and disappointments. On the one hand, the Classis process seemed to us to drag on unnecessarily and through people’s carelessness, though in retrospect, perhaps it was deliberate. But on the other, at long last, the truth about Hillsborough has been admitted and declared, and now there are meaningful consequences.
In sum, the Disaster was this: on April 15, 1989, the mass of Liverpool fans were being ticket-checked through an inadequate number of antiquated turnstiles and then sent into the grounds. At the time, Hillsborough’s standing-room-only section consisted of concrete terraces at the goal ends of the pitch. These terraces were divided into ‘pens’, separated by spiked fences, and divided internally by ‘crush barriers’, metal railings to keep the weight of the crowd split so as not to squash the people at the front of the terrace (I don’t believe we have had such things in American sports). Liverpool fans were allocated the west end terrace, the entrance to which was through Leppings Lane. The front of the terrace is separated from the pitch by a fence that is intended to be impossible to climb over. In each pen is a single-file gate to the pitch, through the perimeter fence, that can only be opened from the pitch side.
Kick-off was scheduled for 3pm. By 2:45, the crowd outside the stadium was so dense at the turnstiles that the police managing the crowd outside feared injury to people at the front–they were witnessing a crush at the gates and turnstiles. To relieve the pressure, they requested (one officer in quite colourful, desperate terms over his radio) that police control–headed by chief superintendent David Duckenfield–inside the stadium, who could see everything happening outside on CCTV, open an exit gate (C) around the side of the turnstile wall, to allow people on that side to go into the stadium, taking the pressure off the bottleneck. This the police did twice, a few minutes apart. Just before 3, Gates A & B were opened. At 2:59, Gate C was opened a third time.
It made sense–but other orders that on previous similar occasions had been given in conjunction with the opening of the exit gate–such as for police escort onto the terraces, or the closing of the tunnel (outlined in blue above) to the central pens–were not given now. Most of the fans, something like 1,800, coming in through the exit gate C headed for the tunnel, and into the two central pens 3 & 4–which were already over-full and where people had already been uncomfortable since 2:30. The crush began in earnest. Less than 6 minutes after kick-off, the game was halted.
This is BBC Liverpool’s timeline of the events of the day. The conduct of police and emergency services shows a complete absence of control, and complete lack of preparedness. 95 people died; 1 man succumbed to his injuries four years later (he was taken off life support after showing no signs of improvement, having been in a PVS since the Disaster). The aftermath was to be the scandal of not only the police (and to a lesser extent stadium owners/managers) failing to take responsibility, but also turning the press (and indeed much of the country) on the Liverpool fans, who would be made to take the blame for their own dead and injured.
I won’t outline further details here. Instead, readers may inform themselves by watching BBC’s 2013 Panorama program, which I recommend be followed up by the 2-hour documentary from 2016. Do watch them; though be warned, some of the footage is distressing. Parties interested in learning still more can start with the latest edition of Prof. Phil Scraton’s book (which is extremely affordable on Kindle).
So why Hillsborough? What has a fatal incident in the late ’80s at a sporting event in the UK got to do with a church coup in Northern Michigan in the 2010s? As I delved deeper into Hillsborough, the number of significant parallels between the two cases began to add up, leading me to at least one conclusion: institutional cover-ups, whether of the cause of death for football fans or of a church scandal, manifest similar MOs.
What are these parallels? This list comprises both parallel actions and parallel lessons from Hillsborough and Aetna.
- Each case should have been anticipated based on already known pre-existing circumstances and earlier events.
Prof. Scraton’s book on Hillsborough opens with a chapter that, after an introduction to Sheffield’s police context, enumerates several earlier football disasters and near-disasters in the UK. Why? I myself asked this question when I realised he was beginning with a set of other stories. His point was, of course, that Hillsborough was not the first major incident at a football stadium, not even the first one to have claimed scores of lives. Some of the significant examples are:
Burnden Park in Bolton, 1946. A crush in an overcrowded embankment killed 33 and injured 400.
Non-fatal crush at Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton, 1976.
Bradford City Stadium in Bradford, 1985. A rubbish fire in wooden stands killed 56 and injured at least 256.
Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, 1902 and 1971. 1902: a stand collapse killed 25; in 1971, as thousands of spectators left down a single stairway, a pile-up or crush killed 66. In contrast to what happened at Hillsborough, fans were not blamed, and due to previous incidents at the grounds with injuries and even fatalities, the Rangers Football Club was deemed responsible. The Club did not oppose the findings of the law that they were at fault, and they were subsequently sued for damages by relatives of the deceased.
