Is Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, becoming Leader of the Opposition to ++Justin Welby's leadership of the Government of the C of E and Anglican Communion? Earlier this year there was strong Percy opposition to a plan to train bishops in management skills. Today Martyn Percy bursts onto the Anglo-Blogosphere with an essay in Modern Church,* summarised in a fisky way here, which has another go at ++Welby's leadership. (There is also a notice in Thinking Anglicans). [*You will get to the essay via this link.]
The essay is explicitly timed to broadside the gathering captains of the Anglican fleet at the forthcoming Primates' Meeting in January 2016.
No holds are barred as Percy calls on the ABC to apologise for this and that (England's exporting prejudice against homosexuality in the nineteenth century, inviting ++Foley of ACNA to the Primates' Meeting). In one purple passage he makes hay with Anglican statistics to cast doubt on whether the future of global Anglicanism is weighted towards Africa or not. Yeah, right! Basically he is telling ++Justin what to do, how to go about it, and what a numpty he will be if he doesn't follow Percy's manifesto. Here he is, for instance, commenting on the possibility that the Communion might devolve to something akin to the manner in which Eastern Orthodox churches populate the world, often with overlapping jurisdictions:
"The Archbishop needs to understand that there is a theology of Communion: a delicate relationship between geography, catholicity, ontology, theology, authority and pastoral oversight. Pushing the Anglican Communion to a more dispersed ‘Orthodox’ paradigm would cause irreparable damage to Anglicanism, licencing schismatic-churches in all but name."
The Archbishop needs to understand. That is interesting language coming from a lesser ranked clergy. I wonder how far I would get in synod if I started a speech with "The Bishop needs to understand ..."?
There seems to be no point of potential weakness in the planning of the Primates' Meeting on which Percy fails to pour scorn:
"There will undoubtedly be valiant attempts to construct some much-needed rapprochement for the Anglican Communion at the Primates’ gathering. At the forefront – or at least facilitating – is Canon David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s appointee for reconciliation. Porter is an Irish Presbyterian by background, and an Evangelical-Anabaptist by conviction. But he will have his work cut out to fashion some theological unity, in what is essentially an Anglican-catholic problem of polity."
But the great weakness in Percy's essay is its failure to offer a better way forward than what the ABC is offering. His compelling critique of Anglican failures re sexuality (and of C of E failures in particular) offers no specific recipe or remedy for unity on these matters. His alternative to a possible "Orthodox like" future for the Communion is this:
"It is possible that the Commonwealth, rather than the Orthodox Church, might serve as a better model for the future of global Anglicanism."
Er, that would be the Commonwealth that regularly suspends or expels errant members? Such a Communion no doubt would need a Covenant to help it understand which members should stay and which should go! And would that be the Commonwealth that bit by bit, year after year increasingly becomes less and less relevant to its members?
Oh, and apparently some poetry will fix our problems. Yes, it's there in the essay and if I don't tell you the page numbers you might be drawn to read Percy's breathless prose. He is a very readable writer. In his breathless prose, incidentally, many fine and telling observations are made: there are a number of things about Anglican approaches to homosexuality which are not going well and Percy rightly challenges his own church and the Communion to do better. But that is not the main point of the essay, which concerns how the ABC is going to lead the next Primates' Meeting as part of leadership of the Communion. The incidental points are hammered home but the essay's main thrust becomes a feather duster flailing in the breeze. A hammer nailing home its main point, that the ABC is wrong, wrong, wrong, this essay is not.
[Update] A comment from Nick alerted me to the following passage in the essay which I had not paid close attention to. This is an extraordinary critique (at best) and attack (at worst) on the work of ++Justin Welby.
"On the surface, a businessman-turned-Archbishop, with skills in negotiation, may seem like an ideal person to resolve this for the church. But we should be wary, and probe deeper. Negotiating and achieving results in business is often based upon intrinsic and extrinsic inequalities in power relations. The new company seeking to buy the larger, older, but now weaker competitor may be in a much stronger position than others. In business, risk, aggression and decisiveness are often rewarded – handsomely. But these are not necessarily the characteristics one wants to the fore in ecclesial contexts. Especially now. Moreover, the Archbishop, can do little to re-narrate his background – as a privileged white male; Etonian, upper-class; and related to titled people, who has little experience of powerlessness. Indeed, in terms of powerlessness, it is hard to see how he can enter into it, let alone comprehend it. His negotiations as a businessman in sensitive areas of Nigeria, whilst winning plaudits in the media, are not the same as the work of reconciliation, and arguably not the right ‘fit’ for the church, where first-hand experiences of powerlessness are often important for shaping episcopal ministry. Indeed, any ordained ministry."