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FOLLOWING the release last week of his essay on the Modern Church website – Sex, Sense and Non-Sense for Anglicans – the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, and a Vice President of Modern Church, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme to debate with Canon Dr Chris Sugden, a trustee of the conservative Evangelical pressure group, Anglican Mainstream.

Martyn Percy stated three reasons for writing his essay.  First, to express the view that the church cannot simply treat same-sex relations as a difficult issue merely to be managed.  He called for some moral and intellectual leadership in the church on the issue, and especially from the Archbishop.

Second, a number of countries in the Anglican Communion still criminalise same-sex relationships and persecute lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and some bishops in those countries are complicit in those laws and persecutions.  Percy argued that it seems very odd for the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene in North America, and extend hospitality to an anti-gay church lobby yet not, at the same time, extend a hand of friendship to lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians in parts of Africa, who are discriminated against, harassed and persecuted.

Third, Percy stated that lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians are weary of being treated as second-class Christians, and of being patronised, pathologised and problematised.  ‘Lesbian and gay Christians, living their Christian lives and love lives faithfully, will have full and equal citizenship in heaven’, he said.

'They will not be stopped at the pearly gates and made to sit on a naughty step outside. They are going to be welcomed in – as redeemed, and as fellow Christians – as equals.  All Christians pray this prayer: ‘thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven’.  So if gay Christians are going to be treated as equal in heaven, we had better do this on earth, and in the church, now.'

Defending the continuing criminalisation of same-sex relations in developing countries, parts of the Anglican Communion and Commonwealth, Chris Sugden claimed that had done:

'significant research (on homosexuality) in Africa, and talked to African Christians and legal experts, and the situation is this: what they are concerned about is the protection of children from grooming… These countries are full of people struggling, who are economically disadvantaged.  The one security they have is their family.  They (are) concerned to protect those from those who would prey on their children…'

The Sunday programme presenter, Edward Stourton, did not challenge the claims, or give Professor Percy an opportunity to reply. Commenting after the programme to Modern Church, Professor Percy said,

'I was surprised that Canon Sugden denied that lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians were being treated as second class citizens in the church – but then went on to denigrate and disparage them anyway.  Even more surprising was his suggestion that lesbian, gay and bisexual people had selected their sexuality – that it was a ‘lifestyle choice’.  But I was shocked at his support for the continuing criminalisation of homosexuality in certain countries – on the basis that legal frameworks discriminating against lesbian and gay people act as a legitimate bulwark to prevent paedophilia, and to protect families.  This is a profoundly disturbing viewpoint, deeply offensive, and quite un-Christian.'

He added:

'The church is community of humility and grace; not of mean judgmentalism, with some deciding they are more righteous than their neighbour.  It is a community of grace. It is a community that honours deeply committed and faithful love.  The church is not an end in itself.  It is only true to its calling if it is a faithful sign along the way, pointing to the fullness of the God’s Kingdom.  The church is there to make the deeds of Christ real; and to make his word real.  These words and deeds are fundamentally inclusive.  The church is supposed to be a sign of salvation and hope, not rejection and denigration.'

Click here to listen to the BBC Radio 4 debate in full (7mins).

Also on Sunday, BBC Radio Wiltshire broadcast an interview with Professor Percy in response to the Bishop of Winchester's refusal of permission to officiate for Canon Jeremy Davies, who has married his long-term male partner. Professor Percy explains his reasoning more fully than was possible on the Sunday programme. Click here to hear this interview in full (10mins).