Evangelical college stands by decision to invite liberal professor to preach

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A leading evangelical theological college in the UK is standing by its decision to invite a prominent liberal clergyman and academic to preach in its chapel. That's despite criticism from the evangelical blogosphere.

Wycliffe Hall in Oxford is one of the more conservative evangelical training centres to offer studies for those seeking ordination to the Church of England. In common with many other Anglican institutions, it has a chapel and maintains a daily pattern of prayer and services. It isn't unusual for clergy or academics from other institutions to be invited to preach at chapels in Oxford.

Rev Professor Martyn Percy is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford – the City's Cathedral, as well as a college of Oxford University.

Percy has attracted the ire of conservatives (and even those who agree with him on full inclusion of non-celibate gay people) with his comments around sexuality. Just prior to the recent Primates' meeting, Percy criticised Archbishop Justin Welby's approach to sexuality and called on him to repent for the Church's treatment of gay people (which Welby did at the closing press conference).

Rev Dr Michael Lloyd, Principal of Wycliffe Hall gave a statement to Christian Today which said, "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."

In addition to his views on sexuality, Percy has made other comments which have dismayed evangelicals, in particular his criticism of the Church of England's reform and renewal process.

Dr Lloyd also told Christian Today, "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."

Wycliffe Hall has come through difficult times in the last decade. In 2007, 12 members of staff resigned over the leadership of the then principal, Richard Turnbull. He left in 2012 and was replaced a year later by Lloyd – who is widely considered to have revived the college's fortunes.