These events were warnings about the conditions of stadiums, and opportunities to [re]assess and adapt crowd management and safety, and police and stewarding, procedures. Reports were published, warning signs interpreted and articulated, recommendations issued, but there were no wide-ranging changes in regulation or practice. In the 1971 case of Ibrox, the investigating sheriff noted in his Damages Statement (emphasis mine):
“So far as the evidence is concerned, the Board [of the RFC] never so much as considered that it ought to apply its mind to the question of safety on that particular stairway […] and would appear – I put it no higher – to have proceeded on the view that if the problem was ignored long enough it would eventually go away […] Indeed it goes further than this because certain of their actions can only be interpreted as a deliberate and apparently successful attempt to deceive others that they were doing something, when in fact they were doing nothing.”
Doing nothing after repeated signs that something was amiss was also a feature at Aetna. The Raisin and the unwillingness of the leadership to deal with her in a responsible way; the situation with the Ss; the doctrinal issues with and unbiblical discontent of, for example, the Three Little Elders (on council before 2015); and the conspiracy to extortion that happened at Prosper, were all proof that there’s something going on beneath the surface in both Aetna and its wider Christian community, on the spiritual plane, that is not healthy, and not Christ-oriented. No one on the council in early and mid-2015 wanted to pursue the theory that Aetna was dealing with a serious spiritual problem–even an invasion! They preferred a superficial reading of the situation–the pastor and his preaching are upsetting people–and opted for 13’s quick fix.
In a sense, the Article 17 did come completely out of the blue. The Classis system, with positions being manned by fellow believers, should have ensured some sort of due process, as well as some compassion and Spirit-led sensibility. Also, the leader of the ‘movement’ within Aetna was a surprise, because Templar had believed 13 was his friend, and the two men’s families had spent so much time together over the years, especially holidays and birthdays (and a wedding). But perhaps too, if 13 hadn’t been a friend, Templar would have seen red flags. 42 and others knew that 13’s character was inconsistent. But we’ve talked about this already.
So, those two components were surprises. But the fact that the Event happened shouldn’t have been a total shock, given the precedents, and given Templar’s own analysis of Aetna’s situation, which no one else was willing to accept or investigate. In fact, it should only be expected that Evil, when the Good gets close to putting its finger on it, lashes out and makes an extra effort to thwart the perceiver, and work extra hard to deceive those who might eventually come to recognise it for what it is.
As the RTE commentator states in the midst of the crush: ‘That [i]s a situation which should never have developed.’ And the people chant, ‘Please help us, please help us!’
2. Each case involved conspiracy to change the record, blame and castigate the victims, discredit witnesses, and bias in advance those appointed to conduct inquiries.
The creation of the Myth (h/t P. Scraton for this term) of the fault of the Liverpool supporters in the disaster began within minutes of the stopping of the match. Here is the first claim ‘explaining’ the cause of the crush, broadcast during live RTE coverage of the match and the disaster; the BBC’s commentator John Motson reported the same–the explanation came from the police control room at the Liverpool end of the pitch, from David Duckenfield himself, namely that the gate the police themselves had ordered opened to relieve pressure outside the stadium had been broken and rushed through by drunk and disorderly fans.
In the very midst of mayhem and death, those in charge were thinking how they were going to escape culpability. This was merely the beginning of decades of cover-up, the first in a string of dishonest, blame-diverting assertions put forward by those who failed in their duty of care. For those of you in Classis Northern Michigan with difficulties in this area, this claim is an example of what’s called a ‘lie’.
The laying of the groundwork for what happened at Aetna began before the Church Visitors were brought in, e.g. with the submission of the ‘list of suggestions’ full of innuendo and horse manure, and the publication of the report by Uncle 54. These documents were also the start of a myth, which like the Hillsborough cover-up, snowballed as time went on, and as more people were willing to become part of the conspiracy whose sole purpose for existence was, apparently, to destroy the career and public character of Simon Templar. But I’m sure, like the South Yorkshire Police in 1989 and after, they believed they were acting in the best interests of…someone. Most likely themselves.
