...free to think freely


26th March 2023

The ironic case of Cliff College

Cliff College, a Methodist training college in Derbyshire, has dismissed one of its lecturers over a tweet he made about homosexuality and the Church. It gave its reason for suspending him in February in three consecutive tweets:

“We have become aware that one of our lecturers posted some comments on this platform this morning regarding human sexuality. The language used is inappropriate and unacceptable and does not represent either the views or the ethos of Cliff College.

“Cliff College, with the Methodist Church in Britain, is committed to being a safe and hospitable place, where those with differing convictions are welcomed and challenged to live together as faithful disciples of Christ.

“We aim to do this with mutual respect and a generosity of spirit that springs from our biblical and evangelical conviction of God's love for each and for all.”

It has not elaborated publicly on this since dismissing him just over a week ago.

The tweet causing the issue read:

“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 context in which he wrote this (as evidenced by surrounding tweets) was one of concern for those Christians suffering because they find themselves unable to explain what they believe and why it matters to them. It appears he was trying to explain why it matters to him and others who believe as he does and why he feels a vital part of his faith is being taken away, and those who champion ‘inclusion’ are in reality excluding all who do not agree with them. To that extent, though he has probably never heard of the term, he was appealing for Diverse Diversity in his Christian Community.

The College’s response also, on the face of it, appears to aim at Diverse Diversity, but its action belies its words. I wonder whether whoever wrote those three tweets actually read what they had written! For it seems they claimed to be removing someone for expressing his convictions to demonstrate that they welcomed everyone despite different convictions. That’s non-sequitous, to put it mildly.

Academics are meant to have different convictions and to express them. That’s how they engage with each other and advance knowledge. If they’re not able to do that knowledge cannot advance and mutual understanding cannot develop. That can only harm society as knowledge stagnates and progress falters as a result.

Censorship is damaging to us all. So is its complete converse of completely unbridled Free Speech for, in the extreme case, Free Speech can also be used to silence people by instilling fear or motivating harm. A sensible policy is needed therefore to protect people from slander and intimidation while allowing the free expression of ideas. Academic institutions need to find an intermediate policy if their work is to continue. When ideologies lead to academics being sacked for doing their job, the Academy ceases to be credible. When Academic institutions argue one thing to justify doing the opposite, they make themselves look ridiculous, as I would suggest Cliff College has now done. It looks like either incompetence or hypocrisy, depending on how charitable one wishes to be.