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Artillery Row

The right not to read the room

Why my college fired me and why I am suing

I only joined Twitter two years ago. Previously I had done what many academic lecturers do: stay away from the circus. But when the circus starts to set itself up in the town square, in the schools, universities, parliaments, and churches, it becomes clear that to ignore what is happening there is to ignore what is happening everywhere. 

I realised that there are things that needed to be said which are not being said, and that the reason such things were not being said was not the result of prudence but of cowardice. We live at a time in which the expression of Christian beliefs is actively thwarted. Christian morality, once the native flower of the garden soil, is now more like the inconvenient weed hindering the new plans to convert the garden into a concrete multi-storey car park. As the West continues to chop away its religious roots, more is getting lost than many have yet realised.

In early 2023, amid debates around the CofE’s acceptance of same-sex blessings, I saw how deeply this opposition to basic Christian belief had embedded itself within the heart of the Church. Church leaders were speaking as though this new idea to change God’s apparently misunderstood opinion on homosexuality, was now inevitable. The rest of us just needed to read the room and get over it.

Even many who disagreed seemed to have lost their voice among the endless cycle of theatrical apologies for whatever the latest academic definition of verbal harm that had been invented. One should always apologise for wrongdoing, but it now seemed as though historic Christian belief was itself the wrongdoing. Lest we forget, Christianity did not win the West by apologising for its views but by proclaiming, defending, and living them out as though they are, in fact, true.

And so, this imprudent academic decided to start saying some things. On 19th Feb 2023 I tweeted:

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 was routinely mobbed by pro-LGBT+ online platoons, immediately tagging the college, who without telling me, publically denounced my tweet as “unacceptable”, and “inappropriate”, and that it “did not reflect their views or ethos”. Given that it is an evangelical college, this surprised many given that the tweet was addressed by an evangelical to evangelicals about evangelical belief. Not to worry. The following day I was suspended and barred from contacting any colleague or student, before being fired two weeks later. Things can move surprisingly fast when you say things that are not being said.

The college believed I had brought them into disrepute with various stakeholders like their validator, the University of Manchester, and the (progressive) Methodist Church in Britain, which bestows upon them a healthy grant each year. In a lengthy report, evidence used against me consisted largely of messages sent to the college, some of which appear to have been coordinated by senior Methodist leaders — with suspicious repetition of key phrasing reminiscent of those template letters offered by parliamentary lobbying groups to local constituents. There was even insinuation that Methodism might reconsider its funding arrangement with the college if “appropriate action” was not taken. LGBT+ students with whom I was on good terms now wrote in to say they were in danger of feeling “harmed” in my classroom. The academic director who curated the report also added the now-infamous detail that the college was reviewing whether or not to report the incident under the “Prevent” duty.

Being fired for “misconduct” for causing reputational damage is a difficult line to shake off one’s academic CV

Being fired for “misconduct” for causing reputational damage is a difficult line to shake off one’s academic CV. At the time of my suspension and dismissal — as my own reputation was being pilloried even by some who knew me well — I suffered severe physical stress, culminating in cardiac symptoms. This returns occasionally. I still find re-reading the investigation report challenging. All I’d achieved in 7 years at the college — not to mention my entire academic career — appeared to be obliterated in an instant.

Whilst my family and I received tremendous support and encouragement from many, we also lost many friends (and some family) as a result. To this day I continue to be slandered by people who seem almost pre-programmed to view me as a hateful person simply for expressing what all Christians always believed about this subject until sometime yesterday afternoon. 

My decision to take legal action against the college was not straightforward. I am not naturally litigious; indeed my own church tradition rightly prises grace over retribution. There is also a well-known Bible passage, 1Corinthians 6:1-11, which exhorts Christians not “go to law” with each other. So, there is indeed a potential irony at play: here I am purporting to take a stand for clear Biblical teaching whilst seemingly contravening another clear Biblical teaching in order to do so. 

What the Apostle Paul has in mind there, of course, is the settling of “trivial cases” (1Cor. 6:2) such as minor disputes and conflicts better resolved in-house. My case of discrimination, public malignment, and loss of livelihood for a family with five young children certainly does not feel “trivial”. 

Additionally, Paul is referring to disputes between individuals within the church: “brother against brother” (6:6), not brother against institution. In the first three centuries of the Church, of course, there were no legally recognised Christian institutions. But even if there were, Paul’s injunction would not apply because an institution is not “a Christian”. When we call an institution “Christian” we are not referring to a personality capable of offended feelings but to an inanimate entity with an agreed ethos.

It should also not escape notice that the reason Paul tells believers not to go to court against each other is because they should not be heard by unbelievers, including the sexually immoral and those “who practice homosexuality” (6:9). As exotic as it may seem to progressive westerners, it is inconceivable to Paul that you could call yourself a Christian and practice homosexuality. He even warns the Corinthians “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1Cor. 5:9). By this he does not mean disassociating from unbelievers but from professing believers who malign the faith by their wilfully unrepentant sin.

This is precisely why tolerating sin in the Church is such an important issue for Christians — an issue worth tweeting for, and perhaps even losing your job for. 

I have had some Christians contact me with disappointment that I am taking legal action, assuming I am merely out for personal revenge. However, this case represents far more than just my personal grievance. It is a matter of justice and proclamation both to that aforementioned “Church” and to the watching world. As with the original tweet, I am concerned primarily with the wider public and doctrinal implications, and how this will affect other Christians in our confused world who also might want to say some things that are not being said at the circus.

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