By Jonathon Van Maren
With the recent victory for religious freedom in the trial of Finland’s Päivi Räsänen, there is more good news on this front in Europe—this time in the U.K. I spoke with Tom Allen of Christian Concern about the important win for Christians in the case of Rev. Keith Waters.
Who is Rev. Keith Waters?
Rev. Waters is a British Pastor and church planter who is presently Pastor of West Street Evangelical Church Carshalton.
In 2016, Pastor Waters took a 60 percent pay cut from his role as an Estates Manager at one of Cambridge University’s largest colleges to work part time as a caretaker at the Isle of Ely Primary School so he could pastor his local Evangelical Church, Ely New Connexions Church. The job was taken with the agreement that if there was a conflict with his job as a Pastor, his pastoral job would take priority.
From the outset, he said that he would “be unequivocal in publicly stating the Christian doctrine on various issues, some of which may be unpopular.”
Why has he been persecuted over the past several years?
Put simply, he has been persecuted for publicly tweeting standard Christian orthodox views and beliefs on human sexuality and identity. For believing and expressing that LGTBQ events are harmful to children and should not be attended by Christians, he was severely punished.
On 1 June 2019, at the beginning of LGBTQ pride month, Pastor Waters tweeted:
“A reminder that Christians should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Christian faith and morals. They are especially harmful to children,” he wrote.
Pastor Waters says his intention was to address and warn Christians about LGBTQ pride events across the U.K., as they often involve nudity, people in sadomasochistic outfits, and displays of an overtly sexual nature.
He believes LGBTQ pride events are diametrically opposed to Christian beliefs on sexual ethics and therefore are harmful, especially for young children who often attend or are encouraged to attend.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “For loving Jesus, speaking biblical truth, and caring for the welfare of children, Keith became persona non grata – his words and intentions distorted, his character assassinated.”
“Our schools and churches need more community-minded people like him, not less. For sending one tweet that raised genuine concern for children, he was vilified, threatened, and hounded out of his employment.”
The consequences of this solitary tweet for Pastor Waters were terrifying, as he and his family faced a string of coordinated threats aimed at forcing him out of his job and, eventually, the town.
Within minutes of sending the post, he received a tweet from a local journalist, John Elworthy, accusing him of attacking the local LGBTQ community in Ely ahead of pride events that month.
The following morning, as Pastor Waters was preparing for a Sunday service at his church, a hostile Cambridge-based journalist tried to force him into apologizing for the tweet, which he refused to do.
By Monday, he was on the front page of the Cambridge Evening News and online abuse continued to grow with local councillors and pressure groups creating a toxic atmosphere against Pastor Waters.
During this period, his wife answered the door to funeral directors who had been sent to arrange his “funeral”; likewise, estate agents contacted him having been told he was moving from the area “in a hurry.” Pastor Waters was also nearly knocked off his bike by an angry local resident in a car who wanted to remonstrate with him.
Furthermore, false rumors were spread that he was a child molester and there were calls from local councillors for him to be investigated by police for a “hate incident.” Fearing for his, his family’s, and his church members’ safety, Pastor Waters decided to delete the tweet.
At this time, his caretaker role at the local primary school came under threat as the headteacher informed him that he was being investigated for bringing the school “into disrepute” after receiving a handful of complaints as part of the campaign against him.
One letter to the school claimed that Pastor Waters’ tweet called for “violence against people who support the Ely Pride Festival.” An anonymous teacher also claimed that his tweet fell “within the British government’s definition of extremism” and that action must be taken against him.
Pastor Waters was then invited to an investigation meeting, which he was told was strictly confidential and must not be discussed with anyone other than his family members. However, despite the confidentiality direction he had been placed under, members of the wider school community found out about the investigation before Pastor Waters was made aware of it.
The letter also stated inaccurately that the allegations against him related to “recent reports of comments you have made in the public domain concerning the status and sexual identity of members of the local community.”
Until this point, Pastor Waters was a liked and respected member of staff, and at his final appraisal he was described as “an asset to the school.”
Going above and beyond in his role as caretaker, he used his expertise to put in place fire safety policies and organized gardening lessons for troubled pupils who were physically threatening teachers. Following the complaints, however, Pastor Waters was shunned and avoided by senior management and prevented from carrying out some of his regular duties.
After the investigation, Pastor Waters was told that his tweet was “highly inappropriate and offensive,” and that he had brought the school into disrepute and broken the code of conduct and he was issued with a final written warning.
Pastor Waters believed he faced no alternative but to resign as he could no longer combine his roles as a Christian pastor and caretaker at the school.
We believe this is the first time that a UK Employment Tribunal found that an employer has been found to have discriminated against a Christian on these particular issues. Therefore, it is a big win for Christians!
The ruling finds that Christian pastors that have employment alongside their church ministries are free to express their biblical faith online without fear of losing other jobs.
The cultural tide that is seeking to stamp out Christian orthodox beliefs has led to Christians having to justify in court that their beliefs are “worthy of protection’ under the Equality Act 2010.”
There have been rulings in recent times, most notably for Dr. David Mackereth, where Christian beliefs such as the belief that we are born male and female, have been ruled as “incompatible with human dignity” and “unworthy of respect in a democratic society.”
Thankfully in Keith’s case the judge ruled that his beliefs were worthy of protection under human rights law. However, it is deeply disturbing as to how as a society we have gotten to this point. Everyone who cares about free speech, freedom of expression, and the Christian faith should be concerned by Keith’s story, delighted with this outcome and now inspired and driven to take a stand as Keith has done for his beliefs.
Is the Waters case representative of broader cultural trends?
Pastor Waters said: “I am relieved and pleased with the outcome. This is a victory, not just for me, but for Christian evangelical leaders across the country.”
“I pray that this ruling will help protect Pastors in the future that have to work part time in other jobs to make up their income. This is an important win for our freedom to speak the truth of the Gospel without fear of losing our jobs.”
“I took legal action, not because I wanted to sue the school, but because what happens to me goes to the heart of what it means to be free to preach the gospel in the U.K. I believed the issues my case raised were much bigger than anything that was happening to me and that it was the right thing to do.”
“Despite knowing this was the right thing to do, this whole episode has left me in some emotional turmoil and has taken a lasting toll on me and my family. In 37 years of employment, I have never been treated in such a heartless and hostile way. The freedom to resign from your job or be silenced from speaking as a Christian pastor is no freedom at all.”
“I still stand by what I said, and I’ll always stand up for the truth. I believe that children’s safety is paramount, and that everyone, but especially Christian pastors, must be able to voice concerns and ‘raise red flags’ where children may be at risk.”
“Anyone who attends a ‘pride’ event risks being exposed to obscenities. That is self-evidently harmful for children, and in a free, responsible, and truly loving society we must be free to say that and raise concern without fear.”