Bishop of Chelmsford denies suggesting vicar could leave Church of England over transgender views

The Rev John Parker(Photo: Christian Concern)

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, has denied suggesting to a vicar that he should leave the Church of England because of his traditional views on transgenderism. 

John Parker resigned as a governor at a Church of England school claiming that his concerns around the handling of a child's transition were silenced. He also resigned as a vicar in the Church of England. 

In addition to safeguarding concerns, Mr Parker said he feared that the Christian ethos of the school was being compromised.  He also objected to staff training provided to the school by Mermaids, a controversial transgender lobby group. 

Explaining his decision to resign, Mr Parker said: "I was basically told by my bishop that if I wished to faithfully follow the teachings of the Bible then I was no longer welcome in the Church. It felt very much like I was being silenced by the Church and the school." 

Bishop Cottrell has denied these claims, first on Twitter and now again in a formal letter to clergy in the Diocese of Chelmsford.

In the letter, the bishop said: "John Parker and I have always had a warm relationship, and I was sad to receive his letter of resignation.  I certainly did not, as has been claimed, ask or imply that he should leave the Church of England on account of his views on the matter in question, or that he was not welcome." 

The bishop went on to claim that he had not had any meeting or exchange with Mr Parker "of any sort" since September last year, months before Mr Parker became aware of the child's transition.  He also stated that Mr Parker did not take his concerns to the Diocesan Education Department or its Director of Education during the episode in question.

"It is important to state these things not to further exacerbate the issue, but to reassure you whatever your views on these issues, that the Diocese of Chelmsford has not forced a priest from office," the bishop said.

"For myself, I continue to believe it is possible for us to live together with our disagreements on these issues and for these to be discussed openly."

Mr Parker has said in a statement that he met the bishop in September 2018 to express his concerns over the Church of England's position on transgenderism and sent a letter to him at the time saying that he was "in broken communion" with him. 

He claims to have corresponded with the bishop again in December 2018 "setting out my disquiet to Bishop Stephen".

Mr Parker was informed in March this year about a child's transition at the Church of England school where he was governor and subsequently submitted his resignation to the bishop. 

Bishop Cottrell went on to say that he supported the actions of the school and the diocesan Board of Education, and that he was "distraught" that the child and their family were "hurting more than they need to be" because of the attention garnered in the media. 

"They have done right by the child.  This does not mean that I or they do not understand and respect the concerns raised by John and others and we will continue to work with schools about their use of external training providers," he said.  

Mr Parker is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre.  Its CEO Andrea Williams is critical of the Church of England's position on transgenderism.

"The Church of England has one million children in its care. This is a serious God-given duty which the church is failing at," she said.

"It has invited the new state ideology into the classroom and it has lost confidence in its own message of what it means to be human. The Church needs to act before it is too late."