There was the creation of a myth by creation of an artificial record, a paper trail, first by 13, and then by Classical officers. The problem was that most of the paper trail was unclear–due to poor exposition of the supposed problem(s), poor writing, and lack of clarity in purpose and thought. But it was enough. Beyond that, there was the use or misuse of the power to control the of flow of information, which we will address in point 5 below.
Regarding changing the record, this is perhaps at its clearest in the misrepresentations of the Oversight Committee (in flagrant contradiction of a pre-existing written record of interactions in Simon Templar’s emails–utter idiocy, one would think, but they got away with it). It could also be seen in the fluctuating dates, which got earlier and earlier, in particularly 21’s documents, when alleged ‘problems’ between pastor and church at Aetna really began. It’s like a multiple choice quiz, and every time 21 picked a different option. Of course, we know why the date kept getting earlier–to try to refute the fact that the real trouble started with 13’s odd about-face in late 2014/early 2015. Attention had to be deflected from the falling dominos that could be traced to 13’s behaviour, and a case had to be insisted upon, a case that Templar had been a long-standing MAJOR issue, and it just took people ages to do anything about it/him (or to realise it?). I’d like to think that when I make stuff up, I can still keep my story straight. Not that I do that for any situation but writing what I acknowledge to be FICTION.
Of course, the option that 13 and the council required a blaming of the person they were firing and evicting without cause. What about castigating? Classis personnel showed themselves expert at this, with allegations about Templar’s lack of submissiveness, stubbornness, tendency to ask uncomfortable questions, strange penchant for justice (maybe he could go into law? surely there’s no room for that in the pastorate!), and paranoia. Some of the Hillsborough Families know what it is to be derided as conspiracy theorists. You look crazy until you can prove it’s a conspiracy. Of course, those within the conspiracy will always prefer you be thought unstable than to allow you to demand scrutiny of their operations. I think we’ve demonstrated here with all our documentation that, for as poorly organized and executed as everything was, it was a conspiracy–certain things were agreed upon from the outset, and everything was done and represented with certain goals in mind–integrity, truth, health and well-being of the person in question, and honour of the church be d*mned.
And what about discrediting witnesses? John Ashton (picture here is from the Telegraph), a qualified doctor, was an ‘inconvenient witness’, critical of the lack of coordinated and organized police and emergency response at Hillsborough. When he wouldn’t keep quiet about his take on what he saw at the Disaster, his reputation and credibility were attacked and undermined. Ashton uses the word ‘implication’–subtle statements are very powerful things. Did he contact the media, or did the media contact him? Sort of like 21’s slimy generalization, ‘We got the sense that something just wasn’t quite right.’ Sorry, this was supposed to be akin to a legal proceeding. Put forth a charge and some evidence, or else withdraw your innuendo.
The assault on Dr. Ashton’s character was a lateral one. Just like what happened to 42, behind closed doors, at the Special Meeting of Classis. Because he was articulate, educated, righteous, and a star witness for the defense–having torpedoed Classis’ star prosecuting pastor’s written bilge–who couldn’t be rebutted, 21 and others had to make him look unreasonable, angry, unhinged, whatever. It couldn’t be that someone that sound could side with Simon Templar: then he would have to be listened to. Only the Lord Himself knows if any pastor in that room stood up and said that attacking the man sideways in his absence was unacceptable. Somehow I doubt it.
Finally, biasing officials in advance of proceedings. There are multiple examples of this–but we’ll stick with one that may have been a pastor putting his foot in his mouth. Do you, reader, remember this extract of email exchanges in Exhibit T.?:
On Thursday, Nov 5, 2015, at 9:58 AM, WVW writes:
The [classical committee x] has deemed it necessary to call a special classis meeting for November 18 at 6:30 PM location to be determined if either V—- Church or P— Church could host let us know.
I am aware that this is short notice but the matter has been brewing for some time and has been dealt with well by church visitors.
On Monday, Nov 9, 2015 at 09:40:AM, WVW writes:
Due to conflicts for many of the pastors involved it has been deemed necessary to change the date of the Special Classis meeting.
We still need to act on this as soon as possible so it has been decided to change the date to Monday Nov 23 again at 6:30 PM at P—– Church.
Di— respond if we need to find a different location.
Please respond to Dwight concerning your availability.
Dwight sorry to complicate the process of finding synodical deputies.
If you are back from your trip Da—- this would once again place you as chair of the meeting.
