The Oxford theologian who called for the conservative bishop nominated as the next leader of the Diocese of Sheffield to clarify his position on women’s ministry or decline the nomination has called for ‘a thorough and wholesale review’ of gender-based discrimination in the Church of England.

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, has published a follow-up essay in response to criticism of his stance in an article published on the website of Modern Church, a society promoting breadth and depth in Christian theology, of which Prof Percy is a Vice President.

In Not a Matter of Opinion: Discernment, Difference and Discrimination, Professor Percy argues that:

The Sheffield debacle began to unravel some time before I published my original essay on the issue. At the consultation stage of the process to select a new bishop, the women clergy of the diocese were asked, informally, if they would welcome a woman bishop. In what can only be described as an act of gracious magnanimity, they said ‘no’, indicating that the diocese was not ready for this yet… The women at no stage were asked if they would accept a bishop who did not ordain women.

Since no-one consulted on whether the Diocese of Sheffield would welcome a bishop who would not ordain women, he continues:

What happened next was inevitable: the views which should have been gathered by the drafting group could only be voiced once Philip North had been selected. Parishes and clergy duly registered their concerns, in large numbers. The postbag was enormous, and grew daily. This was no organised campaign. It was ordinary people, concerned about the impact of gender-based discrimination in their local parishes. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Percy contrasts research showing that companies where women are strongly represented at board level in the FTSE 100 Index tend to out-perform their male-dominated competitors with the Church of England’s idea of ‘balance’: evening up the number of ‘traditionalist’ bishops with women bishops:

The Church of England consistently sends out mixed signals. It is good to have women clergy, apparently. But please, don’t let us celebrate this too much for fear of upsetting those who still want to engage in gender-based discrimination.

He argues that the Church of England needs ‘a thorough and wholesale review’ of the Five Guiding Principles which the House of Bishops adopted in 2014 as a concession to conservatives who opposed the ordination of women as bishops, since it cannot deliver the the ‘mutual flourishing’ it promises. But he would want to see the review go much further:

Not just of the ‘Five Guiding Principles’, and the question of whether or not a ‘traditionalist’ can ever be a diocesan bishop. These are mere symptoms of the deeper malaise. What the Church of England now needs to review is just one thing: discrimination.

Percy calls the Five Guiding Principles

merely a ‘cease fire’ in the Church of England’s long saga of ‘Gender Wars’. Or a truce, at best. But these ‘Principles’ cannot bring peace. Because a temporary political solution cannot resolve our deep theological divisions. Only deeper theology will bring us lasting peace. Such theology will be founded on equality and inclusion, not dubious ‘equal-but-different’ discriminatory reasoning.

He does not wish to see groups that oppose the ordination of women, whether Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical, cease to be part of the Church of England, as

They are part of the body of Christ and more unites us than divides us.

But he challenges the wisdom of resourcing them to extend their influence in the wider national church while they still believe in and practise gender-based discrimination.

Professor Percy’s original essay on the controversial nomination of the current Bishop of Burnley, Rt Rev Philip North, as Bishop of Sheffield, Questions of Ambiguity and Integrity, was published on the Modern Church website on 24th February 2017 and featured prominently in The Guardian and other media. Two weeks later, on 9th March, Bishop North announced he was unable to accept the nomination as Bishop of Sheffield.


Click here to read and download the full 5400 word essay, Not a Matter of Opinion: Discernment, Difference and Discrimination, by Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy.


Note for editors: Modern Church is a membership organisation that promotes liberal Christian theology. It encourages open, respectful debate and discussion of matters relating to Christian faith. It was founded at the end of the 19th century as a Church of England society. Now it welcomes all who share its ethos. For media enquiries, contact Modern Church Communications Officer Kieran Bohan: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..