Joshua Sutcliffe has been found guilty of “unacceptable professional conduct” and banned from teaching by the regulator for mis-gendering a pupil and failing to safeguard their emotional well-being. In this interview with Sam Hailes, the 33-year-old hits back, accusing the students of telling lies, and the regulator of being prejudiced against Christian beliefs
Christian teacher Joshua Sutcliffe, 33 failed to treat his pupils with dignity and safeguard their well-being.
That’s according to a judgement from the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) who last week banned him from teaching for at least two years.
The problem, according to Joshua, is the students lied in their evidence, and the TRA is also prejudiced against him, because they “don’t like Christian beliefs”.
The case has largely been billed as a case of “misgendering”. Sutcliffe’s advocates say he was banned for refusing to use the preferred pronouns of a female student who identified as a boy. But the judgement paints a broder picture of a teacher who expressed his opposition to gay marriage during a Maths lesson, and showed students an inappropriate video about masculinity without providing a balanced view.
Joshua disputes this. He argues he never spoke about LGBT issues in his Maths lessons, and only addressed them at the separate Bible club he was running. According to him, that club was shut down by the school after students goaded him into stating the orthodox position on marriage and then reported him. He also maintains he never showed the masculinity video to the students, merely referencing it in a private conversation with another student.
these students had an agenda, which was to get rid of the Christian
No one has ever questioned Sutcliffe’s ability when it comes to teaching Maths. And many would agree Sutcliffe should not be forced to use language which goes against his conscience. The issue of how transgender children should be referred to is an important one, and teachers are still awaiting government guidance.
Sutcliffe is no stranger to controversy. His evangelism via megaphone and decision to single out certain ‘abominations’ for attack on his website will raise eyebrows among many Christians. A few days ago, that eyebrow raising probably turned into ‘banging head against a brick wall’ when Joshua appeared to suggest - on national television - that adulterers should be executed by the state. (He's since clarified to me that a fine might be more appropriate).
You’ll be hard pressed to find a Christian who thinks Sutcliffe should lose his job purely for misgendering a pupil. But is someone who suggests adulterers should be criminalised really best placed to represent the Christian faith today?
The judgment said “on balance by failing to use Pupil A's preferred pronouns, Mr Sutcliffe had failed to treat Pupil A with dignity and respect, and failed to safeguard Pupil A's well-being”. Do you agree with that?
No, I don’t agree with that. I do care about that student’s safeguarding, which is why I wasn’t willing to affirm them in their way of wanting to transition. I think it’s a mistake to affirm students when they want to transition.
Why couldn’t you use the pronoun the student preferred?
For me, sex and gender are immutable. They’re synonyms. Usually these things are assumed but we’ve got this evading ideology that people are bullying us into going along with.
It was also alleged you showed students a video from PragerU called 'Make men masculine again'. The judgment said that you acted inappropriately in showing this video without presenting a balanced view, or giving the pupils an opportunity to discuss alternative views.
I never showed that video in formal class at all. The TRA just went along with what the students said, I mean, that student hated me from day one.
So you never showed that video in a school setting at all?
No. But obviously, the TRA went along with these allegations.
In the TRA ruling, it is alleged you were making comments against gay marriage during a Maths lesson, which isn’t the appropriate setting for those conversations. Do you accept that?
My recollection is that I said that in the Bible club, and it was shortly after that, that the Bible club was shut down by the school because of what I'd said.
But the pupils are adamant that you could have only said that in a Maths lesson because the pupils say they never attended the Bible club, and yet can remember you talking about gay marriage. Therefore your comments must have been made during Maths?
It came out in the evidence that one of the students was close friends with someone who had attended the Bible club. It also came out in the evidence that when I attended an LGBT Pride March and was handing out Christian leaflets, the students realised that I had strong Christian convictions. And it was because of that, they turned against me.
It also came in out in the evidence that these students had a black book of death...
A black book of death? That wasn’t referenced anywhere in the judgement.
Yeah, it came out that one of the pupils admitted that they wrote names and that people would die and things to that effect, you know? I mean, don’t ask me, I’m not an expert in such things, but the student did admit that they had it. [Editor's note: The judgement did not reference any "black book", but a Christian Concern spokesperson confirmed this formed part of the evidence, adding, "the pupils were messing around with occult stuff".]
So you can imagine that these students had an agenda, which was to get rid of the Christian.
They didn’t like me very much, they didn’t like my Christian views very much. Their accounts of these so-called conversations I'd had were so loose. It was actually shocking how loose they were, but the allegations stood because the TRA doesn't like Christian beliefs very much.
