One year ago this week the group of people at Latigo214 placed online the first articles asking questions about the teachings and beliefs of Struthers Memorial Church. We did this because of many years of concern about the inappropriate control being exerted on people’s lives and the continuing inability of any of the Struthers leadership to justify their teachings and practices on a coherent biblical basis. Worst of all we had found repeatedly that the leadership took the attitude that to even be asked to explain their actions was taken as an unmistakable sign that those asking were only doing so because they were far from God and thus to be condemned. The danger of this lack of any accountability whatsoever has been clear to all involved for many years.


Our main approach was not to present complaints or contrary views – that would simply be discounted and ignored – as we well knew from years of experience of this.

What we chose to do was look at what the Struthers organisation itself has put out for the public to see and examine the questions it raised; and the contradictions in their teachings and practices their own public statements exposed. We had no fixed idea what the result of this would be. We simply felt it was time the situation moved on from individuals just sharing one to one their bad experiences of SMC and to try and establish some kind of understanding of what was going wrong and why.


We felt as christians that this was our duty and we should not turn our eyes away from the suffereing being caused. We felt then - and feel much more now - that Jesus would challenge what is being done in God's name by the SMC leadership. No claimed benefits to members or (in theory) to the public of what is being done in SMC outweigh our duty to speak up for the hurting.


We did anticipate that no anwers would be forthcoming. That said, if there were going to be answers we were (and are) well able to understand them. There may be good reasons for banning, shunning, controlling people’s friendships, downgrading marriage, placing "words" received by a leader above the Bible, central control of local church finances, separation from other "lesser" christians, use of the pulpit to condemn and humiliate those merely asking questions and frequent changes of supposedly eternal and God given core teachings. If so, we remain ready - let's hear what these good reasons are.


We produced our initial articles as a basis for discussion and in an attempt to place the very obvious and important questions SMC need to answer in the public domain.


One year on and we are surprised and pleased at what has happened.


Testimony on the RickRoss forum

The same week as we published our first articles in October 2010 the first reply was posted to a question placed on the Rick Ross forum in 2005. From that there have now been 364 posts in 2 discussions viewed 35000 times. In the last year 30 people have used that forum to express deep and genuine concern at the pain and suffering caused to themselves and others by the inappropriate control, manipulation and supposed spiritual discernment used on them by the Struthers leadership. The 30 people mention many more who are afraid and hurting but have been held by guilt into believing that leaving Struthers is the same as leaving Christianity and walking away from God. We know that to be a lie.


The lie about leaving

In particular we note the large number of ex SMC members who now enjoy being part of living, growing, bible based churches without an immature and fearful leadership placing heavy burdens on their backs. Despite the dire warnings of the SMC leadership that there is no real, faithful christianity outside SMC; finding that there is has frequently been the experience of people who have left and is a source of great joy to all those of us who read about it. That leaving Struthers is the same as leaving God has been shown to be false. That criticising SMC leaders is followed by public humiliation and shaming by the hand of God (as happened to Miriam and Aaron when they spoke against Moses) is a frequent pulpit threat but has been shown in reality not to ever happen. Not once ever. We have asked for examples of this convenient and self serving Struthers teaching to be made public and none have.


In fact their enthusiasm for repeating this teaching makes us wonder if the various and frequent difficulties and maladies which have beset various of the SMC leaders over the years have been the result of the biblical principle outlined in Matthew 7:2.


It would appear that we have been misled for many years in our time in Struthers. Leaving does not lead to darkness and loss – the testimonies now available show it often leads to freedom and gain and living in the truth. It leads to answers which are consistent with well explained biblical principles and which can stand up to scrutiny. People seem to be more able, not less able, to find God.


If we then ask – please tell us who has attained the "higher way" we have supposedly walked away from and what great things are happening through their lives – there seems little they have to say to us. No one, it seems, can be named publicly who is making it on the "higher way" and the results of those who are claimed to be "the deeply spiritual" are not achieving anything very different from that which we find in many other evangelical and pentecostal churches. The one most noticeable thing is how little growth in the Struthers churches there seems to be.


The removal of the online sermons

One year on and it has become clear to anyone who has been watching that a few articles raising questions about the content, teaching and somewhat bizarre attitudes contained within some of the SMC sermons published online were so embarrassing and shaming to the SMC leadership that these sermons had to be removed from public view. Our words have not been removed you notice. Not one word or fact or opinion on this website has been challenged. They have our e-mail and can seek to clarify or challenge any content. Nothing has been. One year on and not one thing. All that has had to be removed from public view is their own words, their own bewildering declarations and their own astonishingly self-absorbed sermonising now no longer a part of their website.  