The special meeting is necessary to address A. and Simon Templar concerning their ministry.
WVW [classical committee x] Chair (short term)
On Thursday, Nov 12, 2015 at 7:49 AM, Simon Templar writes:
FROM: Simon Templar
Hi, WVW. I received your note sent Monday morning, Nov 9, on Wednesday afternoon.
I had not received your communication from Thursday morning, November 5; did you send an e-mail to me that got lost?
I need to know a couple of things.
First, am I expected or allowed to be at the “Special Classis meeting” planned for November 23?
Second, in the event that I desire to be present but am unable to attend on November 23 (Thanksgiving week!), at what date in December could the meeting be rescheduled?
I’ll wait to hear from you.
Simon Templar A. Church
On Thursday, Nov 12, 2015 at 11:20 AM, WVW writes:
You are allowed to attend this meeting, you are not compelled to be there.
The meeting will not be extended to a later date it is time to conclude this matter.
What is interesting about the above exchange is that it shows someone both in the act of biasing others, and in the state of having been biased himself by someone else. And this kind of thing, getting evidence of what people are saying about you behind your back, which influences how they treat you (scornfully) and how they handle their duties (hurriedly and haphazardly) shows how bias can affect the outcome of cases which are supposedly handled by neutral, ‘objective’ people–before it even comes to the official proceedings. It should prick people’s consciences that they allow themselves to be poisoned against others without seeking the truth for themselves and demanding proof. But it’s also thoroughly irresponsible and unprofessional to shoot one’s ‘mouth’ off in emails, offering conclusions about and appraisals of procedures and performances to which one hasn’t even been privy. It’s contamination of judge and jury.
When attention was drawn to this by Simon Templar, who in Classis Northern Michigan do you think cared?
Secularists do it better. Recognizing and calling out hypocrisy and bias, I mean.
Here we find a point of contrast. What happened to the Liverpool fans on 15 April was not deliberate. It was gross, even criminal, negligence.
What happened at Aetna was a travesty, a set-up. From the beginning, a case was being built against someone for purely personal reasons, with the end goal of ousting him. What’s strange is the path that people repeatedly chose to bring this about, including the July 4th weekend faction building, the sending of complaint emails and writing of ‘suggestions’, the encouraging of reporting discontent through inappropriate channels, the orchestration of the elder visits, the bias of the report summarising the visits, the underhanded one-on-one meetings between 13 and 54, and 13 and 21, the joke that was the ‘List’ and the manipulation of the record in terms of how it was initially presented to Simon Templar, the tissue of lies and innuendo that make up both the Article 17a and the summary report to Classis in early December 2015, were all unnecessarily messy and degrading.
A going of separate ways could have been done with forthrightness, grace and collegiality. Why 13 and his party decided not to go this route, and why the church visitors encouraged them in their foolishness, will perhaps always remain a mystery. Probably the main reason on the Classis side is that nobody knew what he was doing, and was captivated by what seemed to be the desperation of the moment. Which is a ludicrous thing to say, given our parallel case. At Hillsborough people suffocated in a mass of humanity while pleading for help in unison. At Aetna, folk decided they were justified in flouting Christ’s commands and hurting others because some of them found biblical preaching intolerable, and because some of them didn’t want to do the hard work of dealing with the issues in the pews (because: ‘Well, then people might leave!’). People then left as a result of the decision they actually took, and now they’re still vacant.
At any rate, there was deceit and guile from the very beginning in the Aetna case. But as things got ugly, those struggling at the helm of the off-course ship decided before anything else, that if anything went wrong or looked untoward, Templar would take all the blame. Everything in writing after autumn 2015 from any member of Classis seems to bear this out; each document was produced in light of the tacit assumption, and probably, articulated and agreed upon by some, that Templar could and would be vilified, and the Classis personnel could keep themselves in the clear. Regardless of the difference in original intent, however, what is significant in each case is that the cover-up by institutions after the Primary Event, not the Primary Event itself, actually constitutes the greater wrong, in that it embodies the greater miscarriage of justice.
3. People are perfectly willing to say, hear, write, read and believe perfectly horrible accusations made against others without any evidence–or even contrary to the reality they themselves know.
