A U.K.-based charity apologized “unreservedly” to a Christian chaplain after he fought back when he was threatened with “consequences” and “re-training” if he did not stop wearing a small, half-inch gold cross pin.
Derek Timms, a 73-year-old former businessman who became a chaplain, received the apology from the Solihull, England, branch of Marie Curie, a charitable organization that provides care and support to terminal patients and their families, according to the London-based Christian Legal Centre (CLC).
After the Solihull branch changed the job titles of its chaplains to “spiritual advisors” as part of a new “interfaith” approach, the Methodist minister who headed the program raised Timms’ tiny cross pin as an issue in September, according to the CLC, which represented Timms.
The minister reportedly told Timms she was “surprised” that he would wear a cross and that he should stop doing so to avoid presenting potential “barriers” by offending someone.
“In line with the ethos of hospice and healthcare chaplaincy, no religious symbols should be worn by those engaged in spiritual care,” read the email to Timms. “We need to be there for people of all faiths and none. Whilst I [recognized] you shared a story about one patient liking the cross you wore, it can create a barrier to others. The idea is that we should be appear [sic] neutral and that enables a spiritual encounter that is about what the person we are visiting needs.”
Timms wears the cross not only as a symbol of his Christian faith but also in memory of his late wife, who died earlier this year, according to the CLC. He also wears a discreet cross necklace containing some of her ashes.
Timms responded to the email by maintaining that his cross pin indicates he is a Christian chaplain, and wondered whether the charity would demand a Sikh stop wearing a turban or a Muslim stop wearing a burka.
“My faith helps me to help the patients and staff whether they have faith or not,” he replied.
Timms was subsequently summoned to an in-person meeting on Sept. 20 with the Methodist minister to decide “if you are suitable to continue providing spiritual care for us here.” He remained adamant during the meeting that he had done nothing wrong, illegal or in violation of the charity’s policies, but was reportedly told that he might require some “re-training” because of his refusal to comply.
Declining a “compromise” that would have him hide his cross pin in his pocket unless he were with a Christian patient, Timms was informed that he would no longer be able to work at Marie Curie if he continued to disregard the Methodist minister’s demand.
With the aid of the CLC, Timms later fired off a letter to Marie Curie explaining how the controversy over his cross pin had led to “a crisis of conscience,” given that he believes he has “serious and cogent reasons for wearing it.”
“I have searched the Marie Curie Solihull website, policy documents, the NHS website and nowhere can I find where there is a written policy which prohibits the wearing of crosses in my specific situation or why it is prohibited,” he wrote.
Timms’ letter ended up at Marie Curie’s regional head office, which earlier this month wrote in response: “I can confirm that currently we have neither an [organizational] or uniform policy that would support our recent request to remove your cross while supporting patients and families in the Hospice. I [apologize] unreservedly for the distress that we have caused.”
Timms expressed appreciation for the apology, but has since determined that his work as a chaplain “now lies elsewhere.”
“I was shocked and hurt by how I was treated,” he said in a statement. “There was and is no need to suppress the symbol of the cross and in so doing send a message that the Christian faith needs to be [neutralized] or removed entirely from a chaplaincy front line service.”
“Interfaith ideology is becoming so firmly embedded throughout the Christian faith that it is essentially [canceling] itself,” he added.
Andrea Williams, executive director of the CLC, said Timms “showed great courage by refusing to cave into the significant pressure to remove what mattered so much to him.”
Earlier this year, an employment tribunal judge in the U.K. ruled in favor of Mary Onuoha, a Christian nurse who said she was forced into resigning from her job at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust in London after being harassed over her cross necklace for years.
The judge ruled that her human rights had been violated and that her treatment over her cross necklace had created a “humiliating, hostile and threatening environment.”
Onuoha, who grew up in Nigeria and worked for Croydon University Hospital for nearly 20 years after immigrating to the U.K. in 1988, said in a statement that the controversy over her necklace “has always been an attack on my faith.”
Like Timms, Onuoha had also been provided a compromise to keep her cross necklace hidden, which she refused.
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