Tearfund president accused of double standards over religious discrimination

By staff writers
January 9, 2008

Charges of 'double standards' have been levelled at evangelical aid agency Tearfund and its President, theologian and Thought for the Day broadcaster Elaine Storkey, over alleged religious discrimination.

The Tearfund president hit the headlines this week, when Dr Storkey announced she was suing the Bishop of Liverpool for religious discrimination.

It followed a row at Oxford theological college Wycliffe Hall, which has pitched conservative evangelical members of the church against more 'open' ones.

Storkey claims that conditions worsened at Wycliffe Hall with the appointment in 2005 of Dr Turnbull as the new principal. Six members of staff resigned from the college, saying that it was being taken down a conservative evangelical path.

The president of the college is the Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Rev James Jones, who in a curious twist, is also vice-president of evangelical aid agency Tearfund of which Elaine Storkey is President.

At an employment tribunal this week Storkey accepted £20,000 from Wycliffe Hall after the college authorities acknowledged she had been unfairly dismissed. She is also pressing ahead with a claim of religious discrimination against the Rt Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, who is president of Wycliffe.

But now the alleged religious discrimination of the aid agency Tearfund, of which Elaine Storkey is President and the Bishop of Liverpool is vice-president, is being highlighted by gay Christians.

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement say that whilst Storkey is pursuing her case of religious discrimination, alleging that she has suffered at the hands of other evangelicals because of her particular brand of evangelicalism, the aid agency she is President of has been pursuing its own religious discrimination for years.

The Revd Richard Kirker, Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said: “We first became aware of the crisis at Wycliffe Hall when there were accusations from former staff members and students of homophobic bullying at the college following reports that it had been 'captured' by ultra conservative Evangelicals led by Turnbull. The Bishop of Liverpool...as chair of the college’s Council has supported Turnbull’s unlawful actions and it is good to see him personally held to account in this legal action.

“Bishop Jones’ support for the behaviour and theological position declared by Turnbull calls his judgment into serious question at many levels. The deepening scandal surrounding Wycliffe is entirely the responsibility of Bishop Jones – he must consider his position both as chair of the council and as a bishop of the Church.

"It is interesting, if not a little paradoxical, to see Dr Storkey pursuing this case on the grounds of religious discrimination. We hope it is a sign of greater flexibility at, for instance, development agency Tearfund where she is UK President. Tearfund makes it clear that only committed Evangelical Christians may apply for any job.

"We are told that all applicants must subscribe to a rather detailed 'statement of faith' a statement which we imagine Dr Turnbull would find insufficient.

"We suspect that Tearfund’s complex and from our point of view unacceptable employment policy, like that of many homophobic 'Christian' organisations, has been recently redrafted to find a dubious way around recent legislation making it illegal to discriminate against lesbian and gay people including self-affirming lesbian and gay Christians. In this context it is a policy that may well turn around and bite Dr Storkey herself. To be honest – as much as we sympathise with the fact she was undoubtedly bullied and dismissed unnecessarily by some very nasty people - we hope it does!”

“Does Tearfund welcome applicants who are openly lesbian or gay Christians as much as she expects Wycliffe Hall to accept her on her own terms? Has she used her position as President of this Christian charity to make its employment policy any less unacceptable than Wycliffe Hall’s? We fear not.”

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