The Clare College Divinity Fellow called people who use they/them pronouns "zealots" during his chapel sermonsean_hickin@flickr

A Clare don who labelled people who use they/them pronouns “zealots” during a chapel sermon has faced criticism from students attending the Eucharist.

Students were left “offended” by the “hurtful and damaging” comments about gender pronouns.

Professor Douglas Hedley said at the service: “English is being increasingly reduced by those zealots who want for example to remove references to male and female pronouns, yet these are in the thrall of the prison house view of language.”

Professor Hedley, a Divinity fellow at Clare College, used his sermon to decry: “Staffordshire policemen are being banned from using the word policeman because it might incite sexism.”

“But this is a completely erroneous view of language, which anyone who understands the beloved disciples’ prologue will realise,” he told the college chapel.

Students spoke to Hedley and the College Dean after the service to complain about the “hurtful” comments.

James Kitchingman told Varsity that “the sermon’s worrying tangent was a subject of conversation following the service among choir members who felt similarly offended by Hedley’s assertions.”

“His point represented a somewhat archaic view of inclusivity and belonging, a particular shame given the podium afforded to him in chapel,” Kitchingman said.

“One is expected to provide guidance on Bible passages, not accuse those who wish to modernise the language of the Bible as uncompromising fanatics,” he added.

Emma Caroe told Varsity: “Expressing theological and scholarly convictions in a sermon is one thing; presenting a pointed and antagonistic attack in relation to an already marginalised group of people is another.”

“Such exclusionary comments are incredibly hurtful and damaging, especially in the college context where Christianity is the only religion to be institutionalised in the way that it is, and where the chapel explicitly sets out to be a place for people of “all faiths and none,” she said.


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“Far from stoking division and judgement, Jesus’ message and life was one of radical inclusivity and chapels ought to be a similarly open, respectful, and inclusive spaces,” she added.

Another student told Varsity that they spoke to Hedley after the event to express their “unhappiness” with the sermon.

The student who confronted Hedley said the Divinity don was insistent on his “disapproval of the use of singular they/them pronouns”.

They said the “College chapel should be a space where everyone feels comfortable” and stressed that the services are “normally a positive atmosphere,” though they felt this service was “an exception”.

Last term, Professor Hedley called for a portrait of Charles Cornwallis, Clare alumnus and Governor-General of British colonial rule, to be re-hung in the College Hall.

Private committee minutes seen by Varsity show Hedley wanted to reinstate the painting of the colonialist to “safeguard college heritage”.

The professor was linked to Republican billionaire Peter Thiel in a 2021 investigation by the Byline Times, among other controversial Cambridge academics. These included the government’s new free speech tsar Arif Ahmed and National Conservatism Conference organiser James Orr.