Trent College in Long Eaton, between Nottingham and Derby, is an independent Anglican school, which used to have a chaplain. He was the Rev’d Dr Bernard Randall, a former chaplain at Christ’s College, Cambridge, who is, by all accounts, a thoroughly decent, thoughtful, intelligent, discerning and pastoral minister in the Church of England. Perhaps “by all accounts” is pushing it a little, because according to the Headteacher of Trent College, Mr Bill Penty BA, Dr Randall poses an extremist threat to pupils, which is why the school referred this thoroughly decent, thoughtful, intelligent, discerning and pastoral minister to the ‘Prevent‘ programme, which was established in 2011 to tackle extremism, terrorism, and those at risk of being radicalised.
Dr Randall has been radicalised by the Church of England’s teaching on LGBT matters, which, as everyone knows, is extreme, intolerant, fanatical and hateful – so extreme, intolerant, fanatical and hateful, in fact, that for Trent College pupils to be exposed to it raises serious safeguarding concerns, which is why Dr Randall had to be prevented from preaching his intolerance, fanaticism and hate in the school’s chapel.
If you’d like to read Dr Randall’s ideological extremism, his sermon may be found HERE.
It was very daring and dangerous, not to say extremist, intolerant, fanatical and hateful, to begin with: “I have a theory about Brexit.” It is every headteacher’s nightmare to find potential fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists on staff. Of course, his theory needs to be examined and sifted for xenophobia, bigotry and any whiff of the myopic ‘little-Englander’ mentality, which, as a diligent headteacher, Mr Penty must surely have done.
But it isn’t there. What you may read, and what pupils will have heard, is Dr Randall’s extremist, intolerant, fanatical and hateful exhortation to weigh competing sets of ideas or ideologies. This can be dangerous in an educational context, as communists and fascists will attest: you simply can’t have vulnerable young minds being taught to think critically or to learn independently or to question infallible orthodoxy. This was the conclusion of his homily:
So, all in all, if you are at ease with “all this LGBT stuff,” you’re entitled to keep to those ideas; if you are not comfortable with it, for the various especially religious reasons, you should not feel required to change. Whichever side of this conflict of ideas you come down on, or even if you are unsure of some of it, the most important thing is to remember that loving your neighbour as yourself does not mean agreeing with everything he or she says; it means that when we have these discussions there is no excuse for personal attacks or abusive language.We should all respect that people on each side of the debate have deep and strongly held convictions. And because, unlike Brexit, this is not a debate which is subject to a vote, it is an ongoing process, so there should be a shared effort to find out what real truth looks like, and to respect that that effort is made honestly and sincerely by all people, even if not everybody comes up with the same answers for now.
Dangerous stuff, this. Dr Randall was dismissed for preaching Christian tolerance; how to be warm to one’s neighbour in a cold climate; how to live in love and faith with someone with whom one disagrees fundamentally. And so the headlines have been seeping out over the past few weeks:
And on, and on.
It is only hitting the headlines now because Dr Randall has decided to take his case to an Employment Tribunal, which he is doing with the support of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre. What people never, or rarely appreciate is the chronic degradation of a person or the destruction of a soul which precedes such headlines. This has been going on for two years: Dr Randall was initially sacked for gross misconduct but then reinstated on appeal. Think, for a moment, about the sleepless nights, the tears, the worry, and all the Scotch and Prozac which accompanied those inquisitions. He was then sacked again last December, with another round of sleepless nights, tears, worry, Scotch and Prozac. We are now half a year on from that trauma. It is easy for newspapers to report (and for people to read over their toast and marmalade) that Dr Randall is suing the school for discrimination and unfair dismissal, but the emotional, physical and material costs have been immense. How do you think he is earning a living at the moment? How is his family coping? How do you think he is handling the realisation that this whole saga may have ended his career and entire ministry in the Church of England?
The most recent General Synod voted 313-0 in favour of a motion on freedom of religion, and for the need to be advocates for and witnesses to this fundamental liberty. They agreed unanimously that “freedom of religion or belief is of importance to everyone, everywhere, and that Christians who enjoy this freedom should be active in advocating the same freedom for others”. Not a single Synod member opposed those words. Where are they all now? Why is it all left to Andrea Williams? Was this just a chance to signal Anglican virtue, with no intention to follow through?
Fundamental British values in schools ought to be fully supportive of freedom of conscience and speech: democracy depends on these freedoms to exist. The rule of law includes the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act, and all statutory duties on schools not to adopt partisan positions on political issues. Individual liberty is all about making up one’s own mind and living one’s own life, rather than the life which another tells one to live. And mutual respect and tolerance for other faiths and beliefs has to include letting others express those beliefs and live by them.
The Rev’d Dr Bernard Randall supported all these values, and adhered to the letter of the law of the land, and the letter and spirit of the official teaching of the Church of England. By sacking the Chaplain – whose job it is to consider matters of faith and morals – the school sent a clear message that pupils are not allowed these freedoms, and some beliefs are not tolerated by the staff. Specifically, it is Church of England beliefs which are not tolerated, because Bill Penty believes they pose a safeguarding risk to children, and so Christian ministers like Dr Randall must be purged from the staff.
What is wrong with a school teaching and upholding “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”? Would you want your son or daughter educated in a school which rejects fundamental ‘British values’? Would you trust a Headteacher who leaps to the ‘Prevent Strategy’ and smears and bullies his Chaplain with allegations of radicalisation, extremism and insidious terrorist ideology, at the expense of Anglican notions of national loyalty, social justice, and the fraternal society? What kind of educator does that?