Martyn Percy on sex and the Anglican Communion: 20 holes in his argument.

Dec 19, 2015 by

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by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Senior church leader and influential academic Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford, has written an essay for Modern Church, arguing for radical change in Anglican sexual ethics. He urges Archbishop Justin Welby to take a firm stand against the conservative position at the forthcoming meeting of Primates of the Anglican Communion, claiming justice and progress to be on his side. He offers nothing new; the points he makes are at times confusing and poorly expressed. Here are some examples:

  1. He begins by saying we are all bored of talking about sex, and would like to change the subject. If so, then why does he write 5000 words on the issue? Perhaps he means we are weary of rehearsing the same arguments to people who have made up their minds, in which case most would agree. Or is he tired of the continued opposition of orthodox Anglicans to change?
  2. Professor Percy proceeds to outline his arguments for the Church to change. a) Its current position is against Government equality legislation, and would continue to be so even if a local option to bless same sex relationships were permitted (as in the Church of Scotland). He simply assumes and states, without argument, that the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage is in itself discriminatory against gay people, and does not take into account that all legislation recognizes the right of churches to continue to believe and teach their understanding of faith and practice.
  3. He says the church should change because b) its role is to cater for all beliefs and lifestyles. But actually the church is not obliged to include and affirm everyone. It is an expression of the Christian faith, something that cannot be changed to suit tastes.
  4. Professor Percy asserts that laws against homosexuality in 41 Commonwealth countries are a legacy of colonialism and the C of E’s past mission, for which conservatives need to repent. This is highly debatable. Most societies around the world have tried to protect the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and discouraged other forms of sexual activity because of a desire to maintain family stability. These worldwide cultural taboos were there long before British imperialism and Anglican mission!
  5. Moving on to the subject of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Percy claims that the global south holds an unfair advantage in the debate. a) Western Anglicans are loath to challenge their southern brethren because of ‘postcolonial guilt’. But Percy does not explain this, or at any point refer to the continued economic inequality or genuine past injustices that might give rise to such feelings of guilt.
  6. He claims the global south holds an unfair advantage in the debate because of b) unproven statistics of greater churchgoing numbers, and more vibrant church growth among non-Western Anglicans. He quotes research by gay Spanish theologian Daniel Munoz, but this needs to be peer reviewed in detail as the majority of studies show that Christianity is growing in the developing world while declining in the West.
  7. Dr Percy claims the global south holds an unfair advantage in the debate because of c) unproven assertions that conservative Christianity is better placed to resist modernity. However he does not explain why liberal Christianity might be more successful in resisting secularism and promoting supernatural, biblical faith in Christ.
  8. Percy’s argument moves on to address issues of power and powerlessness. He identifies the powerful with theologically conservative Anglicans, and those who are oppressed and powerless as LGBT Christians. This is a dangerously skewed perspective in the context of genuine poverty and the persecution of Christians by radical Islamism.
  9. He attacks Archbishop Justin Welby, linking his education and business background with theological conservatism, and claims he “knows nothing of powerlessness”. Can we please hear something of Professor Percy’s own experiences, writing as he is from the vantage point of the plummest clergy post in Britain[1]?
  10. “Conservatives are not oppressed or criminalised for their opposition to lesbian, gay and bisexual people – ever, anywhere.” This is a false statement for several reasons. a) He confuses adherence to orthodox Christian sexual ethics with being against gay people. b) He denies the obvious fact that in the West people have lost their jobs because of opposition to homosexual practice (see for example here and here)         c) In the global south, there have been many instances of development aid being cut because of a refusal to follow the LGBT agenda (eg here).
  11. Percy asserts that same sex relationships are “part of God’s created order”, and uses examples of so-called ‘gay’ animals, and a quote from the film Gladiator as evidence. This is a very weak argument for the biological basis of homosexuality, an idea which is now not supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, or indeed many LGBT activists.
  12. Returning to the subject of why the church must change, Dr Percy reminds us that young people are alienated by conservative sexual ethics. Does he think this is a new phenomenon? Going back, Michael Green might have addressed this in 1970, and CS Lewis in 1940. In fact the apostle Paul admitted in 1 Corinthians that the Gospel looks like ‘foolishness’, but once grasped is the power of God. Jesus himself found that his teaching alienated many in his day. Take up your cross, don’t lust after anyone other than your wife/husband, flee sexual immorality – Professor Percy may have missed a strong theme of New Testament teaching!
  13. “A non-inclusive church is an evangelistic dead-duck.” Really? Why are conservative churches continuing to attract young people (many of whom have left liberal Anglican churches to attend more orthodox fellowships of other denominations)? Again, it appears that Martyn Percy betrays his lack of comprehension of orthodox Christian faith.
  14. He sees statistics of increasing general acceptance of same sex relationships in the West as good news for the church. In fact, these statistics rather are evidence of increased secularism and turning away from a shared Christian world view, combined with the success of the LGBT movement in marketing an idea. Unless there is a turnaround, this is not good for Christian mission.
  15. Professor Percy’s attempt to address Scripture is really disappointing, as it shows that he does not seem to be interested in this crucial aspect of the debate. He reduces the issue to two short paragraphs. A few lines of old chestnuts about slavery and women, then a claim that NT writers knew nothing about homosexuality, a view which has been refuted many times including by liberal scholars eg William Loader.
  16. Professor Percy simply asserts that lesbian, gay and bisexual Anglicans are “faithful Christians”, and part of the Kingdom of God, without even attempting to unpack this theologically.
  17. He concludes with three suggestions to make the Primates meeting in January go really well: a) Archbishop Justin should walk in, tell the global south leaders they are wrong on homosexuality, that they must repent and unconditionally affirm all people whatever their beliefs and behaviours into God’s Kingdom.
  18. Suggestion to make the Primates meeting go really well b) Archbishop Justin to disinvite Foley Beach from ACNA, and apologise to TEC for the offence his invitation caused to them.
  19. Suggestion to make the Primates meeting go really well c) deny a voice to any “shallow and shrill” (ie orthodox) opinions, and promote theological depth, poetry, and “non-sense” ie non-rational thought celebrating “tongues of desire; of longing, lament and laughter”.
  20. These latter three suggestions are made apparently without irony. They display a detachment from orthodox Christianity in its broadest sense, and contempt for the genuinely godly Anglican leaders of the global south who have graciously agreed to meet in January despite a history of broken fellowship with revisionists. Given Dr Percy’s thinly veiled lack of respect for the Archbishop of Canterbury shown in this article, and the poverty of his arguments, its unlikely that his advice will be heeded.

[1] The Dean of Christ Church is the highest paid clergyman in Britain. Christ Church Oxford (who pay him, rather than the Church of England) sits on one of the richest endowment funds in the country.

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