David Ould reports on the latest development in the Wycliffe Hall affair
As the disagreement over the invitation to Martin Percy, renowned proponent of same-sex marriage in the Church of England, to preach at Wycliffe Hall chapel continues to grow, the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Michael Lloyd, has written a letter which I understand has been or will shortly be sent out,
I am writing to the incumbents of churches which have sent students to Wycliffe over the past five years, and to others with whom we have close links. Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot of comment on blogs and Facebook about the invitation to the Dean of Christ Church, Dr Martyn Percy, to preach in Wycliffe Hall Chapel. A lot of that comment has been ill-informed and, in particular, some of what I am reported to have said has been misquoted. So I wanted to put the record straight and reassure you that Wycliffe Hall and I continue to be committed to an Evangelical view of Scripture, and of doctrine and ethics; neither the Hall nor I has changed our doctrinal or moral position.
The original decision to invite Dean Percy was made with no agenda, and implies no endorsement of his recently-expressed views on the debate about human sexuality. Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me make it clear that I, personally, and Wycliffe Hall, corporately, stand full square behind the official teaching of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, as expressed in Issues in Human Sexuality and Lambeth 1.10. I have been misquoted as saying that we can ‘agree to disagree’ on the issue of homosexuality. I never said that. What I did say, when speaking to our students, was two things: that I do realise that some will, in all good conscience, disagree with my decision not to un-invite Dean Percy, and that it is vital that Wycliffe should hold together in love, on the basis of our common commitment to Christ.
I recognise the extreme sensitivity of this area, and have listened carefully to the concerns that have been expressed. If you have any further anxieties, or if there is anything else about which you would like to express your views to me, I would be happy to talk with you directly. If you call my PA, [redacted], she will fix a time for a telephone conversation.
I deeply regret any confusion that has been caused, and would hugely value your prayers for the Hall and for me.
With many thanks for reading this,
and with very best wishes,
The letter comes at the end of a difficult week for Wycliffe Hall. The invitation of Percy has caused a great deal of disquiet. The entire college community heard from the Principal on Monday and, as we reported then, there were some who were in tears at what they heard. The Hall Council then met on Wednesday (for what I understand was a regularly scheduled meeting). That discussion was described to me as “tense” and we have not heard of any outcomes, although Lloyd’s letter will surely be taking the Council’s views into account.
Lloyd’s decision to not revoke the invitation to Percy has been a matter of distress for many, not least because he is so well-liked amongst the College Community. Described to me as “a lovely gentle man”, there is also affirmation that during the week (and particularly the meeting on Monday) he has “displayed a number of admirable qualities; he sought to take responsibility, he didn’t shirk the issues and he protected the tutor who made the original invitation”. It appears that this great affection for Lloyd has led to further heartache for those who are now deeply troubled by his decision to continue with the invitation.
The letter itself does not give a complete account of the events surrounding the invitation. One member of the college community wrote to me,
During the [Monday meeting of the college community], Michael Lloyd publically stated that Martyn Percy had kindly offered not to come and preach in Wycliffe chapel, we were told that he had even offered to change the invitation to a lecture, which all students would have been happy to attend. An easy and wonderful way out for the college and Michael. But he told us that he personally took the decision to go ahead with the invitation and not accept Martyn’s gracious offer telling us that Martyn is a brother and can’t be called a false teacher.
Others have confirmed that an offer was made by Percy to withdraw, and that those who are now opposed to his chapel invitation would have been more than happy to have him speak to the Hall in an academic forum. However, despite Lloyd’s assertion that the invitation “implies no endorsement of his recently-expressed views on the debate about human sexuality” it is being argued that it does exactly that – gives an implied spiritual authority to someone who is a false teacher.
Other parallels are also being drawn with similar events, not only at Wycliffe but further afield across the Anglican Communion. Back in 2003 when Jeffrey John was nominated as Bishop of Reading he was opposed by many in Oxford Diocese (within which Wycliffe Hall is) including prominent members of the Hall community, on the basis not of John’s sexuality but his teaching on the matter. Percy’s views on the acceptability of same-sex relationships are exactly the same, if perhaps voiced even more vociferously.
Not only that, but Lloyd (by not rescinding the invitation) has been understood to firmly communicate that these contentious matters of sexual ethics are issues on which Christians of good faith can “agree to disagree”, even while reasserting that this is not his position. Those I have spoken to have told me that the invitation effectively communicates that proposing revision on this key Christian doctrine is acceptable enough for you to be considered a bona fide minister. While speaking to the Hall community Lloyd expressed the view that the New Testament singles out false teaching on Christology as worthy of exclusion from fellowship. This is, of course, exactly the same argument made during the Tory Baucum/Shannon Johnson “reconciliation” process. At that time I and others wrote to suggest that the distinction was not as clear and that false teaching on human sexuality was, according to the New Testament, rejection of Jesus Himself.
On reading the letter a senior Church of England evangelical said to me:
Agreeing to disagree on whether to have LGBTQI activists preaching at communion services IS agreeing to disagree on the moral/theological issue. Except for urbane genteel academics who tip their hats at each other in senior common rooms over a nice bottle of port. They live in a different universe, where you can do such things without it meaning anything or giving any messages.
Who we invite into our pulpits to teach our people is a crucial part of pastoral care. Who we teach our ordinands that it is safe and helpful to invite into our pulpits is absolutely crucial in effective ministerial formation.
The leadership of the Wycliffe student body have called an extraordinary meeting for Monday. It appears now that the 2 key questions before them are this:
- Why did Lloyd not accept Percy’s offer to turn down the invitation? By doing so Lloyd could have avoided this rapidly growing division.
- What are the boundaries of false teaching (and therefore rejection of the validity of a Christian minister) in the New Testament?
Ultimately the students are the lifeblood of the college. Lloyd’s letter was addressed primarily to incumbents who have sent ordinands to Wycliffe. If they are no longer confident that Wycliffe will hold to evangelical doctrine not just in it’s public statements but also in its praxis then the impact on future student numbers could be very worrying. Lloyd is widely known and respected as the man who has restored Wycliffe after a number of years of great difficulty, but questions are now being raised over whether that improvement in Wycliffe’s situation can be maintained if this matter is not properly laid to rest.