Increasingly, under the 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.
A Christian theology lecturer with five young children 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, interrogated on how he would pray for same-sex attracted students who approach him for prayer, and believes as a result of the sacking and subsequent controversy that he might not be able to work in UK higher education again.
Dr Edwards has said that: “Anyone concerned about academic freedom, Christian freedoms and free speech should be deeply concerned by what has happened to me.”
The story is a microcosm of the fall out in the Methodist Church in Britain following a June 2021 decision by its governing body to allow same-sex marriages in places of worship.
The Methodist Church globally has traditionally understood that marriage is the lifelong union of one man, one woman, to the exclusion of all others, and the only appropriate context for sexual intimacy.
Since the vote, however, Methodist Church leaders and members have found themselves in the impossible position of being compelled to affirm same-sex marriage while also continuing to teach the biblical belief that homosexual practice is sinful.
Increasingly, under the 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.
This has included being labelled ‘homophobic’, being reported as safeguarding risks, and even being referred to the government’s Counter-Terrorism watchdog, Prevent, for holding allegedly ‘extreme’ views.
Cliff College, where Dr Edwards has worked for seven years without any disciplinary issues or warnings, was founded in 1883 and describes itself as a global centre for evangelism and missiology.
On its website it says that it is: “grounded in the authority of Scripture… We proclaim the Gospel and invite everyone to experience the life-changing transformation of a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Dr Edwards has long argued that free speech for conservative evangelicals would be threatened by the Methodist position on marriage. Cliff College adopted this position whilst also maintaining its vision statement to uphold ‘a distinctly evangelical voice’ to Methodist churches both in Britain and across the world, where the conservative view on marriage is the majority.
In light of the recent Church of England concessions on blessings for same-sex unions and the subsequent response from global Anglican dioceses breaking communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Edwards believed this to be a key moment for the evangelical voice to be heard.
On 19 February 2023, Dr Edwards posted: “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.
Furthermore, he added that the aggressive response to the tweet illustrated the problem it addressed.
He subsequently tweeted: “That *is* the conservative view. The acceptance of homosexuality as “not sinful” *is* an invasion upon the Church, doctrinally. This is not controversial. The acceptance is controversial. Most of the global Church would agree. It is not homophobic to declare homosexuality sinful.”
He added that: “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, were soon made aware of the post and contacted Dr Edwards asking him to take the tweet down as they believed it ‘contravened the College’s Staff Social Media Policy.’