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Church of England Bishop refutes Vicar John Parker's allegations in escalating transgender war

Church of England Bishop refutes Vicar John Parker's allegations in escalating transgender war

By David W. Virtue, DD
June 2, 2019

A vicar who accused his bishop of supporting the transitioning of an 8-year-old child in his school and endorsing a training session by transgender activist group Mermaids, is facing counter-accusations of misrepresenting the entire narrative.

The Rev. John Parker, Vicar of All Saints, Fordham and Eight Ash Green, in Colchester, had told the Daily Mail: "I was basically told by my bishop that if I wished to faithfully follow the teachings of the Bible then I was no longer welcome in the Church. It felt very much like I was being silenced by the Church and the school."

The British tabloid reported on May 25 that the vicar "resigned following a bitter dispute with his bishop over the way a Church of England school handled an eight-year-old pupil's plan to change gender."

However, Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, responded categorically on Saturday, stating that he "had no conversation whatsoever with JP on this matter, or any other for nearly a year."

In another tweet, Cottrell told Emma Sivyer, Church Army, "I never said this to John Parker, and would be horrified if I had." He adds: "Moreover, another inexplicable bit of this story is that I've never actually had any conversation or exchange with John Parker on this matter whatsoever."

When Virtueonline contacted the bishop for comment Cottrell, replied saying: "I am at a loss to know where these comments attributed to me by John Parker come from." The bishop said he would release a full statement on Monday.

Hours after Cottrell's tweets, Parker released his own statement on the Christian Concern website, claiming Cottrell had a meeting with him in September 2018. The same month, "after a meeting with Bishop Stephen, I declared myself to be in broken communion with him; no response was forthcoming," Parker wrote.

Parker's statement went on to say he had "also entered into extensive and sometimes lengthy correspondence (most recently in December 2018), setting out my disquiet to Bishop Stephen."

Did Parker actually write to Cottrell in December 2018 addressing his bishop directly? Or did he make his views known through other sources or by copying correspondence using the CC function on email?

What is clear, though, is that Parker and Cottrell never met in person after September 2018, given their broken communion.

Parker does not give evidence of emails or letters or phone calls made by him directly to Cottrell after September 2018 (or after December 2018), either in his statement or to the media.

In any case, Parker's own statement admits that after December 2018, there was no communication between him and the bishop.

The flashpoint of the conflict is March 2019, when Parker was told that an eight-year-old pupil would be transitioning at the primary school of which he was governor.

This is followed by a critical incident in April 2019, when the transgender campaign group Mermaids were invited into the school to deliver a training session to teachers and governors.

If Parker's own recent statement is saying he had no contact with Cottrell since September or even December 2018, Cottrell would be correct in stating he, the bishop, "had no conversation whatsoever with JP on this matter, or any other for nearly a year" and he "never actually had any conversation or exchange with John Parker on this matter whatsoever."

In the light of the bishop's statements and Parker's inability to furnish evidence for meetings or exchanges with Cottrell, Parker comes across as disingenuous in conflating his earlier disagreement with the bishop with the current transgender incident, and in this context to be claiming that his bishop told him he was no longer welcome in the CofE if he wished to follow biblical teaching.

Of course, it may be asked if this is a result of Parker's own words, or poor journalism by the Daily Mail or a cleverly conflated and confused version put out by Christian Concern with the intention of portraying Parker as a victim and furthering an ideological battle with the liberal wing of the Church of England.

If Parker wants to clear his name, he simply needs to produce evidence of one letter or email or phone call made by him to Cottrell after March 2019 or April 2019 on the topic of the transgender problem in his school, Holy Trinity CofE Primary School Eight Ash Green and Aldham, Colchester.

However, given that he has not or is unable to corroborate this with evidence, he ends his statement with an assumption: "I cannot believe that Bishop Stephen was unaware of our case, nor the advice given by the diocesan head of education, as our school was not the first in the diocese. Accordingly, there can be no doubt that Bishop Stephen was at all times fully aware of my position."

Further questions must be asked if lessons are to be learned:

Why is it that the Daily Mail news story reads like a propaganda mouthpiece and does not abide by the most fundamental canons of journalism, i.e. the five Ws--who, where, when, why, what and the one H--How.

Who? If Parker is accusing his bishop, why is Bishop Cottrell or the Headteacher who are said to play major roles in the story, not named once in the Daily Mail story or on the Christian Concern website?

Where? Parker's parish and school are both unidentified. While there could be legal reasons for not naming the child, there is no reason in law why the parish or the school should not be named, especially since all the above information is already in the public domain and can easily be accessed on the Internet.

When? While the Daily Mail story gives both March and April 2019 dates, it does not inform the reader what happened when (and where) and particularly when Cottrell allegedly told Parker he was welcome to leave the CofE. This conflation of the timeline and incidents is misleading to the point of misrepresentation.

What? What did Cottrell actually say? A good reporter would ask Parker to make clear whether he was quoting his bishop verbatim or putting his own spin on his bishop's words by using the slippery catchall term "basically."

Why? Why did Parker expect his bishop to respond to him at any point after September 2018, when communion had not been restored and when the two were effectively not on talking terms?

It is a basic tent of journalism that the other party must be contacted for comment, especially if serious allegations are being leveled against them. The Daily Mail reporters did not ask Headmistress Ceri Daniels, Bishop Cottrell or the Mermaids for their side of the story (or did not say that the above parties had refused to comment).

If Parker took the critical step of separating from his bishop in September 2018, why did he not resign at that point from the Church of England? In the Church of England, a vicar who has a Freehold or Common Tenure cannot lose his post for breaking communion with his bishop.

Also, when two other evangelical churches in the diocese--St Elisabeth's, Becontree, led by the Rev. Steven Hanna, and St George's, Dagenham, led by the Rev. Simon Smallwood, unanimously voted no confidence in the "unbiblical" leadership of the bishop, because of Bishop Cottrell’s views on exploring ideas of some sort of further pastoral accommodation for gay and lesbian people in same sex relationships, why did Parker not join them?

Why has the conservative evangelical Church Society or the Evangelical Council of the Church of England not issued an official statement in support of Parker (since he is not facing any disciplinary procedure)?

VOL's earlier story was based on the information released at the time by Christian Concern and the Daily Mail, which turned out not to be entirely true. VOL did publish the name of the school and the church. We apologize for any errors in reporting.


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