Christian minister says he was ‘forced to resign’ after quoting verses from the Bible that were deemed ‘homophobic’

The Rev Barry Trayhorn

The Rev Barry Trayhorn - Credit: Archant

A prison chapel minister says he was forced to resign from Littlehey Prison in Perry after he quoted verses from the bible said to have been “homophobic”.

Ordained Pentecostal Christian Minister Barry Trayhorn read to inmates verses from the Bible for the “repentance of sin”.

He told an employment tribunal last Tuesday: “I talked from the well known Bible passage 1 Corinthians Chapter 6 Verses 9 - 11.”

The passage was then read out to the tribunal panel hearing Mr Trayhorn’s claim that he was constructively unfairly dismissed and discriminated against because of his Christian faith.

Part of the verse read out to the hearing in Bedford included the words “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor coveters, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the Kingdom of God”.

The 51-year-old father of three, from Sandy in Bedfordshire, who has been married for 23 years, told the tribunal hearing that just days after “sharing” the words with the inmates, he was told he was to be investigated about allegations that he had made homophobic statements.

At the start of the hearing, the tribunal panel was told that Mr Trayhorn had gone to work at Littlehey Prison in Perry, in May of 2011 as a horticulturalist.

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His duties included supervising prisoners in the maintenance of the prison gardens.

Mr Trahorn, who was ordained in 2009, volunteered in 2012 to help the prison’s chaplaincy team at chapel services in the jail.

That same year, he said he was asked by one of the chaplains at Littlehey - Reverend Roy Nyandro - to help with worship at young offenders’ services.

Referend Trayhorn was later asked to “lead the worship” at services once a week.

Eventually, he said, he was asked to preach at services whenever Reverend Nyandro was away.

“He obviously trusted me, otherwise he wouldn’t have given me the responsibility” he told the hearing.

Dealing with his role in the chapel services, he said “I would lead the congregation in the singing of Christian hymns and songs. If I felt inspired by God to quote from the Bible or to say something else that God had put on my heart, I would do that.”

After that he said it would be the preacher’s role to deliver a message from the bible.

He said: “I often focused on Christian teachings about sin and repentance. In that context, I would sometimes list examples of sin or quote passages from the Bible.”

Reverend Trayhorn said he accepted that the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics were seen as controversial.

He went on: “But I fear and do not believe that it is right to alter the Christian faith so as to tailor it to any modern view of sexual ethics.”

He said that being a sinner himself he could appreciate that the subject of the sin could be “unpleasant” but he said it was not a good reason to censor or edit God’s message.

The court then heard how, in April 2014, after Rev Trayhorn had returned to work after being off with a stress related illness, he was made aware that there had been a complaint made against him that during a service in February of that year, he had made “inappropriate, homophobic and potentially insightful comments” during his sermon.

He had allegedly addressed the issue of gay marriage. Rev Trayhorn told the tribunal he had no memory of what he had said that day, but he said “On the basis of what I normally preach, I would have been preaching about sin and repentance and I may have mentioned homosexuality in that context, but I have no recollection of talking about same sex marriage.

“In any event, my sermon was not intended to offend anyone.”

As a result, he was told he could no longer preach at services in the chapel, but he could continue to lead the worship.

Rev Trayhorn then told how on May 31, 2014, he once again led the worship in the prison chapel with an outside minister, who was there to preach to the inmates.

He said: “I was led to share, during worship, verses from the Bible and some thoughts about repentance from sin. What I said was not directed at any particular group of people.”

He said that before quoting the Bible verses, he told the gathering of inmates that he himself was the worst sinner he knew, but that God had dealt with his life.

“I then quoted some Bible verses from the New Testament, which talked about drunkenness, sex outside of marriage and thieving, as well as homosexuality.”

He said he had taught that day from the “well known Bible passage 1 Corinthians Chapter 6 Verses 9-11”.

Rev Trayhorn said he finished by telling inmates “You may want to complain about this, but this is the word of God, God loves you and wants to forgive you”.

He then told the hearing “I may have remembered the warning that I had in April when I was told to be careful about what I preached.”

He said no-one had come up to him to complain after the service. He said it was only later that he heard a gay prisoner had complained and was upset about what he had said at the service. He said he was also made aware that there was “some sort of campaign” to remove him from taking part in chapel services, which had been instigated by homosexual prisoners at the jail.

Rev Trayhorn is bringing his claim for constructive unfair dismissal against the Secretary of State for Justice.

Barrister Jennifer Gray, who represents the Secretary of State for Justice, put it to him that he had been preaching that day.

Rev Trayhorn said he had not been preaching, but had been “sharing”. He went on: “No, this whole exchange took place in less than a minute. It was sharing. It was part of leading the worship.”

He said he was subjected to an oral warning and told he would no longer be able to volunteer at chapel services

Rev Trayhorn said complaints were also made about his gardening work at the jail. He said a fellow employee also made a complaint against him, which was untrue, that he had been reciting Bible passages to prisoners while working in the garden.

He said in August 2014 he received a letter inviting him to a review meeting, which explained that he was going to be investigated for poor work performance.

He said he didn’t attend the meeting because he was off sick with stress.

The court heard he eventually resigned from Littlehey Prison in November 2014.

The case continues.