Joshua Sutcliffe has lost his job twice, and been caught up in media storms over his Christian views on sexuality, gender and other religions. Sam Hailes asks the maths teacher turned street preacher why he keeps finding himself at the centre of controversy
When it emerged that a maths teacher had been investigated by his school for supposedly ‘mis-gendering’ a pupil, the story made national headlines. Within days, Joshua Sutcliffe was on the This Morning sofa, telling Phil and Holly how his “slip of the tongue” in saying “well done, girls” to a group of pupils that included a girl who was identifying as a boy, could cost him his job.
Sutcliffe settled out of court and left the school, but two years later, history seemed to repeat itself. This time the Christian teacher was constructively dismissed from a Catholic school in Islington after calling Mohammed a “false prophet” in a YouTube video.
With lightning striking twice (not to mention a subsequent fine from police for his street preaching during lockdown), one wonders if Sutcliffe could be the most persecuted 31-yearold in Britain?
I wanted to find out why this man keeps finding himself at the centre of controversies. So I arranged a Zoom call with him.
Given there are YouTube videos of Sutcliffe shouting into megaphones at passers-by (it’s part of his street evangelism), I was a little nervous about talking to him. My apprehension was unwarranted and I was surprised at how mild-mannered he was throughout our conversation. Even under robust questioning he remained calm, controlled and polite. He adamantly denied that he’s looking for trouble. “I’m very friendly really,” he tells me, a slight chuckle in his voice. “I just have strong convictions.”
The son of a pastor, Joshua was “quite fervent” in sharing the gospel from an early age. His devotion to and passion for the faith led to him being bullied as a child. In his teens he drifted (or in his words, “indulged in the world”). His coming back to God in his early 20s coincided with his first job in a school.
The quality of Sutcliffe’s teaching has never been in question. Instead, it seems to be his Christian beliefs that have consistently landed him in hot water. His defenders, including campaign group Christian Concern who organised his media interviews, say this is another example of our secular society becoming increasingly intolerant of basic Christian beliefs on gender, sexuality and other religions.
You first hit the headlines in 2017 when your school fired you for reportedly ‘mis-gendering’ a pupil. What led up to that?
Around the time that I started the job as a maths teacher, I also set up a Christian Union and, before long, there were lots of attendees and I was able to give out lots of Bibles. I really enjoyed that – almost more than the maths. So that became quite a prominent part of my week. And that was a big factor in the school’s response towards me.
Are you saying the school didn’t like the fact that you were running a Christian Union?
Well, in one of the Christian Union meetings, I’d shared with a student that marriage is between a man and a woman – because one of the students had asked the Christian position. But they actually reported me to the school. And the transgender issue was also quite prominent at the time; I certainly wasn’t going to conform to their ideological position.
Would it have been ‘conforming to their ideological position’ if you called this pupil by their preferred pronoun?
It would, yeah, because it goes against God’s creation. I’m more than happy to converse with people, but where I have to stop is where I can’t go along with the sin.
Couldn’t you have used the pupil’s preferred name or pronoun out of respect and love for that person?
I hear what you’re saying but I think the loving thing to do is to tell the truth, and not to go along with people’s fantasy. My conviction was, I wasn’t going to be conforming on that issue. And so I took a stand.
In the end, you and the school were at loggerheads. Why couldn’t you find a way through?
I don’t hold anything against them. The shame is that we weren’t able to say: “Your position is different, and that’s OK.” And I think that’s something that society at large struggles with, doesn’t it?
Why did you decide to take legal action against the school?
I feel that people are often bullied into conforming. And, you know, the Bible says that “the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). And we are the ones who are in the victory. So I did stand strong on that one. But I don’t want to go into too much detail about the case…
You settled out of court, didn’t you?
Yeah, I think the line is: “We came to an amicable resolution.”
After that, you were hired by a Catholic school. What happened next?
I had a YouTube channel where I shared the biblical position on sexual ethics, marriage, abortion, pornography and Islam. One of the parents took issue with a video where I stated that Mohammed was a false prophet, and they complained to the school. Unfortunately, I had to leave that post as well, because of the pressure that was put on me from the school.
Did you hope the school would tell the parent that you had a right to say what you like on your own private YouTube channel?
Yeah, that’s exactly what I’d hoped. But unfortunately, they suspended me for a week, and because it had happened before, I was quite quick to say: “OK, I’ll find something else to do.” I didn’t really have it in me [to fight the decision]. Maybe I should have.
It must have taken quite an emotional toll on you. It’s the second time in a row that you’d lost your job.
Yeah, it did. The realisation that I won’t be in the classroom for the rest of my career is something that I still think about. But ultimately, my peace is in Christ and my foundation is the rock, so I remind myself of that and I press on.
The shame is that we weren’t able to say: ‘Your position is different, and that’s OK.’ And I think that’s something society at large struggles with
Were you angry?
