It wasn’t his Facebook post that caused Scripture Union (SU) Tasmania chaplain Troy Williams to be sacked. It was his follow up comment on a conservative Christian site.
On Sunday August 3, Williams, who worked two days a week for SU Tasmania, posted an image of a quote from Camille Paglia, a well-known lesbian author, on Facebook. It is not hard to find gay writers who believe that “born this way” is an oversimplification. But Paglia is quite blunt.
“Homosexuality is not normal,” she says. “On the contrary it is a challenge to the norm. Nature exists whether academics like it or not. And in nature, procreation is the single relentless rule. Our sexual bodies were designed for reproduction.”
According to SU Tasmania Chair Tony Wilson, if Williams had distanced himself from the comment by saying something like “It is interesting that there is a debate within the gay community about this”, things may have been all right. But posting the Paglia image without qualification amounted to endorsing it.
Scripture Union suspended Williams early that week, for inappropriate use of the Internet “that made it hard for him to do his job”.
The Facebook post “caused reactions in the gay community which we became aware of on the Monday,” says SU’s Wilson. We asked [Williams] to take that post down… we thought we had to take action so we did not get ongoing debate… that would cause the chaplaincy programme to come into disrepute.”
“We stood him down as we are required to do as service providers for the chaplaincy programme… we are required to stand down a chaplain when there is an issue that might impact the chaplaincy programme… while we investigated to see if there was a major breach”
Troy Williams apologised when speaking to the ABC: “I’m deeply sorry for any offence I’ve caused. I was very careless in posting that image for discussion.”
But on the Wednesday, Williams made further comments on conservative commentator Bill Muehlenberg’s “culturewatch” blog.
“I am happy (and brave enough) to field any questions your bloggers may have. Please pray with me that this may become another opportunity for the Gospel to go out. Troy”
And a little later.
“I will probably be fired from both these jobs for encouraging young people in that they have a choice in who they are and that they shouldn’t be bullied by someone telling them their lot is predetermined (by someone other than God)”
Ironically, Williams was come under attack by some followers of Muehlenberg’s blog (but not Bill himself) for having been too soft by apologising.
“By the time we had the discussion with the school on the Thursday, Troy had put another post on social media … that is what caused us to go from standing him down to asking why he should not be dismissed—because standing down was a warning,” says Wilson on why SU Tasmania decided to dismiss Williams.
Scripture Union considered Williams comments while suspended as a serious breach of his employment conditions and fired him. “It was a disregard of the disciplinary action we had taken,” says Wilson. A local council also fired Williams from his second job as a youth outreach worker.
Wilson explains the reasoning behind the dismissal. “The gay community is likely to say that you will discriminate if you have got certain views. We have to make sure they don’t have that opportunity.”
In this case, the view that homosexuality is a choice is unacceptable, according to Wilson. It’s a matter of being sensitive to the school community you are being a Christian in. Wilson feels that Williams did not observe this rule.
A meeting of school representatives and the local chaplaincy committee had also met and decided that it no longer wanted Williams as chaplain.
“The school had made his employment untenable. A chaplain serves at the invitation of the school,” says Wilson.
On top of this, the guidelines that SU Tasmania had signed up to, as the state’s main chaplaincy provider, required chaplains to be careful in their social media usage and to avoid “reducing their capacity to do their job”. In turn, this was made a condition of Williams’ appointment.
“When you get down to it is a simple matter of breach of employment conditions” says Wilson.
He points out that it is not uncommon for employers to restrict social media activities.
SU Tasmania prefers to see the Williams dismissal as a case of someone breaching their employment conditions.
“The story is, quite simply, Mr Williams has got a contract, which he knows the programme guidelines and the code of conduct—not only has he put up a Facebook post which caused us to stand him down while a breach investigation was made, but he repeated the same action while he was stood down.”