People believed these headlines about Liverpool fans–not only that they were the cause of their own melee, by breaking down a gate and forcing their way into the ground without tickets, but also that they were guilty of such disgusting acts as these claimed by the Sun. And the family members and survivors of Hillsborough had to grieve and pick up the pieces knowing that such things were both said and believed about them–they were lies. The documentary evidence of the day, the live footage you can watch for yourself, shows fans taking the lead in rescue efforts. Yes, some of them in the footage are angry; but they’d been half-suffocated, and many of their fellow fans were dead or injured due to negligence and lack of police initiative. For the most part, they are desperate to save others. Once these headlines started hitting news racks and TV broadcasts, the families knew they had a battle ahead of them. Also, notice the lead-in to the headline, in the all-caps.
People will believe and repeat almost anything. If folk passed around the above heinous claims without fact-checking or even consulting with common sense, then it is no wonder that Simon Templar was subject to the slander and libel that was so thoughtlessly bandied about. What’s more surprising in the Aetna case isn’t the content of the allegations, but who was making them, failing to check their veracity, and repeating them in speech and in print–‘Christian’ ‘leaders’, rather than journalists. And not only did they not do their homework, they also ignored Templar’s challenge of the allegations (including his demand for examples and evidence), and denied him rightful means and opportunity for defense. Well, actually, they did more than that: they pilloried him for asking questions, and for wanting to do the most natural thing in the world–protect his reputation.
In at least one case, one elder’s own experience with Templar forced him to recognize that the allegations were untrue, but he went along with the plot anyway, eventually succumbing to the Aetnaspeak. I assume this was to help clear up the cognitive dissonance caused by the choice he made. Eventually, what he had before admitted was untrue, he repeated without reservation like a parrot. Other people, especially those on the council and the small group families, who should have known better, because they knew Templar so well personally, were beguiled by the dangerous combination of their own desperation and spiritual vulnerability. They lacked discernment, they were afraid, and 13, aggressive, wheedling and blandishing, talked a pretty good game and seemed to have a ‘plan’. And then, when the ‘authorities’ backed up 13 by giving him what he wanted, that provided the seal of approval on all the lies and seemed to give ecclesiastical, if not divine, authorization and justification of 13’s goal and methods. But as I’ve demonstrated here, with respect to the allegations against Templar to superficially excuse the Aetna council’s abusive treatment of him, there were no examples given, no evidence provided, not even clarity of mind and argument. Just a lot of blustering. And yet they got results, and got away with it.
In both cases the lack of integrity, and abject gullibility coupled with moral irresponsibility, is thoroughly disgusting.
4. Slander has (lasting) consequences.
People think and act based upon what they hear and believe. Even years after mass produced and published lies have been discredited, people’s judgment is still influenced by the libel and slander. As I stood in the queue at Victoria Coach Station last Wednesday, waiting for my bus, a friendly elderly couple standing beside mentioned the Hillsborough headline. And then the husband made a snide comment to the wife about how the men charged will now take the blame, rather than ‘the 2000 Scousers’ who ran over each other. Then he chuckled. The fact that people still knock Liverpool as hooligans who killed their own is a great injustice. Should never have happened.
The Taylor Report in late 1989 ought to have killed the idea that Liverpool fans and their behaviour were the cause of the disaster. Yet the slander persisted. The lies persisted, partly due to the way the Disaster and evidence related to it was handled in the first coroner’s inquest, which wrapped up in 1991 and was the longest inquest in English legal history. Selection and handling of material is discussed at length in the TV documentaries. In sum, due to the coroner’s ‘cut off’ time for validity of evidence, 3:15pm on the day of the disaster, everyone who died was presumed dead or unsaveable by that time, and one of the results of this decision was the verdict that every person’s death was accidental (rather than an ‘unlawful killing’.)
It took a new inquest–that running from 2014 to 2016–after the results of the Independent Panel to officially debunk the myth against Liverpool. Will its verdict, and the criminal prosecution of Duckenfield et al., be enough to effectively set the record straight? Time will tell.
There can be no doubt that the allegations and accusations, some of them very subtle, against Simon Templar in the months before the December 2015 Special Meeting of Classis affected the way his peers saw him; this in turn affected how they treated him. We saw some evidence of this in point 2. There can be no doubt that what 21 in particular aired about him in preparatory documents and on the floor of Classis biased the men who made up his Oversight Committee, and the CIC, against him. How else can one explain their attitudes and actions? I’ve never seen such coldness, rudeness, prejudice and unprofessionalism amongst colleagues in either the hospitality sector or academia. I conclude that one of the reasons such happened and was allowed to happen in this circumstances was that Templar’s peers didn’t think he deserved any better, and that was justification for treating him with contempt. They’d heard too much dirt about him not to be influenced by it.
