Barnabas Fund is pleased to announce that Dr Patrick Sookhdeo has been found not guilty of an indecent assault alleged to have taken place in 1977. The jury of twelve at Snaresbrook Crown Court, after deliberating for less than two hours, unanimously found Dr Sookhdeo not guilty on Tuesday 31 July 2018. Dr Sookhdeo is the founder of Barnabas Fund, and we are thankful for the zeal, vision and integrity with which he has served the persecuted Church for more than quarter of a century. Although Patrick resigned as a trustee in 2015, he is well known as a founding member of Barnabas Fund and many of our supporters have asked for further details. Dr Sookhdeo and his family ask for our prayers as they continue to challenge an earlier verdict in which Patrick Sookhdeo was convicted. He is seeking leave to appeal and has always maintained his innocence.
The Snaresbrook trial, which of course took place in a secular court, took an unexpected turn. Seemingly due to a lack of evidence, the prosecution appeared to put Patrick’s faith and church practises on trial. Sadly, as has been the case in many recent trials, the police documents that might have helped the defence, either were disclosed during the trial or never disclosed (as the file had been “misplaced”). Furthermore, the prosecution witnesses contradicted themselves and one another, even though they are husband and wife, begging the question of whether this historic allegation from over 40 years ago should have been brought before the courts.
The prosecution sought to attack Patrick’s faith, and theological themes emerged throughout that should never have been raised in a secular court. We consider it is fair to describe the complainant as a liberal Christian. Her husband is a senior Anglican clergyman. Both implicitly criticised the attitude of evangelicals to Islam and Muslim people, and to that end produced as evidence for the prosecution a leaflet released by Patrick and his ministry in the 1970s.
This leaflet stated that Christians should not respond to the growth of Islam in the UK with criticism or complaint, but rather in love, also that Christians should pray that God will save Muslims, and that Christians should relate to Muslims in Christian love. This remains our stance today, but the prosecution witnesses attacked this attitude in a negative manner.
The prosecution witnesses implicitly criticised evangelicals, such as Patrick, who want to share the Gospel with people of other faiths. The complainant repeatedly made clear that she was and is strongly opposed to the idea of converting Muslims (particularly women) to Christianity, and indicated her preference for interfaith dialogue. As is well known, Patrick is a convert from Islam.
The prosecution witnesses also criticised the traditional Christian concept, common in some Nonconformist denominations, of “living by faith”. This means not taking a salary or wages for Christian work but relying solely on and trusting God to provide for your personal financial needs and for the needs of your ministry. This is how Patrick himself has lived and is what he taught his congregation in the 1970s. The prosecution portrayed the concept as highly manipulative and it was even inferred that this practise could result in spiritual, psychological and even physical abuse.
Patrick was astonished to find that the central plank of the court case appeared to be founded upon an attack on conservative Christianity and the present difference in beliefs between conservative and liberal Christian viewpoints. The complainant expressed her opinion that it was normal to change one’s stance over the years, and admitted that she had moved from her evangelical roots and in particular had embraced contemporary liberal views on sexuality (e.g. same-sex marriage).
As the trial unfolded, we found ourselves asking whether our conservative Biblical faith was being put on trial.
Two other names – Mark Woods and Alison Ruoff – were discussed during the trial in terms which fuelled the concern of Barnabas Fund that there may be an undisclosed agenda in play.
Mark Woods and Christian Today
The complainant claimed that she follows Mark Woods, who is believed to be the sole remaining journalist employed by the website Christian Today, on Twitter and read articles about Patrick Sookhdeo in this online publication.
Mr Woods has written countless very hostile and selective articles and tweets. Some have painted a highly misleading picture of an unfortunate period in which a group of Barnabas Fund trustees attempted to oust Patrick Sookhdeo as International Director and trustee. They used charitable funds in a legal challenge which effectively circumvented Barnabas Fund’s governance structure. Patrick suggested mediation but was repeatedly rebuffed. The result was that the dissenting trustees resigned en masse.
Barnabas Fund has subsequently reconciled with some of these former trustees though sadly not with one in particular, namely a prominent and outspoken Anglican laywoman, Alison Ruoff. The complainant referred to Mrs Ruoff during the trial but did not explain why. The connection to Mark Woods here is that one of more of the former trustees gave selective and misleading information and confidential documents to Mr Woods, which seems to have fuelled his campaign against Barnabas Fund.
To put this into context, Barnabas Fund repeatedly asked Mark Woods and the former editor of Christian Today to remove or correct his inaccurate, partisan and misleading articles. Additionally, Barnabas Fund were refused the right to respond. Barnabas Fund trustees have also repeatedly offered to attend a mediation based on Christian principles with Mr Woods and/or Christian Today, to be conducted by an elder of the Church. These attempts to proffer the olive branch were made in good faith but have barely been acknowledged by either Mr Woods or Christian Today. It would be exceedingly sad if Mr Woods and Christian Today truly consider that their beliefs, whatever they may truly be, are too far removed from our conservativism even to be able to talk and pray with us in an attempt to resolving our differences.
The latest example of Mr Woods’ bias against Barnabas Fund was that in reporting the July 2018 Snaresbrook trial “not guilty” verdict on Friday 4 August 2018, he chose to mention Patrick Sookhdeo’s single previous conviction but did not say that Patrick is appealing this and has always maintained his innocence. We are in any event advised that as Patrick’s conviction was spent years ago, the continued references to it may be a breach of Patrick’s human rights but again this was not mentioned.
Christian Today claims that it aims to “be objective and fair in our reporting, rather than sensationalist or polarising” and yet it is hard to see anything objective, fair or uniting in the articles written by its editor Mark Woods about Patrick Sookhdeo and Barnabas Fund. It also states that it aims to help its readers “respond to the world in a Christ-like way”.
In contrast to these sentiments, Barnabas Fund is concerned that Christian Today and Mr Woods may not be being completely frank about the funding and purpose of Christian today and its real agenda. This concern is shared by a number of respected journalists and church leaders who have themselves raised numerous questions about Christian Today including:
- Why is Christian Today no longer allowed to be a member of the Evangelical Alliance?
- Will Christian Today now fully and frankly disclose the true extent of its historic and current links with the South Korean sect leader David Jang (whose followers are believed to have claimed that he is the Second Coming of Christ)? Articles making this claim appeared in the Church of England Newspaper, Anglican Mainstream, VirtueOnline and Christianity Today. The subject of Christian Today’s links with David Jang have not been addressed by Mark Woods in spite of many questions. It is unfair that Mr Woods is so vocal on various other issues, but is silent when it comes to his own position or that of his employer. Is Mr Woods’ salary, for example, being paid directly - or indirectly - by David Jang, his supporters or any of the numerous other organisations founded by Mr Jang?
- Christian Today is listed as owned by Christian Today Ltd in the UK, but on the Companies House website it is clear that it has insufficient funds to be operational. Where does Christian Today get its funding from? We understand that that Christian Today are part of the Christian Media Corporation International (www.cmcigroup.com), as is the Christian Post.
We thank God that the unique ministry of Barnabas Fund has continued to grow as we address the needs of persecuted Christians in so many parts of the world. We find of course that hostility and discrimination against Christians are experienced even in countries that have historically prized religious freedom. And we believe that Dr Sookhdeo has been targeted for attacks and vitriolic criticism, at least in part, because of his faithfulness to the Gospel.