Press Release

Christian lecturer begins giving evidence at Employment Tribunal

29 May 2024         Issued by: Christian Concern

Today in Sheffield, Dr Aaron Edwards, a lecturer and father of six, sacked by a Methodist Bible College for one tweet on human sexuality, has begun giving evidence.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Dr Edwards has taken legal action against Cliff College, an evangelical Bible college in Derbyshire, on the grounds of harassment, discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Giving evidence at Sheffield Crown Court before Employment Judge Jim Shepherd, Dr Edwards has spoken of how his sacking and “public ostracisation” by Cliff College led to: “life altering consequences and irreparable damage to my career and my family.”

He has also spoken of how in the wake of the Twitter storm and dismissal he had to go to hospital with ‘heart abnormalities’ due to the stress caused.

His case reflects a growing issue in the Church, and society in general, that has led to the public expression of conservative Biblical beliefs on human sexuality being stamped out, often with severe consequences.

The story also profoundly gets to the heart of the split between conservative evangelicals and liberals in the Methodist Church and the Church of England (CofE) on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Beginning giving evidence, Dr Edwards provided context to his role at Cliff College and the tweet which led to his sacking for misconduct in March 2023:

“At Cliff College I taught on a wide variety of courses on both the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes”, he said. “My primary area of research has been in theology and practice of preaching, and its implications for public expressions of the Christian faith in the midst of a numerically declining church and an increasingly secular post-Christendom society.”

Teaching at the college for seven years with consistent high performance, Dr Edwards taught about the importance of street preaching, but also recognised that for many Christians, street preaching is an ‘unlikely possibility’. Therefore, he turned to social media as “the new “marketplace” of ideas equivalent to the spaces which early Christians preached radical yet enculturated messages.”

He said: “I believe the wording of my tweet on 19 February 2023 is an expression of this concept in action: proclaiming a radical yet enculturated truth to the professing Church in the midst of a secular and/or religiously pluralistic public space.”

National debates on same-sex marriage led to tweet

Dr Edwards described how in 2019 there were increasing and extensive debates around the potential introduction of same-sex marriage to the Methodist Church. He said that the Cliff College Principal was playing a significant role as the only “evangelical” voice to the debate in helping to shape of the Church’s approach to the issue.

Dr Edwards said that during this time as a faculty he made it clear that “if the college did not make a clear stance that showed the priority of the traditional evangelical view, the repute of the college among its primary supporters would suffer.”

Looking on at all the subsequent debates on the issue of same-sex marriage, Dr Edwards observed that the Methodist Conferences was “overwhelmingly in favour of changing doctrine”, and traditional evangelical voices against such a move were ineffective because of the “emotive nature of the debates.”

Dr Edwards gave an example of how the deep contradictions in the Methodist Church’s approach to these issues were impacting the culture at Cliff College.

In September 2019, Dr Edwards gave a sermon in the Cliff College chapel on sexual sin in the Book of Amos. The sermon gave a very similar message to that which he shared in the Tweet that led to his sacking. There was lots of positive feedback, however, the college removed the sermon from online following one complaint and because of ‘optics’ in light of the ongoing debates. No disciplinary action was taken against Dr Edwards at the time.

Dr Edwards said that the incident demonstrated “the obvious contradiction at the heart of the college’s vision and ethos. It was attempting to live out two impossibly contradictory convictions simultaneously: allowing professing Christians who are against homosexuality to be free to speak their view, and allowing professing Christians who are for homosexuality to be free to speak their view, without substantially offending or silencing either party.”

During and following the pandemic, Dr Edwards became more and more active on social media and on podcasts. He said he began to notice:

“Even the conservative leaders and churches who did not affirm same-sex marriage were withholding from challenging it publicly, even when it came into the evangelical Church. Because evangelicals are keen to preach the gospel in a ‘winsome’ manner, the posture had become exclusively geared towards apologies for what might be perceived as homophobia and hurt caused to the LGBT community.

“Whilst I have always affirmed that one should not show hatred to any person, it was clear to me that many of these apologies were not coming from hateful or unfairly discriminatory churches but from those who had already made great efforts over several decades to ensure they were not treating homosexuals unfairly.”

The Tweet

In January 2023, a month before the Twitter storm that led to his sacking, there were numerous debates in light of the Church of England’s discussions over ‘same-sex blessings’ and national media coverage.

On the morning of February 19, Dr Edwards had scheduled ‘the Tweet’, and before going to church had not noticed anything unusual on his account in response to it.

The tweet 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.”

By the time he returned from church there were 25,000 views on the post and he already saw that Cliff College had released a statement saying the tweet was “inappropriate” and “unacceptable.”

Dr Edwards said he found this surprising because “the vision and ethos of the college is professedly evangelical, and my tweet was not out of sync with evangelical doctrine.”

‘College publicly ostracised me’

The college had made no attempt to speak to Dr Edwards before releasing the statement.

He said: “I believe the college’s decision to denounce my tweet the way they did was effectively to denounce me. Whilst I continued to support the college publicly in subsequent Tweet replies amidst the backlash I had received online, the college offered no public support to me whatsoever and effectively sided with those harassing and slandering me as homophobic and hateful (even though the college says they did not interpret my tweet as homophobic).”

Dr Edwards was also surprised when he was informed of his suspension and was told that Dr Andrew Stobart, a colleague with whom he had a very recent and unresolved argument, would be undertaking an ‘impartial’ investigation into what had happened.

