Controversial Chapel Invitation Brings Tensions to Wycliffe Hall Oxford

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fWycliffe Hall  is one of the Church of England’s most prestigious theological colleges, being one of Oxford University’s many colleges. Long respected as an evangelical institution, it has had a number of difficulties since the principalship of Alister McGrath and the current principal, Michael Lloyd, is seen by many as a safe pair of hands.

Martyn Percy
Martyn Percy

But he’s now facing a growing crisis over an inadvertent but controversial invitation to the dean of Christ Church, Martyn Percy, to preach at college chapel on 8 March 2016 at a service of Holy Communion. The text for that day is Col. 4:2-18.

Martyn Percy is well known as a liberal theologian and has a record of public statements that challenge orthodoxy, particularly in the field of sexual ethics. He is an outspoken advocate for full LGBTI inclusion in the life and ministry of the Church of England, and the revision of the Church of England’s traditional understanding of marriage.

What lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians are asking for is bread, not stones (LK. 11:11).  And many of us now long to see this bread freely given; not at a price, or with conditions attached.  So, what I hope and pray for from the Primates’ gathering next week is an unequivocal ‘yes’ to lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians’ full and equal membership of the church, holding up a mirror to the full love and cherishing that God has already poured upon them, and also awaits them in heaven.

Most recently he published a much-criticised attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, prior to the 2016 Primates gathering.

We understand that the invitation was made by a tutor who was not themselves aware of Percy’s writing. There is some incredulity amongst Wycliffe members that I’ve spoken to over that.

A representative of the Student Common Room has met twice with the Principal to raise concerns, both in a personal capacity and then with other members of the student body (which totals approx. 100 students made out of Anglican ordinands, independent students and also overseas post-graduates, including members of ACNA) and the matter has also been discussed by senior tutors. The Principal has invited the student body to a Q&A on Monday 8 February to address their various concerns and I am told by sources at the college that much will hang upon how that meeting goes.

The invitation is being portrayed by some as simply an exercise in free expression but others have argued that the invitation cannot go ahead since it would be in clear contradiction to the College’s own stated values:

We believe in the vital reality of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of Christians and in the Bible as the inspired and authoritative word of God, illumined by that same Spirit.

Not only that but there is concern that the invitation would be regarded as a snub to not only the Archbishop of Canterbury but also to Wycliffe former faculty member Martin Davie who wrote a lengthy refutation of Percy’s most recent criticism of Welby,

Unfortunately, as we have seen, Martyn Percy has given us an approach to thinking about the future of Anglicanism that does not start from Scripture and which does not hang together as an argument.

Monday’s Q&A meeting is therefore critical and much depends upon it. It could be that a large segment of the student body may feel the need to take further public action if their very real concerns are not properly addressed. One source in the college said to me “The principal, Michael Lloyd, is well-respected as a conciliator. But if he does not now take strong leadership then this problem may well turn into a crisis”.

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. MichaelA

    In George Smiley’s universe, there was no such thing as coincidence. I really wonder about the “inadvertent” part.

  2. Leofranc Holford-Strevens

    That’s certainly how the Russians think.

  3. John Darch

    Is it the practice in Sydney to invite only those with whom you agree? Oxford is a centre of learning, not of indoctrination, where all sides of an argument are heard and scrutinized. To listen does not imply agreement – merely a desire to understand and to be fully informed.

    1. David Ould

      No, I had lectures from a variety of people and was encouraged to read as widely as possible. But I can’t recall one chapel sermon given by someone who openly rejects orthodox doctrine.

  4. John Darch

    Putting the case for a change in the status quo is not the same as ‘openly reject[ing] orthodox doctrine’.
    On that understanding Luther, Zwingi, Wesley, Wilberforce and others whom we revere today and who bravely challenged the church of their own time would also be excluded from preaching!

    1. David Ould

      I’m not sure that’s true, John. The Reformers were just that – Reformers. But Percy is viewed as a revisionist. He is not seeking to return the church back to a previously understood orthodoxy but, rather, advocating entirely novel doctrine in contradiction to Scripture.

  5. Stephen Mourant

    When I was at St. John’s Nottingham in the early 80s we had John Robinson to speak and lecture; it was good to be exposed to theology we didn’t agree with in order to engage with them and, in a Christian manner, debate. There’s too much reaction at a distance in the Church currently; let him come, let the students debate with civility, knowledge, and prove their case by truth and love.

    1. David Ould

      Thanks Stephen. As I understand it those who are objecting to Percy’s preaching at chapel would not have the same objections to his giving a lecture. It is the invitation to preach that has caused the protests.

  6. Rev Peter

    As a former Wycliffe student, this is rather concerning. Although I can understand the suggestion made in comments above about hearing the man out and then engaging him in debate, we have to remember that this is not a lecture but rather he is being invited to preach in the context of a Eucharist. This is hardly the most appropriate place to engage in argumentation. I do hope the students will be able to convince the principal to think again about this invitation. (It’s also rather concerning that the tutor who invited Mr Percy is unaware of his views!)

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