Freedom to Preach

Every man is entitled to his opinion, whether or not we think they are abhorrent, insists student of Winter JAMES FLESHER.

divinity faculty dsk GAY homophobia julian assange theology tim winter Wolfson

So homosexuality is comparable to arson, animals know how to act better than gays, and homosexuality is an incurable tendency? Okay. I refuse to allow myself to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of exactly what Tim Winter has said in this video – some of it is just plain ridiculous.

But one comment underneath the article claims that “beliefs like this are not acceptable in modern society”. Regardless of what you believe, who the hell are you to say what a person can or can’t think?


Although I am a gay man myself (and generally just a fan of not being a bigot), I nonetheless find it difficult to get my head round the idea that Tim Winter should for some reason be fired or disciplined for holding these views, despite what the majority of Tab commenters seem to believe. I’m no homophobia apologist, but we cannot let someone’s personal views clash with their ability to do their job properly.

Let’s compare these comments with other ‘no platform’ argument cases of the last year or so – let’s take DSK and Julian Assange at the Union. If guilty of the sexual abuse of which they have been accused, both of these men have committed a heinous and terrible crime. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ aside, I’d definitely argue that, if guilty, neither should have a platform on which to speak.

DSK has courted controversy in recent times

DSK has courted controversy in recent times

Mr Winter, on the other hand, has not committed a crime. Like it or not, he is entitled to both hold those views and express them in either a private or public setting. He isn’t inciting hatred, but simply expounding on what is a perfectly fair interpretation of Qur’anic scripture. He never suggests that homosexuals should be attacked, killed or otherwise persecuted, which would, of course, be illegal. He simply explains his belief, no matter how unpleasant one may find it, that homosexuality is wrong.

But there is a simple solution: if you don’t want to give Mr Winter a platform, don’t purchase the lecture on iTunes; if you aren’t willing to have a frank debate with him, don’t ask him to tell you what he thinks about homosexuality; and, if you go to Wolfson, request that he doesn’t supervise you. You are entitled to do all of these things, just as Mr Winter is entitled to hold such beliefs.

While he generally seems to think that my essays contain about as much academic worth as an episode of Made in Chelsea, Mr Winter never tells me that my opinions are wrong, he never tells me what I should think, and he never tries to convert me. He doesn’t want to.


Either way, while I’ve only ever spoken briefly about homosexuality with Mr Winter, I find it easy to believe him when he says that his views on the issue have changed. When I asked him, “What is the general consensus of Sunni Islam about homosexuality?” he told me the truth: generally, homosexuality is viewed as a very grave sin in mainstream Sunni Islam.

That was all he said. In our supervision on gender and patriarchy in Islam, he didn’t make any awful comments or express any hateful views. Personally, I don’t believe that he holds such opinions any more, but my point is that even if he did, the fact that he doesn’t force them on anyone is what matters here, regardless of whether we think he’s right or not.

Let’s be honest: is his view likely to be very different from that of a fairly large proportion of Cambridge fellows, Directors of Studies and Tutors? We still live in a heteronormative society where this kind of opinion is commonplace. We don’t fire people for having such views and we shouldn’t fire them for expressing them. We aren’t the Thought Police. The important issue isn’t whether he should be allowed to express those views or not; it’s whether (if he even still holds them) they would get in the way of him performing his role as a DoS and as a lecturer.

The answer, quite simply, is that they do not; the fact that Mr Winter has been a DoS and lecturer for years now without incident shows that they clearly haven’t – and I don’t see any reason why that should change.