If you go to a criminal court, the evidence would be dismissed in an instant, but the TRA had discretion. The TRA can make up their own rules as they go along. And the wider point is that up and down the country you’ve got schools being taken over by children. It’s a sad state of affairs.
You’re saying children are allowed to make these allegations that are not backed up by evidence, and the authorities take the word of a pupil over a teacher?
Yeah. I do mean that specifically for my case, but I think also in the wider sense the respect for teachers and for schools has dwindled. And it’s a very tricky environment to be in…unless you go to a private school where they still have a bit of order.
You're saying these pupils were lying when they said that you made comments in a Maths class, and actually you made them in a Bible class. Are you also alleging there was a vendetta from the same people to get the Bible club shut down in the first place?
Yeah, they came into the Bible club and kept asking, “What do Christians think about marriage?” Eventually, after some consideration, I said "Christian teaching is that marriage is between a man and woman for life," and it was really that modest. The next day the Bible club was shut down.
Then obviously that news spread around the school because [after that] those students complained. They told their friends that they got the Bible club shut down. So the students probably realised, Oh, we can get Mr. Sutcliffe. We don’t like his views.
The ruling says that by going on national TV (This Morning) to talk about the case you "failed to consider the ramifications" on the pupil and therefore did not treat that pupil with “dignity and respect” and “failed to safeguard” their welbeing, including by using a female pronoun on the show. Do you accept that?
I think that it was necessary for me to shine light on this issue.
Put yourself in the student’s shoes - can you see how your teacher going on national television and talking about you and your circle of friends at school is a failure to protect the emotional well being of those children?
Well, I mean, to some extent, yes.
I said at the hearing I’m sorry, to cause that student distress. That was never my intention. It was more my intention to talk about the issue of being forced to use pronouns at large.
In a recent interview with Piers Morgan [see below] you appeared to suggest that people who commit adultery should be given the death penalty. Do you really think that?
I think that was the assumption Piers made. What I was trying to do was quote Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I was trying to say that we will one day stand before a righteous and holy God and according to his law, we all deserve death. We deserve judgement, but Jesus took our place on the cross. But I wasn’t able to finish.
Saying 'adultury is a sin that separates us from God and leads to death’ is different to saying people today, right now, should be arrested and put to death for adultery. Do you believe that we should execute people today for adultery?
No, I think he was coming from a political angle, and I was coming from a theological, before God at the end of time angle.
But I do think that for a nation to succeed, we should try and adhere to God’s law. So I do think that adultery is sinful, and it should be punished, but probably not the death penalty. Obviously that’s verging a little bit into politics. You know, maybe a fine? I’m not sure exactly how some of these sins might be punished. But I do certainly know that if a nation’s law reflected God’s law then we would flourish.
So you think it should be illegal to commit adultery, and that crime should be punished in some way?
Yeah, I’d say a crime of some sort.
Do you think that’s a view that most Christians in the UK hold?
No, I don’t think so. I think on the whole, a lot of the laws are just accepted.
You're a Christian appearing on a mainstream news channel. Some non-Christian people who watched your Piers Morgan interview probably think that Christians believe adulterers should be put to death. Do you regret that viewers of that show now have a false perception of what Christians think about these issues?
Piers Morgan has been in journalism for 30 years, and I’m just a simple Maths teacher. I tried to share what I thought was sinful. The wages of sin is death. So I’m hoping, obviously, before God, you know, I gave an account. I just want to live right by what God says and what the Bible teaches. I will do my best obviously and there’ll be some people within the Christian community that disagree with how I said it, and so on. But you know, it’s a very difficult situation to be in.
Yes it is a difficult situation to be in. But is there no sense of regret from you about that interview? No sense of regret that some people probably now think ‘Christians believe I should be put to death for committing adultery’. That’s not the perception you want non-Christians to have, is it?
Well, I think that we need to try and be sincere to what the Bible teaches. I tried to describe penal substitution. I was trying to draw people’s attention to the fact that God will judge the earth and our only hope is Jesus. I want people to know the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I tried.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping that we see justice in the High Court. I’m hoping for a fair hearing, for justice, and that Christian liberties will be upheld.
The Christian Legal Centre have been in my corner since the beginning. And they’ve got such an outstanding team. And they have cases like mine that they’re dealing with that don’t go as public. And so I’m confident that they’ll give a good account and we’ll try and seek justice.
I realise that now I’m very much in the public domain with regards to my Christian views. And I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to maybe even be a head teacher of a Christian school or something like that. But, you know, above all God is in control, and God knows.