What’s wrong with transgender liturgy?

Last July’s General Synod passed a motion brought by Chris Newlands on behalf of Blackburn Diocese, expressing the Church’s welcome of transgender people and asking the House of Bishops to consider whether they should offer some sort of liturgy to mark the transition of a person’s sex identity. In January, the House of Bishops responded saying that they had considered the question, and had decided that no such liturgy was necessary. This was not received well by those campaigning for a change in approach, and the main complaint was that, though the wording of the motion asked the House of Bishops to ‘consider’ whether a liturgy was needed, of course everyone knew that what was meant was that the House of Bishops should produce a liturgy, not simply consider the question. Such an interpretation is clearly mischievous, not least given that the modest nature of the wording was explicitly appealed to in the debate, and that the Vice Chair of the Liturgical Commission, Richard Frith, expressly warned that such ‘consideration’ would not lead to the offering of a liturgy.

One of those protesting the bishops’ decision was Tina Beardsley, a member of the Sibyls, Christian spirituality for transgender people, and a core consultant member of the Coordinating Group for the Episcopal Teaching Document on Marriage & Human Sexuality. Her response to the bishops had two parts:

What Lent disciplines do we need to embrace?

One of the constant temptations of evangelicalism is to decide that we have all the answers and so do not need to listen very carefully to what others say. A parallel temptation is to have the same attitude to God. He has revealed himself in Scripture and has made his will evident—so surely we just need to get on with it? Ironically, this attitude is potentially made worse by recent research on church growth. The Centre for Church Growth in Durham has identified key strategies and practices that lead to growth—so surely all we need to get on an implement them, don’t we?

This attitude is evidenced in four tendencies:

Individualism Evangelicals are not unique in this, but we have often valued strong leaders and heroic individuals. If there is a sense that God has raised up a ‘charismatic’ (in terms of personality) leader, then evangelical culture often makes it hard to ask appropriate questions, and shared leadership doesn’t appear to come naturally.

Modernist rationalism. Evangelical commitment to doctrinal expressions of faith can be very helpful in clarifying issues and positions. But it can also be a sign that the underlying philosophical assumptions are highly rationalist, and assume that the autonomy of the sensing subject at the centre of the process of acquiring knowledge. This rationalist approach can also mark some evangelical approaches to the interpretation of Scripture. As long as we have mastered the text, and have the appropriate techniques of interpretation, then we can have complete certainty about what texts might mean in new contexts. In this approach, there is little room for ambiguity or uncertainty.

Are people with Down’s syndrome truly valued?

General Synod of the Church of England met last week from Thursday to Saturday, and it was markedly less traumatic than some previous meetings. There were some challenging issues—the main ones for debate being the proposal for moving towards interchangeability of ministry with the Methodist Church, a report on safeguarding issues, and a motion on … Continue Reading

Theological Reflection on Male-Female Complementarity

At the recent Festival of Theology, we heard eight fascinating presentations on a range of subjects. I have previously posted John Allister on drawing on secular insights in ministry, and Alistair Roberts on virtue ethics in an age of social media. This is a revised version of David Shepherd’s presentation on theological perspectives on male-female … Continue Reading

The Church of England and closer union with Methodists

This week, the Church of England’s General Synod will debate something controversial other than sexuality (hurrah!): whether we should take a formal step towards closer union with the Methodist Church by means of mutual recognition of our respective presbyteral (local church leader) ministries. The proposals are set out in the report Ministry and Mission in … Continue Reading

Should secular leadership theory influence Christian ministry?

At the recent Festival of Theology, we heard eight fascinating presentations on a range of subjects, and I am hoping to post them all here in due course. This was the text of John Allister’s presentation “What has Wall Street to do with Jerusalem?” In November, I was at a gathering of local church leaders. We … Continue Reading

Valuing people with Down’s Syndrome: a parent’s response

The Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council has just published a report Valuing People with Down’s Syndrome for discussion at next week’s meeting of General Synod. Mary Cole, mother of a boy with Down’s Syndrome living in Cambridgeshire, offers her personal response. Our eldest son Ben is ten years old. He plays football … Continue Reading