This removal has not surprised us. The few sermons we examined were striking in 2 respects:


  • They were the same sermons about the same introspective deconstruction of spiritual life we were hearing in the 70s and 80s – and based on the same few oft repeated bible verses. Genuinely - it was astonishing how little the preaching and message had moved on in 30 years.


  • They were so full of leaders using the platform primarily to make their own lives easier. To quell questions, to promote their pet projects, to blame the people in the pews for the failures of the church, to justify themselves over and over again, and most of all to vividly describe their own specialness as leaders and why God has a unique place for them because they have manged to do it all so much better.


Jesus said: “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. (John 5:31)


That seems to be Jesus giving us instruction to ignore people when they testify to themselves and their own fine ministries. We know of many fine ministries in many other churches and they don't seem to need to continually do this.


The removal of the online sermons is an act of astonishing cowardice which must raise questions about the judgement and ability of the present leadership to answer fundamental questions about what they say and teach. That they realise that they now have to hide what they say from public scrutiny, and from other christians, should be the clearest possible warning to the remaining membership that they cannot justify or defend what they do. They depend now on the support of those who will not challenge or question. They depend on those who have been persuaded they should not even think that should ever happen. These people are the controlled.


The financial surprises

What we had not the slightest notion of one year ago was the fact that SMC has so little money. Like most people looking at a charity with well over a million pounds in income in each year of the last 6 years (as can be seen on the OSCR website) we assumed at the start that they were a well off organisation with a lot of money in the bank. According to their report and accounts they are not.


It says they have very little in the bank. Certainly a lot less than they say they should have in reserve. They have now declared in the last 2 sets of accounts an "intention" to have in place 3 months outgoings as reserves in cash. This is good charity practice especially when there are around 30 employees. However, rather than the £300,000+ which would be in the bank under this "intended" scenario they still have nearly £380,000 in debts as at the end of 2010.


Who they owe this money to, and why the church has had to borrow so much, is not in any way explained in any documents currently available to the public. This is not what we expected from a church building more Greenock extensions and buying ipads. Is there a plan to sell a building or buildings to address this debt? If not what is the current plan to raise the money to repay it?


Also surprising to those of us outside Struthers was the amount of collection plate income being spent subsidising the church school. A lot of people have remarked on their surprise after finding out about the extent of this. We hope in future, as we have indicated in articles elsewhere on this site, that people will be fully aware of where their money is going to be spent before they give it. We can't really see a downside to that for anyone. For our part – if people are not prepared to tell us what is happening with any charitable donations we make – church or otherwise – they should get nothing. That is not defiance of God – that is called our duty of responsibility before God.



There are a few other things which have suprprised us this year:


The extent of the problems

The problems we were all well aware of seem to exist in most if not all of the branches. That is not necessarily what we expected to find but the reports are there. For what it is worth the only branches about which there have been no public complaints of poor conduct by the leaders stand as only Gourock and the newly admitted to Shetland. Banning, shunning, attempts at inappropriate control and bullying via “discernment” have now been reported in most branches.


The small number of churches

There are many fewer branches of this church than there were a few years ago. The number of branches has declined signicantly – a fact not to our knowledge publicly admitted to or explained by the leadership.


The small number of members

There are surprisingly few people who attend the Struthers Churches - only around 300 in total. It claims itself to be a "movement" and to now have "many branches across the UK". We have indicated in our article on this subject why we consider this to be something of an exaggeration. The total membership seems to be similar to what it was in the mid 1980s which implies that if people are regularly joining - as many, if not more, are regularly leaving. The testimonies on the RickRoss forum show how many people do leave and how much damage has been done before they do, though this is only the tip of the iceberg. Those who run this website know personally of at least 70 others who have left Struthers after it having casued them great pain and are not at this point (as far as we can tell) contributors to the Rick Ross forum. This number will not be anything of a surprise to any of the Struthers leadership or any Struthers members who have been there for any length of time. Any one of them could sit down now and list the names of those they know who have left and suffered in doing so at the hands of an insensitive and condemning leadership.


