An employment tribunal is scrutinising the role of a bishop in blacklisting a chaplain from officiating in the Church of England (CofE) after he was wrongly reported as a potential ‘terrorist’ and hounded out of employment at a school for giving a sermon on identity politics.
‘Unemployable’ as a priest
From 23 to 24 February, East Midlands Employment Tribunal will hear how the Rev. Dr Bernard Randall has been made unemployable as of CofE priest ever since the Bishop of Derby, the Rt. Rev. Libby Lane, refused to permit him to work as a minister following his dismissal from Trent College in Nottingham.
He was blacklisted by the diocese as a ‘safeguarding risk’ to children and vulnerable adults for giving a moderate sermon to school pupils during chapel. To this day, Bernard says that the diocese has not specified what the allegations against him are, and no evidence has ever been disclosed showing that he has done anything wrong or behaved inappropriately towards anyone.
Disclosed documents have revealed, however, in the wake of the safeguarding investigation, that a senior member of the diocese stated in regard to his sermon:
“There are a disproportionate number of people who are drawn to schools via the Church who have ‘this way of thinking’.”
The safeguarding team were also concerned that Bernard represented a “reputational risk” to the CofE because of the CofE’s own teaching on marriage and human identity, which were expressed in his sermon. The team concluded in a risk assessment that because the Bible supports this position, the Church could even be “a risk factor to itself.”
Case against the bishop and diocese
Behind the scenes, efforts to resolve the situation have been stonewalled. So as well as a case against Trent College, Bernard has also faced no alternative but to bring a claim against the Bishop of Derby and the diocese’s safeguarding team on the grounds of religious discrimination, harassment and a breach of the Equality Act 2010. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has also refused to intervene in the case.
Bernard is seeking damages for financial loss and a recommendation that the Bishop and the Diocesan Safeguarding Team undergo training on Discrimination Law, especially as it pertains to the Christian faith and freedom of speech.
The preliminary hearing in Nottingham this week will decide whether the actions of the Bishop of Derby fall within the remit of an employment tribunal. The bishop’s lawyers argue that Bernard was never employed by the diocese and therefore this is not an employment matter. However, Bernard’s lawyers say that the actions of the bishop have led directly to him being unemployable as a priest and therefore the full claim must be heard in this forum. (It would be a similar situation if, for example, the General Medical Council refused to give accreditation to a qualified doctor.) Furthermore, Bernard’s lawyers will argue that he would not have been treated in this way by the bishop if he had been approving of same sex marriage and transgender beliefs.
Bernard, has been barred from giving a sermon for three years, which he says has caused him great anguish and personal pain.
Ahead of the hearing, Dr Randall commented: “I’m being charged with wrongthink. There is no allegation that my behaviour towards any person has ever fallen below proper standards. Only my thinking is being checked. Even the Spanish Inquisition told people what the charges were.
“People in the Church are accusing me of the crime of thinking what the Church thinks; because I preached what the Church teaches, they think I am too dangerous to be allowed to preach in any Church.
“The Bishop of Derby has shown moral cowardice in refusing to stand up for the goodness of the Church’s own teaching, and totally failed to support and vindicate me. Sadly, the CofE seems to care more about its reputation in the secular world than showing spiritual leadership.
“The human cost on me has been immense and I have no idea what the future holds.
“People ask me why I have not left the CofE, and I can only say because it is a deep part of who I am.
“The behaviour of the school is wrong, but the Church should have known better and done better. How I have been treated by the CofE has hurt me more than anything.
“I have had no protection at all and have faced no choice but to pursue justice. The day comes when you have to stand up to bullies. I am appalled that it is the Church that has forced me to do so.
“The Church should be thinking about what is acceptable to God, rather than conforming to society. If we only say what people already think or believe, why should people listen to the Church? If we only say what is already acceptable, we don’t add anything to people’s lives.
“I have never had any wish to leave the CofE, I believe it has turned its back on me.”
‘Targeted for defending Christian views’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is backing Dr Randall’s case, said: “Bernard is one of many faithful Church of England ministers who have been targeted for believing and defending the Christian views on sexuality, gender and marriage.
“On paper, the Church of England believes and teaches exactly what Bernard said. But in practice, ministers like him are put through cruel safeguarding procedures as if believing the church’s own doctrine makes him a danger. The Bishop failed in any way to stand up for Bernard and is effectively seeking to end his ordained ministry.
“The further the Church of England goes in muddling and abandoning its own teaching, the more people like Bernard will be forced out through these tortuous and unreasonable processes.
“We will stand with Bernard and all others who continue to live and speak out the Christian faith in public life for as long as it takes.”