I note, of course, that Christians are supposed to treat even their enemies with compassion; Templar was treated, by his fellow pastors, ‘worse than a criminal.’ Now, how does such behaviour from people you’re supposed to be able to trust affect both your perception of yourself and of others? Perhaps even of God Himself?
5. Police & Institutions and Classis demonstrated lack of professionalism; investigation in the respective aftermaths was hampered by conflicts of interest, and lack of adherence to proper protocol, even in handling of documentation.
The infrastructure and ‘leadership’ in both cases did not have a plan, and in addressing the problem(s), by making it up as they went, ad hoc, the results were far from praiseworthy. At Hillsborough, no emergency was declared. Seeing and acknowledging a situation for what it is is essential to addressing it properly. No one in Classis leadership tasked with handling what happened at Aetna was prepared, equipped or willing to see a petty power play for what it was, or the sham-empty claims–that had nothing to do with reality–for what they were, or how they evidenced spiritual rot.
There is a story to be told about the shabby treatment, professionally as well as [inter]personally, of the bereaved and survivors, the battered in both cases, by the harming institutions, but I’ll leave the documentaries and Prof. Scraton’s book to detail the Hillsborough families’ account. The legacy of the abuse of and inhumanity toward my family is already here and clear on this blog.
After the fact, handling of procedure and materials went against both written regulation and common sense. And of course, it was not only extraordinary, it was illegal.
The many police officers present at the Hillsborough Disaster were instructed not to give witness statements as dictated by normal police procedure. One officer claimed they were ordered not to put anything in their personal notebooks. Instead, their statements (‘recollections of the day’) were to be written almost like a diary entry on a blank piece of paper. In a 1996 interview, a former police officer used the word ‘sanitised’ to describe the version of events he was pressured into attesting years before. His interview eventually led to the discovery that hundreds of reports and witness statements had been tampered with, redacted before being handed over to the investigation. When that happened, what a blow that should have been to the South Yorkshire and West Midlands police forces’ standing. Not quite; not until the Independent Panel published its findings more than a decade later was the editing of officers’ statements in this case (mostly consisting of the removal of any comments critical of police procedure on the day of the Disaster) thoroughly scrutinized and condemned. The altered witness statements can be viewed here.
The institutions again and again failed personally and relationally; the man set to head up the inquiry in the late ’90s, for example, was evidently not the person for the job. He epitomized the bias against the victims and their families. He also failed to avail himself of available evidence, like the altered police statements, which were being kept in a sloppy state in the House of Lords reading room when Prof. Scraton went to consult them in October 1998. That sounds familiar.
The Classis’ methodology for release and review of documents is equally negligent and self-serving; they have no answer or justification when asked why certain things were shared with people with whom they oughtn’t have been, or why dissemination of 42’s and Templar’s documents were delayed, suspiciously, almost until 21 could whip up his atomic attack document so they’d all be released at the same time in December 2015. This probably had the (intended?) consequence of overwhelming would-be readers in the 2-3 days before the Classis meeting. And then of course, there’s the publishing of records and statements about Templar which were presented to Classis (or to congregations) which by rights he should have had a chance to see, if not agree to, before presentation. Not only did this repeatedly NOT happen, but he was even prevented from hearing what was said about him in more than one ‘Executive Session’. Baloney–from a bunch of executive turkeys.
They again proved themselves inadequate to their duties when they failed to follow up and follow through with witnesses. How useless. Both 54 and BDK were approached by people trying to give them their side of the story. 54 was approached by several different people, BDK by the same person more than once. I sent my documentation to everyone I could think of. No one took us seriously, and those who were aware of our testimony continued to make assertions about the universal approval of the Article 17 at Aetna. The very existence of these people–I hardly count, because I was no longer at Aetna regularly, though I was still a member–with their perspectives was omitted from the record.
Aetna and CNM didn’t have the guts or the professionalism to just admit we were expendable, and that for the sake of politics and keeping the right people happy, we had to go. Instead, charges had to be trumped up to make the person(s) on the rail out of town look bad, so that the people getting rid of them could be heroes. Well, I trust, now that it’s more than a year and a half on, that sense of ‘burnout’ 54 mentioned in his summer 2015 report is even worse, especially now that it appears Aetna will have to share a pastor with another local congregation, as they can’t afford to call their own. Things didn’t quite go according to 13’s plan–the guy he thought he had in his pocket in October 2015 got called up to Kalkaska! God bless Kalkaska.