Yeah, definitely. My heart is that people would be saved from unrighteousness and from hell, ultimately. So I just try and set my emotions according to the word and not hold onto anger. But imagine if every churchgoer in the NHS and in the schools and in the accounting office, or whatever the workplace was able to share the Christian position on sexual ethics…I think my greatest focus is oh, come on, brother and sister, let’s stand together. Maybe the word ‘anger’ is a bit strong, but my thoughts do go towards the Church, rather than society.
You feel if more Christians spoke openly about these issues, then it might be easier for people like you to hold onto your job?
Yeah, I think so.
So why don’t they?
Fear of man, maybe.
Your style of street preaching is very bold and loud – you are literally shouting into a megaphone. But right now you’re speaking very gently. So does the street preaching bring out a different side of your personality?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I am just very simple and gentle. But in that environment, you want people to turn, and you long for them to receive some of the truths that you’re speaking, and so that manifests in the shouting and the megaphone.
You say it’s an eagerness for people to repent and that you do it out of love. But shouting at people with a megaphone doesn’t come across as loving, does it?
I’m doing it to draw attention. My mind goes to the word where it says, “shout from the housetops” (Matthew 10:27, NLT) and proclaim the praises of God. That takes a bit of declaration and singing in the public space.
Yeah, it’s an interesting line of thought. I’ve not thought much about it. My instant thoughts are I do feel like public proclamation is important. I do try and be gentle in part. But I try and make it engaging.
THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND WOULD RATHER SAY ‘YES’ TO BORIS JOHNSON THAN TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
Well, I think from my youth, I’ve been sharing the faith. I’m not saying I’m better than anyone, but the fear that comes from sharing and talking is not as prominent in me. First and foremost, I want people to know about the righteousness of God found in Christ.
But you don’t need to stand on the street and talk about abortion, transgender or Mohammed to do that, do you?
I think from that initial message of ‘God is creator and his Son is Jesus Christ’, then when you keep on going, you do start to get into the issues of righteousness.
Yes, but do you need to start with some of the most controversial areas of Christian theology?
Yeah, I would agree. If you look at my website, the opening pages are all about God is creator, Jesus is our salvation.
But at the top of your website, it says ‘abominations’, and under that you’ve listed pornography, abortion and Islam.
Yeah, you’re right. It’s right there.
You’ve been quite critical of certain denominations, haven’t you?
Well, it was very sad to see the Methodist vote on [gay] marriage. In the Church of England, I’ve talked with some of the higher echelons and they assert that some of their faith is based on tradition, and we have to be so careful, because you start building on the pillars of man and things will crumble. I have no doubt there are God-fearing people within all elements of the Church. Ultimately God knows the hearts. The wheat grows among the weeds. I don’t know if that answers it? I don’t want to necessarily point out a particular group of people…
THE FEAR THAT PEOPLE HAVE OF EVANGELISING IS NOT AS PROMINENT IN ME
You seem reluctant to criticise now, but there’s a video of you on YouTube standing outside St Paul’s Cathedral shouting: “Repent Church of England! How far you have strayed.”
I think I was so upset with the Church of England’s response to the pandemic. I felt like they were just an arm of the government. And it just hit me because I think they’d rather say ‘yes’ to Boris Johnson than to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In what way?
Well, we’re supposed to meet together, aren’t we? Throughout history, if the government says: “You’re not meeting”, Christians have said: “No, we’re the Church”, and they’ve gone underground. But that didn’t happen, did it?
Most churches just moved online. And leaders said: “Yes, it’s a shame we can’t meet physically, but there’s a good reason for that – there’s a deadly virus going around. So we will meet online for a short time, and then we’ll return to physical gatherings.”
Online is similar, but it’s not quite the same, is it? The communion, the singing together, the conversations…
So you felt that the Church of England should have carried on having physical meetings throughout the pandemic?
You don’t think that would have put people’s lives at risk?
I think the Church should have fought back a bit.
How have you coped with the criticism, and abuse you’ve received?
I have had all sorts of things said to me online, even “go die in a pit”. When I was 13, I used to share with people in school about the precious knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. I got bullied, and there were a couple of fights. One time someone poured curry on my head.
My mum said: “Ultimately if you’re living for Christ, you can expect all sorts of things, but we live for him.” Jesus went to death. So I just count it all as part of the race. Blessed are the persecuted, as it says in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:10).
How have you responded to criticism when it has come from other Christians?
I always try and refine what I’m doing. And I do want it to be honouring to the Lord. I don’t do it to make a scene. I do want to ultimately glorify God and point to him.
You’re not looking to cause trouble?
No, not at all.
Do you think you’ll ever teach in a school again?
I doubt it. I’ve got a public profile now, and schools wouldn’t want to take the risk. [Laughs] I’m very friendly really, I just have strong convictions.
Do you think there will be other cases involving you in the future?
There may well be. Preachers are arrested sometimes. But I’ll try and be faithful to God and his word. You don’t go out for the trouble. You go out for the one who hears and receives the word.
To hear the full interview listen to Premier Christian Radio at 8pm on 23 October or download The Profile podcast