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Update from the Covenant Life Elders


Author: Mark Mitchell

Category: Pastors

Dear Church,

I am writing today on behalf of the elders to update you on our latest discussions about the allegations against John Smyth and PJ’s communication in response.

We have been dismayed by recent media reports coming out of the UK and Africa of extreme physical abuse by John Smyth. Our hearts and prayers are with those who have suffered or are suffering in these circumstances. We support the civil authorities in their God-given role to investigate and resolve any and all wrongdoing.

As we began to read these reports, questions naturally arose: Did PJ know of such allegations against his father? If so, when did he learn of them? Anticipating these questions and more, PJ wrote an open letter on February 4. Among other things, PJ stated in this letter that he was “aware that a delegation of pastors and parents insisted that [his] father and the Board of Zambesi Holidays make adjustments to camp life.” He also wrote that he “was not involved with those interactions.”

Two days after posting his open letter, PJ received emails from a UK reporter and a pastor in Zimbabwe that referenced his attendance at a meeting in June of 1993 where certain allegations of his father's misconduct were discussed. Though he could not remember details of the meeting, PJ immediately informed the elders that his open letter was inaccurate. The following day he and his wife Ashleigh spoke directly with the Zimbabwe pastor.

Members of our elder team subsequently contacted the pastor from Zimbabwe as well as pastors in South Africa familiar with the situation to inquire about PJ’s knowledge of his father’s work in Zimbabwe. Based on multiple discussions and the review of relevant documents, the elders concur with PJ that his open letter was inaccurate in stating that he "was not involved with those interactions." However, we also believe PJ was seeking to communicate honestly and in a timely way what he remembered. We believe he acted in good faith but his recollection of these earlier events was flawed.

Likewise, the Zimbabwe pastors who attended the June 1993 meeting have told us they do not believe PJ was being deceitful in his open letter but instead was struggling to remember details from events over two decades ago. In addition, family, friends, and ministry colleagues who have known PJ for many years affirm PJ’s consistent pattern of integrity and honesty. And ever since the media reports about his father broke, our experience with PJ is that he has been humble, open and eager to do whatever would honor the Lord and best serve the church.

Next steps:

  • The elders desire to hear from you. We welcome your questions. Feel free to talk with us on Sundays or at other church events, or call or email us. We have an online form for submitting questions and comments as well.
  • For those of you who have already submitted questions, the elders will begin reaching out to you personally. We will also meet to discuss additional contexts for the elders and church members to dialogue about these issues.
  • Finally, given the emotional impact of this situation, we will be facilitating care and counseling for PJ and Ashleigh.

As I wrote last February, our society instinctively knows abuse of any kind is abhorrent, and our laws rightly reflect its grievous nature and devastating effects. Covenant Life Church shares this abhorrence and condemns abuse in all its forms. We strive to be a community where victims of abuse and all injustice find healing and hope.

—Mark Mitchell


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