Finally, the Oversight Committee did exactly what the police did in running criminal background checks on all the Hillsborough deceased with a BAC. As Prof. Scraton puts it, ‘[F]rom the outset, the police were determined to criminalise those who died, to damage their reputation.’ This would make it even easier to lay the blame on the victims. Malicious. This is analogous to the OC’s move to interview people from the church in Z– at which Simon Templar did his seminary internship 17 years before. They were looking for ‘evidence’ of a pathology to bolster the case they’d committed to making at the outset. They needed proof for their argument. This ‘background check’ was completely outside the scope of their mandate; naturally, when challenged on this, they could not explain their reason for doing it; they lied about Templar’s response to their request for names; and they refused to name the denominational advisor or advisors who presumably suggested they go on this wild goose chase. Both inappropriate and a waste of time.
We have talked elsewhere about their inconsistency in application of the church order; when they’re befuddled and being challenged to think for themselves, they fall back on it and what they assume its boundaries and spirit are. When they’re ignoring it or contradicting its spirit, it no longer matters. This is not love of either the church order or God’s Law. Further incidents of lack of professionalism and conflict of interest we detailed, for example, in Exposure, pt.2.
When it comes to Hillsborough, plenty of people have been interested in–fought for–the Truth. It’s the name of Prof. Scraton’s book, and was the Metro headline when the most recent inquest proffered its ruling. In Northern Michigan, perhaps the stakes just aren’t high enough. In Aetna’s scandal, no one died. But consciences were seared, hands were dirtied, innocents were seduced. Evil was enabled and rewarded. Righteousness was attacked and befouled. Leaders lied–first to score popularity points and puff up their own egos, and later, to save their own skins. But an upright career was ended. Christ and His bride were shamed, God’s Word was mocked, justice was perverted, the truth was locked away or even derided. Friendships were ended, even denied. Families were torn by discord. Reputations were damaged or ruined, names slandered, and integrity, where present, was questioned without justification. Allegations and accusations of devastating import were aired without evidence or challenge. Trust was broken. Misconduct was excused, covered up, sometimes with praise and self-congratulation and -adulation. Victims were intimidated and blamed. Innuendo ran rampant. Accountability was sacrificed on the altar of expedience. Professing Christians found no need for transparency, forthrightness, or honesty. People were hurt, souls were battered, hearts were bruised and minds were traumatised. And as there is no sign of a change of conviction on the part of either the initially guilty at Aetna, or those overseers who at the least failed to hold them accountable, and at worst, bear even greater responsibility, I deem the damage done to be irreparable.
No deaths, no, except the death of Christian charity and every other virtue. Shame on traitors to friends, and on Pharisees.
And by lie, I do mean wilful misrepresentations–regardless of whether the misrepresenting party sees it as a lie or not. Lies also include ‘slanting’ or ‘twisting’, using the power of suggestion (similar to innuendo), and convenient omissions. You know–leaving things out which might undermine your claims. 13 is quite adept at this.
The OC lied.
Falsehood takes several forms, and some of it is subtler than others. But even the most blatant seen in this scandal wouldn’t be acknowledged as such by Classis Northern Michigan pastors. Either they don’t know the difference between truth and lie, or something else is more important than admitting it.
Several Christian ‘leaders’ evaded honest questions, the answers to which the questioning parties had a right (dishonest). Several misrepresented conversations and events verbally and in writing (dishonest). Some publicly and pointedly questioned the honesty and integrity of others without cause (dishonest). Some went out of their way to proclaim personal care and concern while at the same time supporting or failing to oppose the actions of the faction (inconsistent, if not hypocritical and dishonest). The dishonesty, the Big Lie and the little lies, in the case of Aetna’s scandal, like Hillsborough, is and are defining.
Scraton’s book–again, incidentally entitled ‘The TRUTH’–names all the people who helped him bring the truth in that form to publication. It is a humbling list of people who care, in great numbers. And enough people across the UK over the past 28 years cared.
