A Christian theology lecturer has been sacked and threatened with a counter-terrorism referral by a Methodist bible college for a tweet on human sexuality that went viral.
Dr Aaron Edwards, 37, who is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, was last week sacked for misconduct by Cliff College in Derbyshire for allegedly ‘bringing the college into disrepute’ on social media.
Dr Edwards was threatened with being reported to Prevent the government’s counter-terror watchdog and believes as a result of the sacking he might not be able to work in UK higher education again.
Dr Edwards said : “Anyone concerned about academic freedom, Christian freedoms and free speech should be deeply concerned by what has happened to me.”
In February he posted a tweet which said : “Homosexuality is invading the Church. Evangelicals no longer see the severity of this b/c they’re busy apologising for their apparently barbaric homophobia, whether or not it’s true. This *is* a “Gospel issue”, by the way. If sin is no longer sin, we no longer need a Saviour.”
The tweet sparked a debate that went viral. There were users who posted in support of Dr Edwards and his message, but also many who harassed and abused him.
Dr Edwards insists, and clarified in subsequent tweets, that the post was not ‘homophobic’ and that it was addressed to evangelicals who agree with his message, but feel they can’t say so for fear of backlash.
In 2021 the Methodist Church voted to allow same-sex marriage in places of worship. Dr Edwards, who had worked at Cliff College for seven years, has long argued that free speech for conservative evangelicals would be threatened by the Methodist position on marriage.
Dr Edwards subsequently tweeted: “I expressed the conservative view as a doctrinal issue, re. the implications for sin/the Gospel. It was not an attack on individuals, it was addressed to evangelicals. It seems that holding the view that homosexuality is sinful is only welcome if it remains "unexpressed".”
College bosses, however, asked him to take the tweet down as they believed it ‘contravened the College’s Staff Social Media Policy.’
Dr Edwards refused as he believed doing so would go against his conscience and be an admittance that he had intended to be deliberately provocative when the tweet was an expression of a deeply held belief which he believed was necessary to express.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Cliff College wrote : “We have become aware that one of our lecturers posted some comments on this platform this morning regarding human sexuality. The language used is inappropriate and unacceptable and does not represent either the views or the ethos of Cliff College.”
Dr Edwards was suspended but following a disciplinary hearing was sacked.
In his appeal, Dr Edwards argued that the decision to dismiss him was disproportionate and failed to balance his freedom to express his Christian beliefs.
Dr Edwards said: “The tweet was not defamatory; it was not an attack on any colleague or individual; it was not abusive; and it was not an extremist religious view. It was addressed to evangelicals as a point of doctrine, and it has been misunderstood by many who wish to cause personal and institutional trouble for those who express that view.
“What has happened to me demonstrates that conservative biblical views on human sexuality are no longer ‘tolerated’ in the Methodist church in the UK. Rather it is clear that those beliefs are to be silenced and stamped out.
“It seems the college is a safe place for those who are pro LGBTQ+, but not for conservative evangelicals. What has happened exposes that living with contradictory convictions is not possible for an evangelical Christian.
“Anyone concerned about academic freedom, Christian freedoms and free speech should be deeply concerned by what has happened to me.”
Christian Concern says that increasingly under a banner of ‘tolerance’ and ‘kindness’, conservative evangelical Christians, especially in the Methodist Church and Church of England (CofE), are unable to hold or express biblical teaching, which does not affirm LGBT ideology, without fear of reprisals.
Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre Andrea Williams said :
"This story sets a dark precedent for the Methodist Church going forward and also serves as a warning to the Church of England.”
Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, said: “Expressing orthodox Christian beliefs should not be grounds for dismissal from a purportedly Christian organisation. I look forward to Alastair Campbell defending Aaron Edwards’ right to free speech, just as he did Gary Lineker’s.
“Defending Free Speech means defending the right of people to express views you do not agree with, not just those you agree with.”
A spokesman for Cliff College said: “As internal processes remain ongoing, we are unable to respond to specific issues.
“As a Methodist institution, Cliff College is committed to being a safe and hospitable place where those with differing convictions are welcomed and encouraged to live and learn together as faithful disciples of Christ.”