Andrea Williams comments on the case of Rev. Barry Trayhorn, who lost his appeal last week at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction.’ 2 Timothy 4:2
If you want to preach the whole gospel of God – the state wants to shut you up.
When I read the judgment in Barry Trayhorn’s case, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
Throughout his hearing at the Employment Tribunal in London I had wanted pastors and lawyers to come and witness just what was going on. You need to see it to believe it. And you can’t get the truth from the judgment. Judgments in Christian Legal Centre cases are often a parody of the truth.
There was no dispute on the facts of the case.
Reverend Barry Trayhorn is an ordained Pentecostal Minister. He worked in a tentmaker role as a gardener at the HMP Littlehey prison, which is a male sex offenders prison. Some of the prisoners have been imprisoned for raping women, girls, men, and boys.
Barry participated every week in the Christian chapel services, providing both music ministry and often delivering a sermon or message.
The prison Chaplain was pleased to have his help but sadly failed to support him when it came to the crunch.
The service in the prison chapel was not mandatory, and prisoners could choose to attend or not.
During a service, he quoted from memory I Corinthians 6 v 9-11 which says: –
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.”He then continued to say: –
“You may want to complain about this, but this is the Word of God. God loves you and wants to forgive you.”
So far, so normal. In the context of a chapel service, a Bible passage is quoted on personal morality with the call to seek God’s love and forgiveness.
However, on this occasion, some prisoners had come to the chapel cross-dressed as women, intending to disrupt proceedings. [It came as no surprise, last week, when we heard that 11 males in Littlehey Prison are waiting for sex change operations that will cost taxpayers £110,000].
A single complaint was put in by one of the prisoners to the Equality and Diversity officer of the prison saying that his human rights had been violated by the preaching.
And yes, you can guess what happens next – the Prison Authorities can tolerate Barry mentioning 8 of the 9 sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6, but the classification of practising homosexuality as a ‘sin’ condemned by God is a step too far. Barry’s words were insensitive to the “vulnerable class of persons” he was addressing! Barry’s message of redemption and transformation; of the love and forgiveness of God was not enough to save him from the wrath and punishment of the prison authorities.
So, Barry was placed under intolerable strain at work, and lost his employment because he could not stand the pressure placed on him. We brought a claim for constructive dismissal.
And so, we came before the Employment Tribunal and then the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The Presiding Judge Mrs Justice Slade reflected in court that the prisoners were a “vulnerable class of citizens; a protected class of citizens” – she posed the question rhetorically as to whether 1 Corinthians 6 should be preached in a prison chapel service.
In her judgment, she accepted that some such people were vulnerable, suffered from low self-esteem and couldn’t be criticised in this way. Mrs Justice Slade accepted that the Bible verses quoted were derogatory against homosexualsand that the preaching of this passage could ‘legitimise bullying or other mistreatment’.
Many prisoners and sex offenders are saved and changed by the transforming power of the gospel. We had letters and testimony of lives that had been changed by the love and the witness of Barry.
The decision in Barry’s case demonstrates the depth of hostility to Christianity in modern, post-Truth Britain and the spiritual blindness of the establishment elites. The decision not only defies law, logic, and common sense; it is a further forewarningabout the voicing of Christian teaching on moral and sexual ethics. Unless the Church wakes up soon, it will conform to the new moral orthodoxy – witness the establishment of the Church of England and even the silence of many orthodox movements in our country.
Where does this leave the public witness of the gospel?
The State is interfering with the gospel. It is mandating that the gospel be shrunk down to fit society’s sensibilities. The judgment implies that the Bible legitimises hate and mistreatment – but in reality, it offers salvation and transformation to men who have committed horrific crimes.
How long will the true Church stay silent in our land?
What case is required to wake us up?
How many more cases?
Will the true Church wake up when I am arrested? Probably not. The bishops of the Church of England are in no danger of being arrested.
Will the true Church wake up when a ‘hate crime’ is reported against a small, faithful evangelical church? Possibly not.
How about a large one?
Or a larger church network?
Can we not see, in this case and others, that this country no longer honours God, and is banning His Word!
God calls preachers of the Word to correct, rebuke and instruct. Without this, there wouldn’t be much to preaching at all!
The state, and by implication the courts, has a legal obligation not to interfere with church autonomy. This principle is so strong that it has been upheld three times in recent years by the Grand Chamber of the European Court.
Christian Concern was involved in 3 cases that went to the European Court of Human Rightsknown collectively as Eweida (British Airways Cross case) v United Kingdom. It was an important case on religious freedom.
But in this case, a single Justice, Mrs Justice Slade, sitting alone in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, this week decided she did not need to follow Eweida v UKand could do a better job of interpreting church doctrine and acceptable preaching than an ordained Pentecostal Minister. This ruling has sinister implications for preachers across our country.
Looking at Barry’s case in isolation, it is a sad day when an ordained minister can be punished by the State for preaching on sexual purity to a prison population housing many individuals who are there for sexual offences. Looking at Barry’s case with a wider lens, it is indeed tragic and fearful for all preachers that one day, maybe soon, the state may also be coming for you.
It is not too late to wake up.
We must carry on preaching and teaching ‘the whole counsel of God’. We must not be afraid of what man can do to us. But we must also stand together to oppose this interference with the life-giving message of the Gospel. It is no good to support gospel preaching when it’s easy but to back down when we come under pressure.
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Photo by Ruth Towell
Find out more about Barry Trayhorn