'I'm at a loss to know where this comes from' - bishop responds to transgender accusations

The Rev John Parker, who resigned as a governor at a Church of England primary school over its transgender policy, says his concerns were ignored(Photo: Christian Concern)

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, has denied telling a former vicar that he would no longer be welcome in the Church of England if he "wished to faithfully follow the teachings of the Bible".

The Rev John Parker, who resigned as the governor of a Church of England primary school in the Diocese of Chelmsford over its handling of a child's transition, has accused the bishop of ignoring his concerns.

"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," Rev Parker alleged. 

Rev Parker said his concerns over safeguarding and child welfare, as well as the Christian ethos of the school and training given to staff by the transgender charity Mermaids, went unheard.

In addition to stepping down as the school's governor, he has also quit the Church of England over the dispute. 

In a statement, Rev Parker repeated his allegations against the bishop and other officials in the Diocese of Chelmsford.

He says he met and corresponded with the bishop several times over the last two years to raise his concerns about the Church of England's position on transgenderism. 

He claims that the diocese did not consult or engage with parents or carers of other children at the school on how it was handling the child's transition, and that it "instead attempted to bind the adults involved to a culture of secrecy". 

He says he informed the bishop that he was "in broken communion" with him in a letter last September but did not receive any response, and that he felt he had "no choice" but to resign over the situation.

"Despite the concerns that I and others presented and the biblical case we made, the diocese persisted in its approach," he said.

"In my parish this culminated in the diocese supporting unequivocally the 'gender transition' of a child in a Church of England primary school.

"As a governor of the school the welfare of that child and all the other children in the school was my responsibility and priority and I was deeply concerned.

"Obvious safeguarding issues were raised by this situation as well as it having clear implications for the Christian ethos of the school.

"The Diocese of Chelmsford was complicit in preventing any discussion of the wider issues and imposed the views and strategy of the lobby group Mermaids onto the school."

He added: "This situation, in its entire disregard for the Christian children and parents in the school, and those of other faiths and philosophies, presented the clearest possible instance of what Bishop Stephen had previously told me - that my Biblical views on sexuality were not welcome in the Church of England and that I 'could leave'." 

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, denied discussing the matter with Rev Parker

On Twitter, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell denied making the alleged comments to Rev Parker. 

"[T]he truth of this sad and sensitive story involving a very vulnerable child seems to have been completely overtaken by twitter fuelled fury," he said. 

"I never said this to John Parker, and would be horrified if I had."

In a separate tweet, he said: "Moreover, another inexplicable bit of this story is that I've never actually had any conversation or exchange with John Parker on this matter whatsoever." 

In another tweet, he said: "I have had no conversation whatsoever with JP on this matter, or any other for nearly a year. I am at a loss to know where this comes from , but since at the heart of this story is a very vulnerable child I'm trying not to get involved on twitter. And failing..."

The Rev Tim Elbourne, Director of Education for the Diocese of Chelmsford, said in an earlier statement: "Church of England schools are inclusive environments which nurture pupils to respect diversity of all kinds.

"Our schools must comply with the legal requirements of the Equalities Act 2010.

"Additionally, The Church of England, through its policy 'Valuing all God's Children', updated in 2017, gives guidance for Church of England Schools.

"It would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of a matter concerning any child."

Rev Parker is being supported by Christian Concern, which has launched a petition on CitizenGo calling on the education secretary to launch a review into Mermaids. 

The petition has been signed nearly 10,000 times since being launched two days ago. 

Defending Rev Parker, Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, said parents have a right to know "if and when this ideological movement is in their schools and being taught as fact".

"I believe that a real threat is posed to schools from organisations such as Mermaids. They implement a new ideological tyranny - and any disagreement is at best silenced and at worst, punished," she said. 

The Mermaids charity has defended its training in a statement: "We are always looking for ways to improve the training we offer and only base the information we share on the best research, legal bases and guidance."