The Kirkby connection

Kirkby Christian Fellowship - also much commented on as a focus of a RickRoss forum discussion in the Destructive Churches section - was once a part of SMC until, it is reported, its leader and Diana Rutherford of the SMC executive had a sharp falling out and as a result of that disagreement the Kirkby Fellowship disaffiliated from SMC. It was one of the oddest moments this year to realise that the only other UK church about which there is a major current debate on the RickRoss forum did not only display a very similar range of problems caused by an over controlling leadership - but had been at one point a branch of Struthers.



That which was no surprise

As far as what is on this site is concerned there has been no attempt by anyone in SMC to answer any of the questions which have been asked; or to correct any fact that has been placed online. This is as expected. We believe there are no material facts which are incorrect and this is why they have not been challenged. We also correctly anticipated there is no ability within SMC to construct and present coherent biblical arguments for what they teach and believe which can stand up to public scrutiny.


Hence to prevent having to change their position they simply resort to name calling and baseless accusations about the motives and the christian integrity of those who have written these articles and those who have posted on the RickRoss forum.


Members have, it seems, been told (privately not publicly) that all those who are contributing to both online websites do so because they suffer from mental illness. That is not a claim for which there is any medical or other evidence in the real world. Once again reality has to be warped to fit the SMC regime's need to preserve its own power. Even making unsubstantiated claims and, at worst, inventing convenient lies seems to be okay if it keeps the leadership in power and unchallengeable. This is expected and entirely consistent with the treatment of us and others in the past.


It would have been astonishing if any questions had been seriously addressed. Some of the past leaders, we believe, would have at least attempted to do this; and understood the need to try and present a case that SMC teachings have at least a defensible basis in a consistent biblical theology. It seems no one in the present leadership is capable of doing that.


Sadly that just leaves them in the position of saying things akin to: "we are God's appointed leaders and all who disagree with us will be punished by Him". If they think that is a new testament leadership theology that is a public disgrace. Their threats and warnings of dire punishment on all who oppose them belong in the pre-reformation abuses of the state run church attempting to scare the poor into obedience and handing over their money.


We are content that God will judge between us. We are however reasonably confident that He is on the side of those He encouraged to seek and ask and knock; and against those who use their spiritual position – like the Pharisees – to maintain their power over people and who love their precious lifestyle and call it the will of God that all men should live in fear and awe of them. We are still more confident that He is on the side of the hurting and those who speak up for them; rather than those who have used their position in His church to cause those hurts. We believe if that hurt was really unintentional then action would be taken to help those affected.


The necessary response

The best we can hope for is that the online concern and questions become a wake up call to the Struthers leadership. We want them to realise that it is not a given that these things have to be ignored and condemned. We say to the SMC leadership - it is perfectly okay to involve yourselves in this conversation and try to understand what lies behind what people are saying about what you have said and done to them. What people are saying is true. They have been hurt by your uncaring and harsh leadership approach and they have felt belittled, discounted, controlled and condemned. We believe there are many in your congregations who feel like that today. This is not a lie made up to somehow divert you from God's work. It is a set of truths and a reality you have to address.


There are 3 possible responses from the leadership:


  • Ignore the pain you have caused and are causing. Carry on mindlessly in the same direction. Say "there have been mistakes" but then act as if there have not.


  • Come out publicly and say:

You people have only yourselves to blame.You have failed God by not obeying us – His appointed leaders - sufficiently and He is punishing you. We have handled you perfectly and have done you no wrong. We loved you perfectly with His love and your hurt is your own fault. God has given us an outstanding and special ministry and when people fail to live up to what we say and teach (in the way we choose to say and teach it) they are spiritual failures and must accept their place as lesser and fallen from His perfect plan. Pretending to be happy in other churches shows you have slipped into delusion. To quote from the 12 February 2010 sermon: “...we only move on the explicit instruction of the Lord God of Hosts.” Therefore our leadership is perfect and when people fail and fall God has told us to have nothing more to do with them. Our responsibility to you is only present when you are in utter and complete slavish obedience to us. God tells us who we should care about and who we should talk to.


If that is the truth you believe then let us, and all the people, hear you say it.


  • Or listen and let hearing what people are saying lead you to care about their pain and their hurt. Then show you care by your actions. And as you listen believe this is not coming from malice – it is genuine concern because of what you say and do as church leaders. Perhaps the same concern that made you take your sermons offline. Pray about all this and become involved in the conversation. Seek to understand why individuals felt hurt by you. Seek to understand what you may have done wrong. Seek to understand what you would do differently if you were dealing with these things now. Don't continue to make up fantasy stories to justify why so many people have been hurt by the ministry you claim to love. Seek to help the people be healed.


