Church of England dismisses complaint against priest who called trans archdeacon a ‘bloke’

A priest wears a rainbow ribbon during a vigil against Anglican Homophobia, outside the General Synod of the Church of England in London, Britain, February 15, 2017.
A priest wears a rainbow ribbon during a vigil against Anglican Homophobia, outside the General Synod of the Church of England in London, Britain, February 15, 2017. | REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The Church of England has determined that referring to a transgender priest as a "bloke" and a "fella" does not constitute offensive language after an investigation into comments made by a former clergy member about the denomination's first trans-identified archdeacon.

David Turner, the Church of England's deputy president of tribunals, has made a formal recommendation to the Bishop of Loughborough that the complaint against Rev. Brett Murphy be dismissed. He states that the words he used to describe a trans-identified priest may be "insensitive" but not "offensive."

"It should not be thought ... that there are no circumstances in which the use of language, with or without an intention to cause distress or offence, could cross a line into actionable misconduct, or even harassment," Turner wrote, according to the Christian Legal Centre.

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"I have concluded here, looking at the overall picture of conduct alleged, that what was said falls short on the facts of any threshold for further proceedings. It follows that there is, therefore, no case to answer in respect of which a disciplinary tribunal should now be asked to adjudicate."

Murphy, 38, who formerly pastored St. David's Church in Coalville, faced scrutiny under the Clergy Discipline Measure for allegedly misgendering Rachel Mann, the trans-identified archdeacon, in a YouTube vlog. Murphy, who has a following of 14,000 on YouTube, regularly shares content from a Christian Orthodox Anglican viewpoint, said the rights group Christian Concern in a statement about the CofE's decision.

Rev. Brett Murphy
Rev. Brett Murphy | YouTube/Brett Murphy

Murphy's comments were made following Mann's appointment as the archdeacon for Bolton and Salford, sparking a debate on the appropriateness of his language and the broader implications for the church's stance on gender and sexuality.

In his vlog, Murphy referred to Mann as biologically a male, raising questions about her new role and its significance within the church hierarchy. He also labeled Mann as a "radical rainbow activist," hinting at a potential shift towards more inclusive leadership within the CofE. Mann has publicly acknowledged the past, stating, "I'm self-evidently a woman — but I'm glad I was once a man."

The controversy led to a formal complaint against Murphy under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, the process for handling allegations of serious misconduct by clergy that can lead to professional consequences or even dismissal. Murphy contested the complaint, arguing that the church was deviating from traditional teachings by considering same-sex blessings.

The Bishop of Loughborough dismissed the initial complaint, but it was later reopened following an appeal by the complainant, leading to a thorough review by Turner.

Turner's assessment concluded that the terms "bloke" and "fella" were not inherently offensive, suggesting that the context of their use did not warrant disciplinary action. Turner underlined that while language could potentially cross into misconduct or harassment, the specifics of Murphy's case did not meet the threshold for further proceedings.

The decision effectively ended the disciplinary process against Murphy, who left the CofE in June to join the separatist Free Church of England. In an August interview, he said he "had to leave" after the General Synod approved blessings for same-sex couples. He has voiced concerns about the CDM process being misused to target clergy who resist the pro-LGBT push in the CofE. 

"Sanity has prevailed in this instance, but sadly, I believe it is too little too late for the CofE as it continues to fail to adhere to Biblical truth on issues of human sexuality," Murphy said, responding to the decision.

"As a Christian minister it is my duty to continue to proclaim the gospel whenever I can. I make no apology for that. What has happened to me was a case of pure vengeance for daring to say what I have. It was an attempt to slur, slander and discredit me and take me down even though I have left the CofE. The fact that my story is even a story is pure madness."

The Christian Legal Centre, which is the legal arm of Christian Concern and is representing Murphy, criticized the CofE's move towards endorsing same-sex blessings, arguing it contradicts traditional Christian doctrines on marriage and sexuality.

Chief Executive Andrea Williams said the Christian Legal Centre deals with a "huge volume of cases" that involve religious leaders who are being "intimidated and punished simply for expressing standard Christian beliefs on marriage and sexual ethics."

"Promoting same-sex blessings is a catastrophe for the CofE. It is a clear departure from the biblical model for marriage. We will continue to see the Church of England decline if it insists on continuing this course," Williams argues. 

"The churches that are growing in the UK are the ones that hold fast to traditional biblical teaching on marriage and family. This is what people want and expect from the Church."

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