Employment Tribunal in UK: ‘independent’ LGBT activist ruled against Bible college lecturer

By Chris Eyte |
Aaron Edwards
Dr Aaron Edwards was fired for tweeting biblical views about marriage | Christian Concern

A Christian lecturer fired by a Bible college in England for tweeting about human sexuality had his sacking upheld by a LGBT activist purporting to be “independent”, an employment tribunal heard. 

Dr Aaron Edwards, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, has taken legal action against Cliff College, publicized to be an evangelical Methodist Bible college in Derbyshire, after his sacking last March. The college claims to be “an evangelical learning community which is rooted in God’s Word and Spirit.”  

“Homosexuality is invading the Church,” tweeted Edwards in his original Tweet on social media site X/Twitter on Feb. 19. “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.”

Employment Judge Jim Shepherd heard this week that Edwards, a dad-of-six, lost his job for allegedly bringing the college into disrepute and breaking social media policies with his Tweet, according to a statement by rights watchdog Christian Concern. He was investigated with a disciplinary hearing, then sacked and threatened with a referral to authorities under the UK Government Prevent Strategy, which identifies terrorists. 

The tribunal heard that The Rev. Michaela Youngson was brought in by Cliff College to adjudicate Edwards’ appeal against his sacking, but she ruled against him in March. 

However, evidence presented before Judge Shepherd by the Christian Legal Centre opined that Youngson is a LGBT activist, despite describing herself as “independent” in giving evidence, according to Christian Concern. 

Youngson is an ex President of the Methodist Conference and a senior member of the Methodist Church of Great Britain’s Connexional Team.

In a statement, Christian Concern quoted Youngson saying that Edwards’ “internal appeal should have been heard by the Director of Learning for Ministry within the Methodist Connexional Team, Jonathan Dean.”

“However, Rev. Youngson says that this would have been ‘potentially inappropriate’ as Mr Dean is in a same-sex marriage and had had in the past ‘differences of opinion’ with Dr Edwards on the issue of same-sex marriage,” quoted Christian Concern. 

“For example, Dr Edwards’ appeal included grounds that the decision to dismiss him was ‘disproportionate’ ‘imbalanced’ , had not included ‘the other side of the debate’ and ‘failed to balance my freedom to express my Christian beliefs.’”

“I am content that the College acted appropriately and in good faith in reaching the conclusion to dismiss Dr Edwards,” Youngson reportedly said when dismissing Edwards’ original appeal. 

The rights watchdog claimed "it was also completely inappropriate" for Youngson to hear Edwards' case, after examining her social media activity. 

Evidence brought before Judge Shepherd include that Youngson has supported Gay Pride events in London, holding a sign reading “Nowt as Queer As Methodists.” She is also a leading founder of the Global Interfaith Commision on LGBT+ Lives. 

On its website, the commission aims to: “provide a strong and authoritative voice from religious leaders across the global faith community who wish to affirm and celebrate the dignity of all, independent of a person’s sexuality, gender expression and gender identity.”

“The choices we make now to treat each other well, to create space for difference, to recognise our own agency and our own privilege and to use power wisely, will profoundly affect future generations,” says Youngson in a ‘Tackling Prejudice’ filmed session publicly available on YouTube, related to sexism and misogyny for the ‘Declaring the Sanctity of Life and Dignity for All’ series, created by the commission.    

Christian Concern also highlighted a same-sex marriage retweet by Youngson in Jan. 2023 supporting a post by activist Jayne Ozanne, who calls herself “unashamedly gay, unashamedly Christian” on her website. This related to a parliamentary speech by MP Chris Bryant, also a LGBT activist, who questioned biblical teaching on marriage, according to Christian Concern.  

The right watchdog also alluded to other evidence of Youngson’s support for practicing LGBT rights such as various articles and videos aiming to stop so-called gay discrimination in churches. 

Christian Concern cited Youngson in her evidence for the original appeal, reportedly saying that Edwards’ controversial tweet “wasn’t part of an academic debate–it was a standalone tweet that Dr Edwards had put into a public forum on Twitter. There was no academic framework. An academic debate would include the counterpoint, not inflammatory and hurtful language.”

The rights watchdog compared this to Youngson’s own X/Twitter account, allegedly retweeting posts by former New Labour press chief Alastair Campbell swearing about Conservative prime ministers and also posts calling former U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman “disgusting,” “inhumane,” “evil” and “repugnant.” 

“I considered Dr Edwards’ appeal on its merits,” Youngson reportedly concluded at the original appeal. “Had I considered that it was not appropriate to dismiss him – I would have reinstated him. I actually considered that it was very generous to have paid Dr Edwards three months’ in lieu of notice and believed that this was done on the basis of pastoral concern for Dr Edwards and his family.”

Edwards has reported health problems since Youngson’s ruling. He has been to hospital with heart abnormalities related to stress from the sacking and Christian Concern said he was unemployed with a damaged academic career. His family have also suffered.  

Giving his own comments before Judge Shepherd at the end of May, Edwards reportedly said the reactions against his Tweet had been “severe” and so had the college’s “actions against me.”

“It will have life-altering consequences for me and my family as a result,” Edwards said. “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.”

Edwards pointed out that his dismissal came for expressing a particular view, which the Methodist Church said “was possible to hold.” 

“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.”

Judge Shepherd allowed the new evidence to be admitted in court, after Edwards’ lawyers applied in court. 

Both sides are now giving closing submissions with a ruling likely to be reserved, according to Christian Concern.

Outside of the hearing, Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, lambasted the treatment of Edwards by both Cliff College and the “Methodist Church hierarchy.”

“The evidence is an appalling demonstration of the bias and unfairness that Dr Edwards experienced at every level from Cliff College and the Methodist Church hierarchy in response to his tweet,” Williams said. 

“It is tragic that the structure of the Methodist Church has been taken over in this way which is in such stark contrast to the foundations which John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, put in place.

“It is wrong that his appeal was heard internally by a senior member of the Methodist Church who publicly campaigns against the beliefs he was sacked for.”

Williams called it “deeply saddening” that a known Bible college had allegedly lost “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.”