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Anger as 'anti-gay' bishop leads carol service for MPs

Leading Anglican who fought ordination of gay ministers to host annual Whitehall event
  • @tompeck

Dozens of government ministers and thousands of civil servants will attend the Whitehall Carol Service at Westminster Abbey this Christmas.

As well as readings from Cabinet members, they will also hear from the Right Reverend Sandy Millar, who is leading the service, a man who has previously referred to a "speciously sophisticated manifestation of evil" that threatens the church, widely interpreted as the acceptance of homosexual ministers.

Bishop Millar, a now retired Anglican bishop, is best known for his time as Vicar at the Holy Trinity Brompton, where the Alpha Course, a 10-week introduction to Christianity, began. It is now taught all over the world.

The gay Labour MP Chris Bryant criticised the decision to let him lead the service. "It's a shame that someone with such narrow views should be leading the carol service this year," he said. "I respect him, he's entitled to have his own views but it's an odd choice. This sort of event is to bring people together not create divisions. It's depressing that so much of the church of England is obsessed with homosexuality. Jesus, that we aware of, never said a word about the matter."

Bishop Millar made his famous remarks in 2007 to a congregation at Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia. The church was one of 11 to vote to leave the Episcopal Church in protracted arguments that followed the ordination of an openly gay bishop. Conservative congregations at the time claimed the church had abandoned traditional teachings, not just on homosexuality but other theological issues.

"I don't need to remind you that there is a war on for the very soul of the Church," he told them. "But your courage, if I may say this, humbly, and your steadfastness in the face of a new and speciously sophisticated manifestation of evil has won you many admirers all over the world."

The Whitehall Carol Service is organised by Christians in Government, a voluntary network of civil servants. Neither the group nor the service receive taxpayer funding. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, both gave readings last year, as did Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary.

A Christians in Government spokesperson defended the decision: "Sandy Millar is know to us as a loving, saintly pastor who welcomes all in church regardless of sexual orientation or any other irrelevant factor," he said.

Bishop Millar, 71, declined to comment on the matter when contacted by The Independent.