In the first week of October 2008 much of the British press reported on the tale of the Church of England clergyman who was arguing that gay men should be forced to have sodomy warnings tattooed on their backsides.
The clergyman in question was the Reverend Dr Peter Mullen, who was the rector of both St Michael's Cornhill and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate within the City of London. The former described itself as being "traditional Church of England" as it still uses the King James Bible and the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer in its services, whilst the latter merely asserted its claim to being the "largest church in the City of London" although it also had a claim to fame as the last resting place of Captain John Smith, the first Governor of the state of Virginia. It also turned out that the Reverend Mullen was the Chaplain to the Stock Exchange. Which was no doubt news to many people, who didn't realise that the London Stock Exchange had a chaplain, although no doubt there were many in the Square Mile who would have been grateful for any crumbs of comfort in these troubled times. (It also transpired that he was the honorary chaplain to the Freedom Association, which meant little other than it indicated where the Reverend Mullen's political sympathies might lie.)
It turned out that the Reverend Mullen was in the habit of occasionally posting his thoughts on his own blog, and had first raised the idea of the 'sodomy warning tattoo' back on the 19th June 2008. Having expressed his view that the "AIDS pandemic was originally caused by promiscuous homosexual behaviour", the Reverend Mullen went on to say was that it was therefore "time that religious believers began to recommend specific utilitarian discouragements of homosexual practices after the style of warnings on cigarette packets: Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS." For good measure the good Reverend also offered the opinion that "obscene 'gay pride' parades and carnivals should be banned" on the grounds that they gave rise to "passive corruption, comparable to passive smoking" and that "young people forced to witness these excrescences are corrupted by them".
These remarks were in fact inspired by the recent controversy regarding the actions of the Reverend Martin Dudley, the rector of St Bartholomew the Great, which was also to be found in the City of London. It was a few days earlier that the Reverend Dudley had conducted a service of blessing for two homosexual men who had earlier registered their civil partnership shortly before the ceremony. In itself this was contrary to the guidelines issued by the Church of England which did not permit the formal blessings of gay relationships, whilst the "language and grandeur of the service" adopted by the Reverend Dudley was seen as being both highly provocative and blasphemous. Even more 'scandalous' was the fact that the two homosexual men in question were the Reverend Peter Cowell and Reverend Dr David Lord.
It was this 'outrageous' occurrence which had early inspired the Reverend Mullen to exercise his poetic talents in a verse entitled 'Gay wedding at St Bartholomew's EC1', which he posted on his blog on the 18th June and concluded with the couplet;
I'm C of E and PC so don't think it odd of me
To offer a licence and blessing for sodomy
He then however, felt obliged to return to the subject on the following day, having been apparently annoyed at some remarks that The Times columnist Matthew Parris had to say on the subject.
As it was no one took a great deal of notice of the Reverend Mullen's suggestions regarding the tattooing of health warnings on homosexuals or indeed his lyrical musings on the subject. Until that is, the Evening Standard ran a story under the headline 'Chaplain: Gay men should have sodomy warning tattoos' on the 6th October 2008.
The Standard drew the matter to the attention of the Right Reverend Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, and the diocese duly issued a formal statement in which it recognised that "the content" of the text referred to was "highly offensive" and was also "in no way reflective of the views of the Diocese of London", whilst a "source" added that the Mullen's comments were "being looked at internally within the Diocese" and that he faced "disciplinary procedures". As far as the Reverend Mullen was concerned he claimed that he had merely written some "satirical things" which were "of the tradition of English satire", and that he had "nothing against homosexuals" since many of his "dear friends" were "of that persuasion", although he did disapprove of the "militant preaching of homosexuality".
The story in the Standard was soon reproduced in many other newspapers both in Britain and abroad, and attracted much comment, as well as the usual calls for the Reverend Mullen's resignation. But oddly enough there was no explanation as to what had prompted the Evening Standard to actually run the story some four months after the Reverend Mullen had first posted his remarks, whilst it was clear that the he had received some kind of forewarning of the impending media interest, as visitors to his blog at http://petermullen.typepad.com were greeted with the message "This site closing temporarily. Closing for now." which was dated "October 03, 2008", some three days before the Standard story was published.
It must be said that the Reverend Mullen was, as they say, no stranger to controversy, as he had earlier attracted some attention as a result of the remarks he made during the sermon he preached at the City New Year Service held at St. Michael's Cornhill on the 11th January 2008, in which he likened the Archbishop of Canterbury to a "wraith-like political druid on his way to another synod debate on the pagan fantasy of global warming".
Indeed global warming appeared to be one of the Reverend's bête noires as writing in his blog on the 17th September 2007 he had denounced the whole idea as a "politically-motivated myth put forward by the anti-capitalist brigade, associated nihilists who want to drag us back to the stone age: people who actually hate humanity and dress up their malignity in phoney idealism!" A week or so earlier on the 9th September he was to be found complaining about the lack of jokes about Islam, since its "adherents certainly lend themselves to ridicule: sticking their arses in the air five times a day. How about a few little choruses: "Randy Muslims when they die/Find seventy virgins in the sky". Whilst on the 25th July 2007 he felt obliged to note that while a number of his fellow clergy were claiming that the recent floods were "God's punishment for our disordered sex lives", he rather felt that the Almighty had directed the deluge towards the wrong geographical area and that "God's aim seems to have faltered rather since Sodom".
With particular regard to his witticism regarding the Supreme Being's faltering aim it would certainly appear that it was the Reverend Mullen's intention to be humorous. However whilst it might have been his ambition to become the Auberon Waugh of the pulpit, the trouble was that he couldn't escape the temptation to preach at the same time, and it was therefore often difficult to differentiate between the two. Thus whilst it was possible to appreciate the satirical intent of his suggestion of tattoos warning of the health dangers of sodomy, considered in the overall context of his piece, it was also easy to see many might have taken his remarks at face value.
It later turned out that the Reverend Mullen was also employed as a columnist for the Darlington based Northern Echo in addition to his various ecclesiatical appointments. On the 14th October 2008 he took the opportunity to devote his column to the subject of 'Why I was wrong' and duly expressed his regret for "making some off-colour jokes about homosexuals", although he also continued to express his opposition to the "corrupting influence of the promotional parades of homosexuality by such as Gay Pride demonstrations" which "lewdly promoted homosexuality as if it were merely part of the entertainments industry".
He did however make reference to the remarks made by Sandy Toksvig on BBC Radio Four's The News Quiz, to the effect that "Peter Mullen is Chaplain to the Stock Exchange – so he must know what it feels like to be completely buggered", and had the good grace to admit that it was "a funnier joke than the remarks I told and a lot better natured" .
Various posts under the headings of, Gay wedding at St Bartholomew's, Matthew Parris, global hot air, Ramadan calendars, The floods as God's punishment, made by Peter Mullen on his blog at http://petermullen.typepad.com/ that were retained in the Google cache at the time of writing.
- Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Male priests marry in Anglican church's first gay 'wedding', 15 Jun 2008
- Robert Mendick and Simon Kirby, Chaplain: Gay men should have sodomy warning tattoos, Evening Standard, 6.10.08
- Riazat Butt, Vicar could be disciplined for blog slurs against gays and Muslims, The Guardian, October 06 2008
- Ruth Gledhill, Chaplain's blog calls for homosexuals to be tattooed, The Times, October 7 2008
- Peter Mullen, Why I was wrong, Northern Echo, 14th October 2008
- The Parish Church of St. Michael's Cornhill in the City of London
- St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate