Remember the Rev’d Dr Bernard Randall? He was chaplain at Trent College, Nottingham – an independent Church of England school – until he was sacked for preaching Church of England doctrine. The fact that Trent College is a Church of England school and Dr Randall was a Church of England chaplain preaching Church of England doctrine wasn’t enough to save him. He preached quite sensitively and intelligently on gender identity and the challenges presented by LGBT ideology, and how this is often in conflict with other worldviews, and especially in a school which exists “to educate boys and girls according to the Protestant and Evangelical principles of the Church of England”. And for this he was reported to the counter-terrorism unit Prevent, and sacked.
His Employment Tribunal case begins this week.
It has taken more than two years to reach this point, and it’s worth reflecting on that for a moment. That is entire years during which Dr Randall’s life has been on hold, unable to work, unable to fulfil his priestly vocation, unable to provide pastoral care, unable to do very much at all. It’s enough to drive a man to drink, if not to the depths of despair and the contemplation of suicide.
“This has caused me untold stress to the point where I recently burst into tears when a priest asked me after a service how I was feeling,” he told the Mail on Sunday.
It is intolerable indeed for a school chaplain to be told by his school that he represents a danger to children.
It is even more intolerable for the Church of England to tell him the same.
But that’s what they’ve done.
Simply for encouraging students to consider two sides of a disagreement on aspects of LGBT identity dogma – remembering always to do so respectfully and in neighbourly love – the Church of England has determined that Dr Randall poses a “moderate” risk, and might cause children “anxiety” if they came to him with “a sexuality or relationship” issue.
It is no wonder that Dr Randall feels betrayed. “When you get ordained you put heart and soul into the Church,” he said. “It’s woven into your DNA and then someone reaches inside you, into your soul, and rips out your DNA.”
“While this has never made me think I’m not going to be a Christian, it has made me question the state of the Church and seriously doubt my place in it. Due to loyalty, I haven’t spoken out until now about the Church’s role. I held back because I thought the diocese might see sense, but it hasn’t.”
He isn’t, of course, the only priest to question their place in the Church of England over the abuse of safeguarding procedures.
So this week Dr Randall will argue in his Employment Tribunal that Trent College unfairly sacked him because of his religious and philosophical beliefs. He is also suing the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Rev’d Libby Lane, because he was “subjected to less favourable treatment on the grounds of his beliefs. He would not have been treated in this way if he had been approving of same sex marriage and transgender beliefs”.
It’s incredible, isn’t it, that the Bishop of Derby has washed her hands of this manifest injustice. She might at least have confirmed that the sermon he preached accurately reflected the Church of England’s official teaching on sexual morality.
But not a word. The Mail reports:
Dr Randall alerted the diocese, but to his disappointment received only a lukewarm response. He hoped that Bishop Lane – the Church of England’s first female bishop – would intervene and ‘at least back me on the theological elements’. But, he claims, ‘she kept her distance. Either she disagrees with the Church’s teaching or it’s just moral cowardice – neither of which are attractive qualities.’
However, documents seen by this newspaper show that there were concerns about the ‘reputational risk’ to the Church.
A church safeguarding officer summoned Dr Randall to a meeting in December 2019. She later wrote he ‘has consistently demonstrated his inability and unwillingness to accept a different viewpoint.
‘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 21st-century Church of England. This is a reputational risk to be managed by any parish and diocese to which Rev’d Randall is connected.’
Elsewhere she adds: ‘Specifically, risk was considered for if/when Rev’d Randall might be approached as a person holding a position of trust within the diocese. If presented with a request for support by a vulnerable adult or young person struggling with a sexuality or relationship issue, the response by Rev’d Randall may result in further anxiety for the individual involved due to the manner in which [he] communicates his strong Christian beliefs regarding sexuality and related issues, including the use of canon law and scripture to reinforce his opinion.’
Astonishingly, the officer then goes on to suggest that the Church itself may be a safeguarding risk, writing: ‘Due to some church scripture supporting Rev’d Randall’s views the church itself may also be a risk-factor, to be used to justify Rev’d Randall’s opinions.’
So, once again, we have a church which is more concerned with its own reputation than with ensuring justice; a bishop who presides over a profoundly flawed safeguarding process which compounds the injustice; and a victim who is driven to the depths of despair, and made to feel utterly, utterly worthless.
But for the first time we have the Church of England adducing Scripture and Canon Law as a safeguarding risk.
And once again it is left to the indefatigable Andrea Williams and Christian Concern to articulate what one might hope a bishop (or two) might say:
“The Church of England’s wholesale misuse of safeguarding to suggest that Bernard is a risk to children is one of them most distasteful and objectionable elements of this extraordinary case.
“I would love to have seen the Church of England defend Bernard Randall after his moderate and thoughtful sermon upholding the Church’s teaching.
“I would love to have seen them say he was a faithful minister doing the job he loved and serving the children at Trent College.
“If they had done that and helped him to keep his position we wouldn’t be where we are today. Instead, the Church of England capitulated to the pressure and wiped their hands of him.
“Out of loyalty to the Church he has refused to expose how badly he has been treated by them until now. He has hoped against hope that they might come and help him.
“Bernard Randall is a good man who loves Jesus and loves biblical truth and is passionate about the hope that is found in the gospel for school communities.
“He is kind, intelligent and not a safeguarding risk to anyone. It is the rise of LGBT ideology and activism within the Church of England that is the risk to good and faithful clergy such as Bernard – and to children who are badly failed by its misleading guidance on transgenderism in schools.
“It is untenable for the CofE to allow its safeguarding teams to say that the CofE and the Bible is a risk-factor to itself.
“This is a profoundly upsetting and perverse situation.
“We continue to stand with Bernard as he prepares for the hearing against his sacking by Trent College this week.
“The outcome will have huge ramifications for Christian freedoms and freedom of speech in this country.”
Dr Randall may have been reported to Prevent, but who are the real extremists here, and who is the real victim of radicalisation? If you implement policies in your school which discourage referring to ‘boys’ and ‘girls’, or which inculcate gender neutrality to the extent that the ideology may not even be questioned, you are not educating, but indoctrinating. You are not encouraging rational inquiry or critical thinking, but coercing the mind and inhibiting freedom of expression. For the Church of England to side with the oppressors against their own priest is indeed upsetting. But for the Church of England to say that its own teaching on sexual morality presents a safeguarding risk is utterly perverse.