AS THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND faces another scandal this week over same-sex marriage and its treatment of clergy in same sex relationships, a senior Anglican professor has called on the Archbishop of Canterbury to apologise for the Church’s mistakes in its response to homosexuality around the world.
The Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and a Vice President of Modern Church, has published an article petitioning Justin Welby in his role as head of the global Anglican Communion.
In an essay called Sex, Sense and Non-Sense for Anglicans, Prof Percy examines the Archbishop’s approach to the Anglican Communion’s tensions over homosexuality and same-sex marriage ahead of the meeting of Anglican Primates he has convened for 11-16 January 2016 in Canterbury. Prof Percy warns that if the Church of England maintains its current course in responding to conflicts around sexuality and same-sex marriage may lead to its disestablishment:
‘For any national church to turn its face away from those who are full and equal citizens, and have their unions and marriages recognised as such, effectively augments a process of de-nationalisation and privatisation. It is a route-march towards a tribal church.’
In the Anglican Communion, which represents an estimated 85 million people in 165 countries, the Archbishop of Canterbury also faces the challenge of how to respond to religious, cultural and legal homophobia. In 41 of the 53 countries of the British Commonwealth, homosexual conduct is still regarded as criminal. Prof Percy calls for the Archbishop to acknowledge that:
‘(the) legal stigmatisation of homosexuality was largely ‘made in England’ in the nineteenth century, and imposed on cultures and emerging countries and that had not been, hitherto, homophobic. This is one of England’s less wholesome exports. The Archbishop of Canterbury could begin the Primates’ meeting by accepting responsibility for the part the Church of England has played in perpetrating this discrimination and the subsequent injustices – and publicly repenting of them.’
Prof Percy critiques Archbishop Welby’s decision to invite Archbishop Foley Beach of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) to attend the Primates’ meeting, without consulting the official Episcopal Churches in the USA and Canada, and suggests:
‘So the Archbishop of Canterbury could begin proceedings in January by offering an apology to American and Canadian Anglicans for his intemperate gestures towards ACNA, and his lack of consultation, which has undermined them. He should further apologise for dealing in territories and spheres of authority that are simply not his to meddle with.’
He also warns against using the widespread belief that the Anglican churches of the global south now form the majority and are the only ones growing numerically to cede ‘more moral ground…to African churches…than might be judicious’ in divisive debates over sexual ethics. He calls for greater recognition of inequality and imbalance of power in the current debate:
‘Those needing protection and care are still lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians… Conservatives are not oppressed or criminalised for their opposition to lesbian, gay and bisexual people – ever, anywhere.‘
He recognises that for some Conservative Christians who argue that relationships between the sexes are prescribed and proscribed in the Bible, the issue will continue to be non-negotiable,
‘But if equal rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual people seeking to have faithful and life-long blessing of their relationship recognised and blessed is seen as matter of justice and equality, then we have a different Christian perspective to contemplate.’
Prof Percy advises against affirming dissonant voices from the global south ‘to uphold an oppressive conservative coalition that is determined to denigrate those of a more liberal persuasion’, which has placed the Church of England in alliance with developing nations but out of kilter with the rest of the UK.
He argues that the recent employment tribunal for Jeremy Pemberton – a priest who has married his male partner – which ruled that the Church of England was allowed to discriminate against Pemberton, because the church had exempted itself from UK equality legislation, ‘gave the Church of England the worst kind of Pyrrhic victory.’
This is compounded by the decision to discriminate against those being considered for future high office in the church based on any statements the candidate has previously made on same-sex relations:
‘The Church of England is, in other words, not only enshrining, but also perpetuating its own discrimination, while statistical surveys of churchgoers repeatedly show that there is growing toleration for same-sex unions in congregations and amongst clergy.’
This is not a situation unique to the Church of England, though it is particularly acute for Justin Welby as he tries to hold the Anglican Communion together in its tensions over the issue of sexuality and marriage. Archbishop Justin’s task is to appease conservative voices in the developing south of the Communion, yet at the same time not lose a whole generation of young people to the Church of England:
‘The Primates need to grasp that lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians are now an inescapable part of the Anglican Communion. In many countries across the world, they enjoy full and equal citizenship under the law. So, the Primates need to turn their critical attention to those countries in which they have influence, where this is not yet so.’
Prof Percy believes Archbishop Justin has a real opportunity to succeed where Pope Francis has recently failed in his recent Synod on the Family:
‘Simply put, no matter what his fellow Archbishops think about the right way to talk about homosexuality, there is no case for oppressing lesbian, gay and bisexual people under criminal law. In any country, anywhere.’