A theology lecturer has initiated legal proceedings against a Methodist Bible college in England following his dismissal over a tweet concerning sexuality. The case involves issues of free speech and religious expression.
In March, Aaron Edwards, 37, was terminated by Cliff College in Derbyshire for allegedly bringing the institution into “disrepute” through his tweet. He has now filed a lawsuit, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, citing harassment, discrimination and unfair dismissal.
Edwards’ legal team plans to argue that his rights under the European Convention of Human Rights were violated, Christian Concern, whose legal arm is CLC, said in a statement.
The tweet, posted on Feb. 19, read: “Homosexuality is invading the Church. Evangelicals no longer see the severity of this b/c they’re busy apologizing 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 Savior.”
Following the post, Edwards faced online abuse, suspension and a threat of being reported to Prevent, a counter-terrorism program, during the college’s investigation.
Cliff College has attempted to refute claims of threatening Edwards with a counter-terrorism referral, but minutes from the disciplinary hearing suggest otherwise, CLC said.
The hearing also scrutinized Edwards’ approach to praying for same-sex attracted students. He fears that the fallout from this incident could prevent him from working in U.K. higher education again.
In his legal claim, Edwards emphasized the significance of the case for academic and Christian freedoms. “Anyone concerned about academic freedom, Christian freedoms, and free speech should be deeply concerned by what has happened to me,” he said, and described the reaction to his tweet and the treatment by Cliff College and the Methodist Church in Britain as illustrative of the issues his tweet addressed.
CLC Chief Executive Andrea Williams expressed dismay at the situation, highlighting the conflict between traditional Christian teachings on sexuality and contemporary societal values. She noted the Methodist Church’s deviation from its traditional stance on marriage and its implications for freedom of expression within the Church.
This case reflects broader tensions within the Methodist Church in Britain, particularly after its June 2021 decision to permit same-sex marriages in its places of worship.
Edwards insists that his post was not homophobic but a doctrinal statement addressed to Evangelicals. Despite his clarifications, Cliff College requested Edwards to remove the tweet, citing a violation of its social media policy, which he refused, believing it would compromise his conscience.
The college’s response to the tweet included a public statement distancing itself from Edwards’ views. This was followed by a wave of complaints from senior Methodist Church members, expressing concerns about the tweet’s impact on the college’s work and reputation.
During the investigation and disciplinary process, Edwards was suspended and faced questions that suggested an accusation of promoting “conversion therapy.” The principal of Cliff College, the Rev. Ashley Cooper, who supported the 2021 decision to allow same-sex marriages in Methodist churches, led the disciplinary hearing.
Edwards’ case is set for a full employment tribunal hearing in 2024.
The case has garnered support, including a crowdfunding initiative to assist his family and plans to establish a new theological college promoting free speech.
The incident adds to a growing list of cases where individuals face professional repercussions for expressing views on social media that conflict with prevailing attitudes toward LGBT ideology, as seen in several instances also in the U.S.
In January, American video game distributor Limited Run Games terminated one of its employees amid social media backlash over the fact she followed several right-leaning Twitter accounts and made statements deemed by critics as “transphobic.”
In 2020, The Tobias Literary Agency, which has offices in Boston, New York City and Nashville, ousted one of its assistants, Sasha White, from her job for tweeting that transgender-identifying men who say they are women are not biologically female.