Those who run this website do not believe there is any more important thing for the SMC leadership to do this week, next week, this year or next year than to seek to understand what it is they are doing which causes these problems and for them to resolve all this.



The good news

One year on the situation for many of us who have left SMC unhappy in the past has been significantly transformed. In the absence of any sign of care or concern from the SMC regime we have helped one another.


People have been sharing, talking and meeting. People have been opening up as they have read over, and over, and over again that it was not them but it was the harsh impact of the hamfisted actions of a poorly qualified leadership that led to their questions going unanswered and their lives coming under pressure and guilt.


It was not God who did this to us. It was Struthers.


It would have been hard to believe a year ago so much would have changed. As the testimony of Chris19 indicates – when she met with the leaders to discuss the harm they had done to her life they acted as if they were surprised that this could ever happen to someone through them! Whatever claims of not knowing the negative impact of their actions they may have made in the past - that can now never happen again. No leader or member can ever again pretend that there are no serious questions and unresolved issues about how people are treated by SMC.


When people in the church now find they are being put under pressure to conform to teachings and ideas that have no basis in biblical christianity then they know, and will now always know, they are not alone. Many of us have had cause to question and have been thus removed from any sign of approval, affection, and in some cases even politeness from the leaders. You are not alone. We know. We have been where you are. You now have places to go for help and support once you have been banned or frozen out.


We have had an amazing year reading about the freedom people have come into where their christianity is now like that in the bible - full of joy and freedom. These are words some SMC people have been trained to treat with great suspicion since they have redefined words like that into spiritualised terms. This seems to be in case joy and peace actually happen for those who are not yet perfect (as Struthers define it); but are simply sinners who trust in the power of the blood of Jesus to be enough.


And we can speculate....


Perhaps it is harder now for people to be banned from Struthers since they might then appear with their story online within – minutes. Maybe that makes the leadership more inclined to handle things more carefully.


Perhaps the tendency to put more detailed childcare policies online, evident on the church school and Pudsey websites, is a result of the questions which have been legitimately asked. No doubt it will be claimed that would have happened anyway - still, we can speculate.


Perhaps the remaining members are more switched on to the debt crisis revealed in the church report and accounts and will seek and ask until they know things are being done decently and in order. Perhaps it has dawned on some that the way budgets and accounts have been run in SMC up to now does not need to remain the same in the future. Things could be different, more open and more accountable as the bible indicates they should be. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 the purpose and destination of the collection is anounced before a single coin is given.  Then people might give more and the serious decline in the 2010 church collection income might be reversed. We can speculate.


Perhaps there have been many one to one meetings and many questions being asked that were not being asked so often before.


Perhaps threats from the pulpit as a substitute for coherent teaching and answers is no longer enough to keep people as involved as they once were.


Perhaps more things will change. Perhaps that has started already.



Many things may still come to light and we can pray that the SMC leadership will deal with these issues biblically and seek to resolve the problems they are responsible for creating. Nevertheless we think there is a value in taking a moment - one year on - to consider how much we know now that has helped us in this year to understand what was wrong and how widespread the problems and abuses of power were.


Understanding how many people have been handled so badly, so often, in such similar ways is new information and has proved to be liberating for many lives. Seeing too that these techniques of control are common in authoritarian churches - and not just a Struthers invention - puts the problems we all faced in their true context. Struthers is just another controlling church doing what controlling churches do - all the while claiming to be unique and special. In fact we can now see that they are revealed to be just the same as all the other insular, exclusivist groups - only smaller.


There is much to thank God for and many people are saying to us how much better able to get on with life they are as a result of what has now been said and shared over this past year.


That some people are getting the answers they need does not move the responsibility from those who caused the problems in the first place. So we pray that the Struthers leadership will now address what is happening in front of them. Because of the help we have been able to give to each other this is less necessary for some of us than it was. For them and their spiritual walk as christians and leaders - it remains as necessary as it always has been. We do not believe that it is the teaching of the bible that christian leadership responsibility ends when people become inconvenient to you.



Finally thank you to all those who have contributed and shared over the last 12 months. Some have shared publicly and some privately and we understand and respect that people have different and very valid reasons for wanting to manage their stories of their experiences in different ways. Heartfelt and genuine thanks to all the former members who have contacted us for your encouragement and support.

 Update - one year on                                       24 October 2011