Derrick Sherwin Bailey was an English Christian theologian born at Alcester in Warwickshire, England on June 30, 1910. Bailey is now best known for his book Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (1955), though his work on homosexuality took up a relatively brief period in his life. Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition aimed to clarify and accurately present the history of Christian thought regarding homosexuality, from the Bible through the Middle Ages. It was one of the first works in English to revise Christian theological condemnations of homosexuality.
Bailey spent his early adult life working in the insurance industry; it was not until he was 30 that he began his theological education at the Lincoln Theological College. He was one of few married ordinands at the time and was surprised at the lack of education on marriage and sexuality they received in seminary. He then served as an Anglican chaplain at Edinburgh University from 1944 - 1951. It was during this time he completed a PhD on the history of marriage in the English reformation, Thomas Becon and the Reformation of the Church in England. Bailey’s next position took him to the Church of England Moral Welfare Council (MWC), where he studied sexuality and marriage in more detail and developed training for clergy in sex and marriage education.
Bailey had a predominantly pastoral approach towards homosexual persons; he viewed homosexuals as suffering from “inversion,” a psychological affliction, deserving of pity and compassion. Because he viewed homosexuality as a mental illness, Bailey advocated for church and law reform that was not punitive — particularly because the legal ramifications were leading to blackmail of and suicide by people who had committed homosexual acts.
Bailey’s work with The Moral Welfare Council generated a report, The Problem of Homosexuality, in 1954, and this report contributed to the formation of the Wolfenden Committee inquiry into homosexuality and prostitution. His monograph, Homosexuality and the Western Tradition (1955), was submitted as evidence to the Wolfenden Committee “in which he argued that some Christian teaching against homosexuality had been based on mistranslation or selective reading of scripture.” Ultimately, he concluded that while homosexual acts may be sinful, the Church had wrought damage in its condemnation of people who had committed such acts. This was a progressive view for the time of the book’s publication. Bailey traveled throughout England in the later half of the 1950s as an expert speaker on marriage and sexual ethics.
By 1959, Bailey was ready for a change of pace and took a position as the rector in Lydon, Rutland, and in 1962 he became a canon residentiary of Wells Cathedral. His professional life was thereafter more focused on the cathedral’s life and history, and he wrote little more regarding homosexuality.
Bailey’s work on the history and theology of marriage and sexuality was reflected in a rich family life. He married twice in his lifetime. He and his first wife Philippa had three children and were married until her death in 1964. Bailey remarried to Morag MacDonald in 1966 and they remained married until his death in 1984.
D.S. Bailey’s influence continued in historian and theologian John Boswell’s work on the history of homosexuality and Christian religion. Boswell’s work built on Bailey’s revision of religious condemnation of homosexuality to explore social tolerance of homosexuality in Christian history, including same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe.
(This biographical statement written by Kristen Whitson with information from Matthew Grimley, “Derrick Sherwin Bailey (1910 - 1984),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, October 4, 2012 and from Dr. Timothy Jones.)
Biography Date: July 2020
Ally | Author/editor | Theology | United Kingdom | Church of England (Anglican)