Ethics & Morality

Rev'd Barry Trayhorn "forced to resign" as prison worker – for quoting the Bible in chapel


HMP Littlehey is a ‘Category C’ men’s prison (“Those who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape”) and Young Offender Institute near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. Chapel attendance is entirely voluntary: no one is cajoled or coerced into singing hymns or listening to the Word of God. The Rev’d Barry Trayhorn – an ordained minister of the Pentecostal Church – had worked as a ‘tentmaker‘ in the prison (actually a gardener) since 2011 and was, by all accounts, popular.

For the past three years he has helped out with prison chapel services at the invitation of the Rev’d Roy Nyandoro of Christ Life Ministries, under the ultimate supervision of Managing Chaplain the Rev’d David Kinder, who is also Chairman of the Criminal Justice Forum in the Diocese of Ely. It is unknown how kind David Kinder was to Barry Trayhorn, or how kinder he is going to be at the Bedford Employment Tribunal hearing which begins today (2nd November).

For the Rev’d Barry Trayhorn was leading worship in the prison chapel in May 2014, when he took as his subject the glorious forgiveness of God for those who repent. And he quoted from the Bible (version unknown; assume NIV):

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Cor 6:9-11).

Four days after the service, a complaint was made. Barry was immediately suspended from helping with chapel services, and was subsequently told that his comments during the service were ‘homophobic’ and breached national prison policy. He was notified that there would be a disciplinary hearing.

Unsurprisingly, he was distraught, very worried, and lost a lot of sleep. In August of last year, Barry was signed off work with stress-related illness. During this period, his manager visited him at home on three occasions to discuss the work-related issues. On two of these occasions she was accompanied by a senior prison official. It is not known if Barry was given the opportunity to be accompanied by a fellow employee or a union official. But given the written medical certification of the absence, to any reasonable person these visits might seem like an unreasonable harassment. What employer, mindful of mental health issues, would dispatch managers and senior officials to interrogate and intimidate a sick employee over an entirely voluntary pursuit? After all, it was not Barry Trayhorn’s skills as a paid gardener which had been called into question, but his competence to lead worship as an unpaid chaplain’s assistant.

On 4th November 2014, Barry felt that he had no choice but to resign. Don’t judge him too harshly: you may think you would have been prepared to stand and fight and witness for the Word of God, but bullying and harassment can lead to all manner of depression and despair. Two days later, a disciplinary hearing was held in Barry’s absence, when he was given a ‘final written warning’. With no previous misdemeanours or complaints recorded against him, it is not unreasonable to conclude that he was disciplined for quoting scriptures about sin which were deemed unpalatable by sinners.

Commenting on his disturbing experience, Barry Trayhorn said:

“I simply said what the Bible says. Prisoners have a right to hear God’s word, just as much as anyone else. If people come to a Christian chapel service, we cannot keep God’s message from them. As I led the worship, I spoke about the wonder of God’s love and the forgiveness that comes through Jesus to those who recognise their sin and repent. I said that I am the worst sinner I know.

“But that wasn’t politically correct. The mere mention of homosexual behaviour in the Bible verses that I quoted provoked complaint. I was immediately barred from taking part in chapel services and trouble came my way. I was put under enormous pressure. This is about the expression of Christian faith. I am being punished simply for daring to say what the Bible says.”

It is to be noted – once again – that the preacher did not focus on sexual sin: he included theft, greed and slander. But to mention the Bible’s teaching on behavioural ethics to convicted felons has itself become a felony. Oh, you can preach “Do not steal” to the incarcerated thief in the hope of repentance and restoration, but God forbid that you might preach St Paul’s view of sexual ethics in a prison chapel.

According to the publicised prison regime:

The Chaplaincy is committed to serving the needs of prisoners, staff and religious traditions by engaging all human experience. We will work collaboratively, respecting the integrity of each tradition and discipline. We believe that faith and the search for meaning directs and inspires life, and are committed to providing sacred spaces and dedicated teams to deepen and enrich human experience. We contribute to the care of prisoners to enable them to lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release.

Presumably, the limits on the engagement with “all human experience” now end with quoting the Word of God and respecting moral orthodoxy. One wonders of the Rev’d David Kinder would have been prepared to preside over the suspension and harassment of his Muslim chaplain for quoting from the Qur’an?

Barry Trayhorn is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre and will be represented at the Tribunal by Standing Counsel, Paul Diamond. Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

“It is astonishing that Rev Barry Trayhorn was forced out of a sex offenders’ prison for mentioning what the Bible says about sexual ethics – during a Christian chapel service – as he spoke of the joy of repentance and forgiveness. Prisoners attend chapel services voluntarily. They shouldn’t be denied an opportunity to hear what God has to say about the way to restoration. Is the Bible given to prisoners now to be censored to remove anything that people may find difficult to hear?”

This is surely the point: a prison chapel is not a public space, and attendance is not mandatory. How can the Bible be censored or divine worship restricted by the Governor of HMP Littlehey, when Her Majesty’s Prison operates under the authority and patronage of the Supreme Governor of the Church of England?