The investigative report that followed, Dr Edwards believed was “extremely imbalanced to the extent that it appears there was prejudice in the way the evidence was investigated and presented.”

“Whilst I did nothing whatsoever to directly malign the College”, Dr Edwards said, “the College responded by publicly ostracising me by the way they responded to my Tweet, and this will have significant, negative, and ongoing consequences for my life and career as an academic.”

“By these actions in disassociating from me the way it did, the College not only brought me into disrepute but unintentionally brought itself into disrepute.”

‘Students not unsafe in my classroom’

Dr Edwards added that: “The report incorrectly claims that students have grounds to feel unsafe in my classroom, would feel discriminated against, and that the expression of my Tweet could not be reasonably separated from my teaching content.

“The Tweet alone does not provide reasonable grounds that an LGBT+ student would have cause to feel unsafe in my classroom. Moreover, merely holding and sharing a sincerely held belief is not synonymous with discrimination. I taught LGBT+ identifying students every year for seven years and have never had an accusation like that.”

Detailing some of the anonymous feedback he had received from students during his seven years at the college to demonstrate that students had always been allowed to express their views, one student, for example, had said: “While I disagree profoundly with Aaron on a number of points, I was never made to feel that I couldn’t express a contrary opinion.”

Another student had said Dr Edwards: “listens well to students and allows space for genuine conversation. He creates an enjoyable and stimulating teaching environment.”

“The language of my Tweet is the expression of my religious view” Edwards added, “and one shared (both in content and expression) by the majority of the global evangelical church.”

“Life altering consequences and irreparable damage to my career”

Concluding his evidence, Dr Edwards stated that he believed how he was treated by the college not only breached his religious freedom but also his academic freedom.

He said that he had received no warning that the expression of his beliefs, which he had been expressing for some time, could lead to him being sacked.

He said: The reactions against what I Tweeted have been severe, as has the College’s action against me. It will have life-altering consequences for me and my family as a result. As I stated at the disciplinary hearing, these consequences extend not only to the loss of my job, and to my physical and mental health, but also to the significant and possibly irreparable damage to my academic career henceforth.

“There is now a strong possibility that many potential employer institutions may automatically believe me to be homophobic based upon the public reactions to my Tweet. This was exacerbated by the College’s public responses to those aggressive and defamatory reactions, the College’s unwillingness to defend me against the charges of homophobia, and in the final outcome of the dismissal for misconduct.”

He added that: “I have been dismissed for expressing a view that the Methodist Church said was possible to hold”, and: “I believe the charge of misconduct made against me by the College is grossly unfair, discriminatory, suppressive of my legitimate personal religious and academic freedom in my role as a missiological and homiletical lecturer at a professedly evangelical Bible College.”

Cardiac symptoms

Speaking of the impact on him since the incident, he said: “Given that I had been harassed by many people online, was publicly unsupported by the college, leading to being grossly misunderstood and/or slandered by many people who knew me personally not to be a hateful person (including colleagues and students), I succumbed to significant stress during the suspension period (a time during which I was not allowed to communicate with any fellow staff or students).

“This culminated in significant cardiac symptoms for which my GP referred me directly to hospital, where I had a cardiology scan which showed heart abnormalities, after which I was referred to A&E.”

Concluding his evidence, Dr Edwards said: “To cause an institution ‘disrepute’ (something I not only did not intend but went to significant lengths to avoid happening and do not believe did happen) now sits on my CV for life.

“At a time in which Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity quotas remain significant for all existing universities and validated colleges, it is already systemically difficult for a heterosexual white male with traditional Christian beliefs on morality to get an academic post. I believe the public expression of my beliefs is academically defensible, but many institutions will likely be unable to look past the controversy of being dismissed as a result.”

“Collapse in confidence in biblical truth”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Aaron was sacked because he challenged the church to uphold God’s teaching on human sexuality.

“Contending for that truth publicly meant that he lost the job that he was so good at, as well as his family’s home.

“It is deeply saddening to see a once renowned Bible college losing its way by no longer upholding the truth about marriage. What message does Aaron’s sacking send to the next generation of leaders and pastors, and the future of Christian witness.

“This case exposes a collapse in confidence in biblical truth in one of the very places where the next generation of Christian leaders is being trained.

“Our churches, and our society, desperately need courageous leaders. Aaron was committed to raising faithful preachers and pastors for the church. We need more lecturers and trainers like Aaron, not less, to build-up the next generation of Christian leaders to be unashamed of the gospel.”

The hearing continues…


Notes to editors: 

Video interview with Dr Edwards:

Image of Dr Aaron Edwards:

Contradictory definitions of marriage in the Methodist Church

Following the vote at Conference in 2021, the Methodist church holds two contradictory definitions of marriage: “marriage can only be between a man and a woman” and the other that “marriage can be between any two people”

The current Methodist Standing Orders state our belief, “that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.”

The current Methodist Standing Orders state our belief, “that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.” 

“The Methodist Church believes that marriage is given by God to be a particular channel of God’s grace, and that it is in accord with God’s purposes when a marriage is a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of two people who freely enter it. Within the Methodist Church this is understood in two ways: that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; that marriage can be between any two people. The Methodist Church affirms both understandings and makes provision in its Standing Orders for them.”

For more information and for interview requests, please contact / 07974304620 or Andrea Williams 07712 591164

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