Christian theologian takes college to court over sacking

Dr Aaron Edwards, 37, worked for Cliff College for seven years prior to his dismissal.(Photo: The Christian Legal Centre)

A Christian theologian is launching legal action against Cliff College, a Methodist institution in Derbyshire, alleging that he was sacked and threatened with a referral to the government's anti-terrorism programme because of his tweets on human sexuality. 

Cliff College has continued to deny that it threatened Dr Aaron Edwards with a referral to Prevent over his tweets, which were posted after the Church of England's February vote in support of same-sex blessings.

In his posts, Dr Edwards, 37, said, "Homosexuality is invading the Church. Evangelicals no longer see the severity of this [because] 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."

Dr Edwards was suspended while an investigation was undertaken by the college. He alleges that during a subsequent hearing on 27 February he was told that the college was considering referring him to Prevent and asked what he would do if a same-sex attracted student asked him to pray for them about their sexuality.

He was sacked in March after refusing to take the tweets down. At the time, the college said that the posts breached its social media policy and that the language used by Dr Edwards "is inappropriate and unacceptable and does not represent either the views or the ethos of Cliff College". However, college principal, Rev Ashley Cooper, denied threatening to refer him to Prevent.

Dr Edwards is taking legal action claiming that the decision to dismiss him was disproportionate and failed to balance his freedom to express his Christian beliefs. He will also argue that the disciplinary procedure that led to his dismissal lacked "requisite fairness" and had "astonishing" levels of imbalance, exaggeration, and misrepresentation. 

Commenting on his decision to launch legal action, Dr Edwards said that his dismissal had affected his health and caused him "severe physical stress".

"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," he said.

"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.

"The impact on me and my family has been very significant. I have lost many friends as a result, and been slandered by people who do not know all of the details but who now see me as an unkind or hateful person."

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting his case, said: "A Christian theologian working for a Christian Bible college tweeting about the biblical Christian teaching on human sexuality, has been sacked and labelled as a potential 'terrorist.'

"This is an intelligent, learned, respected, father of five children who has been kicked out of a Bible college for expressing views and beliefs shared by millions of Christians across the globe.

"It is saddening and very concerning to see the Methodist Church, and a once renowned Bible college, lose its way by no longer upholding marriage as God defines it, or supporting those who express it."

In a statement responding to the launch of legal action, Cliff College said, "Given the ongoing litigation issued by Dr Edwards, the College does not believe that it is appropriate to comment on the allegations that he or his representatives have raised." 

It added, "The College has not at any point 'labelled' Dr Edwards 'as a potential "terrorist"'."