This is a generalization declared by a disappointed girl: when it comes to the Aetna scandal, nobody cares. This is on two different levels: Classis Northern Michigan and the Christian Reformed Church have failed in their duty of care. And they have demonstrated they don’t give one fig about the well-being of people who are not worthy–of what, exactly, I’m not sure. 21 is to be excused, backed up on anything, beholden to; Simon Templar is to be punished for things he didn’t even do. The culture is one of a clique, and if you’re not in it, why should any of them go out of their way to pretend they give a shit about you? Nobody in the community cares if any particular ‘Christ follower’ acts like Jesus, so why put up a front? Well, I have to confess, they keep claiming they care, and even talk about ‘love’, but in the same documents, they lie and go out of their way to make the people they claim to love look bad. So, not a very great effort–it seems to be more to soothe themselves than to impress the CRC public in the area.
7. People don’t get over being screwed by the institutions that are supposed to protect them. It is no good saying, ‘Just move on.’
Nobody believed the Hillsborough families from the beginning, and they were denied justice at every turn. The system couldn’t give them what they were due. They weren’t believed. People who didn’t understand wondered what more they wanted, wondered why they couldn’t get over it, calling Liverpool ‘self-pity city’. This attitude of those outside, and of the establishment, increased the suffering of the victims. Scraton sums it up neatly: ‘Stress and pressure associated with injustice…exacerbated bereavement’, and ‘people [were] broken by the struggle for justice… The price of Hillsborough is not reducible to 96 people dying; the price of Hillsborough is the price of institutionalised injustice, the appalling treatment by some of the media of the good reputations of innocent people, the cavalier way in which wonderful people were vilified. That’s the price of Hillsborough.’
You don’t get over that. You don’t just ‘move on.’ My family has been treated the same way. When Templar and I talked recently about whether others in similar situations would have ‘moved on’ by now, I said, ‘I don’t think people do. It would have been one thing if the initial salvo came from people you expected. But it came from a friend, and his whole family just went along with it.’ We’d all spent so much time together, shared so much that I thought was special. And they just turned their backs on us (there are of course two exceptions, of my generation). And then so many of the others in the church I thought I knew and cared about, and whom I thought cared about us, followed suit, seeming to do so very easily. It’s finding out you really mean very little to people when you become one of two options–you, or the clan. It was, again, the fact that it seemed so easy for fellow Christians, for friends, to throw us over. And then the system joins them in kicking you while you’re down, and claiming to pray for you while they do it. Trust me when I say, You don’t get over that.
I’d closed the initial line of exhibits with some closing remarks. I’ll make my final remarks here.
In 2009, at the time of the 20th anniversary memorial event of Hillsborough in Liverpool, at least one of the survivors was convinced that they ‘would never get justice; the truth would never come out.’ After a number of catalysing events, he was thankfully proven wrong.
Will we ever get justice? Will Classis Northern Michigan ever admit its failure and misconduct? Will Aetna’s leadership ever be told by CRC officials that what they did was wrong? God only knows. It may seem like small-town stuff. It is small-town stuff. But we are human beings. We’ve been wronged. We are owed at least the truth. The Evening Standard’s article from last week closed with this: ‘Margaret Aspinall, whose son James, 18, was among the victims, said ahead of the decision: “All we want is accountability–nothing more and nothing less.”‘ Is that, fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, too much to ask?
Life is short; few will ever remember we were here, and like Dorothea in Middlemarch, let’s be honest, most of us will rest in unvisited tombs. But we will still have left an indelible stamp on the little corners of the world in which we lived, and on the church in which we worshiped–or didn’t. And–the Lord knows. He does choose to forget, but the Bible is very clear–He forgets those sins which are repented of.
The context has changed, in the sense that Simon Templar is no longer in the midst of the mire, nor is he officially (or is he?) bound to or by Classis Northern Michigan. But the fight for the truth to see the light of day, the fight for justice in some form of accountability, goes on. I’m young enough to keep on, whether it means plunging back into battle, or waiting for an opportune moment. The truth will remain here, with all the documentation now at the reader’s disposal. I will continue to blog at my original site. The time may come when more documentation is made available to me, and I will post it, given proper permission. Thank you for reading, and thank you to my co-contributors and those who helped in acquiring and organizing evidence, in fact-checking, and in building and proofreading this project.
Truth is strength. It is life, and it is freedom.
DICENDA EST VERITAS. VERITAS PRAEBITA EST. QED.