The Church of England and the chaplain who dared to speak the truth
Sometimes it seems that 'anything goes' in the Church of England.
Do you want a drag queen to perform for children in a church to teach them about inclusion? That's fine – it's just like a pantomime.
Do you want to install a giant 'Gaia' in most of the cathedrals in the country? That's fine – we can gloss over the reference to the Greek goddess, the ancestral mother of all life, who personified the earth.
But every now and then the Church says, "No!"
The Rev Bernard Randall is one such case. He was disciplined in his former job as a school chaplain for preaching a sermon that encouraged "a reasoned debate between beliefs", but gave permission for students to question "the ideologies of LGBTI activists". He was later made redundant.
So, he turned to the Church of England, seeking Permission to Officiate at his local church. But the Bishop of Derby apparently refused, on the basis that he might be a safeguarding risk to those who attend a service he is leading or come under his influence.
In a Kafkaesque move, the Bishop of Derby is now reported to be demanding that he undergoes an Independent Safeguarding Assessment before she allows him to preach or preside at the Eucharist in the Diocese of Derby. If this is true, then she has in effect prevented him from serving his community or applying for any role in the Church of England.
So, why would he need to undergo such an assessment?
The Derby Safeguarding team said it is because: "Revd Randall has consistently demonstrated his inability and unwillingness to accept a different viewpoint regarding the central concern in the safeguarding process, same sex relationships.
"Despite his opinion being supported by scripture and elements of canon law it is his apparent opposition to consider or accept a different approach to relationships which is of concern in a twenty first century Church of England. This is a reputational risk to be managed by any parish and Diocese to which Revd Randall is connected."
The idea that a member of the clergy could be prevented from leading services or preaching because they hold to the Church's own teaching on marriage and sexual activity seems extraordinary.
As Rev Randall explained, "What they really want me to say to someone who comes to me and says, 'I think I might be gay,' is 'Yes you are gay and God loves you for it - go ahead and do whatever you fancy.' Or at the very least signpost that person to a church that does affirm same-sex relationships.
"But if I think that a person's status with God might be affected by their sexual relationships, it would be a gross dereliction of duty just to pat them on the back and say, 'Yes, you go off and do whatever you want."
Ironically, it was the need to deal well with the conflict between some of the 'uncomfortable' teachings of the Bible (and the Church of England's official teaching) and the values espoused by the media and the secular world, which was the topic of his supposedly controversial sermon.
Yet, the Bishop of Derby apparently does not see this as a conflict of 'ideas' or a question of whether Rev Randall is teaching correct doctrine. Instead, it appears she has chosen to see this as a matter for the Safeguarding Team because by expressing his beliefs, he might cause harm to a vulnerable person.
This despite the minutes of a Case Management Meeting in 2021 stating, "It was confirmed to the group that there is no evidence that BR has ever failed to respond appropriately."
But this is not just about Rev Randall, there are hundreds of clergy in the Church of England who hold to the Church's current teaching about sexuality. The idea that they might be disciplined for teaching it or be unable to move to a new post without undergoing an Independent Safeguarding Assessment is chilling.
As Father Bernard said, "If I taught on anything, not just sexuality but say predestination, or something, and a person says, 'I was harmed by hearing that,' then they can make complaints and cause trouble. And that's not a world we want to live in."
The Diocese of Derby was asked to respond but said it would be "inappropriate" to comment while Dr Randall's proceedings against the diocese and the Bishop of Derby are ongoing.