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:

I understand the theology that our identity as Christians is in Christ, and hence that to adapt the Renewal of Baptismal Vows for trans people seems fitting. Yes, indeed, renewing one’s baptismal vows, following name change or any other stage of gender confirmation, can be very healing. I know that for myself.

But what is the problem with producing a short pastoral service that could include the renewal of baptismal vows, but that also stated, on the cover, or as a heading, that this rite was specifically for use with gender variant people? Why does it appear to be so difficult to actually name us and our reality?

To explore the issues, it would be useful to have a liturgy to consider—and in fact Tina Beardsley has written one as part of a forthcoming book, and you can read it online. There are some important aspects of it that are worth noting.

The opening scene involves having two tables, one with symbols of the past identity, and the other with symbols of the person’s new ‘gender or non-binary identity’ that is to be affirmed. It is interesting to note that this ritual space still has a binary division—but the division is not between humanity as male and female, but between humanity locked into the old paradigm of male-and-female, and human now in the new liberating paradigm of gender fluidity. This division is reinforced by the opening scripture verse:

God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21)

In context, this verse is about the final consummation of all things, and the completion of redemption on the return of Jesus, leading to a description of the eschatological goal of creation in the New Jerusalem, which fulfils all the promises of God to his people. But it is also the reality anticipated in Paul’s language of resurrection life in Romans 6 and the ontological change brought about by faith in Christ which makes the believer a ‘new creation’ (2 Cor 5.17) in anticipation of the ‘new heavens and new earth’ (Rev 21.1). The liturgy makes the ritual claim that this eschatological salvation is now being realised in the process of sex identity change—but also makes the pastoral claim that this process offers the end of unhappiness. Although transition might well be a positive result for some, this is far from universal.

Following this verse comes an opening statement.

Friends, we come here today to mark a change of name. It is a recognition of a pre-existing truth that has been obscured, one in which we have all played our part in uncovering. Today we witness a sacred transformation in which the true purpose of PN’s (natal name) life has been revealed.

Two claims are made here. The first is that the new sex identity which the person will own has been ‘pre-existing’, and this clearly accords with the experience of many who suffer from gender dysphoria, who testify that they have felt uncomfortable with their sex identity from childhood. But the liturgy makes a further radical claim about this: that this ‘truth’ has been ‘obscured’, presumably by the biological sex identity of the person concerned. This presupposes a kind of body-self dualism which has led many to argue that transgenderism (as an ideology) has much in common with gnostic and Platonic ideas which have consistently been rejected within orthodox Christian belief. The second claim is that the change being celebrated is part of ‘sacred transformation’, using the kind of language about sanctification used by Paul in Romans 12.

This theme of sanctification continues in the following paragraph, which claims that the change of sex identity, expressed in the taking of a new name, parallels stories of call and change in Scripture, in Abraham and Sarah, Jacob who became Israel, and Saul who became Paul. This is about recognising both ‘true nature and God’s purpose’, and so makes claims about reality as well as holiness. It is not surprising that the liturgy assumes that Christian theology has no particular view on sex identity, offering the choice of new identity as ‘male/female/nonbinary/gender queer (use appropriate term)’. But the text returns to classic Christian language of sanctification in talking of ‘old ways of living need to be put to aside so that new and affirming ways of living, loving and being can be taken up’. The notable absence here is any language of repentance, which is central to NT understanding but here is displaced by the process of sex identity change.

The second reading is from Ecclesiastes 3 (‘There is a time for everything under heaven…’) though in context the passage is not asserting that everything we imagine can have a place, simply that all the normal experiences of life have their turn. There follows a transitional comment leading to vows of commitment, which again draws on NT language about conversion to faith in Christ:

We recognise that this is the time for you to put away the identity that feels like an ill-fitting garment and no longer serves God’s purpose for you.

This has a close parallel to Paul’s language of ‘putting on Christ’ in Gal 3.27, Romans 13.14 and Col 3.10–12, and is used with an eschatological sense in 1 Cor 15.53.

The vows that follow are quite striking, in that they replace the commitments made to others in the liturgies of ordination and marriage with vows made to the self to live authentically according to one’s self-understanding. There is mention of ‘calling’, of the ‘whisper of the Spirit’, or prayer, struggle and discernment, but all these are expressed without any connection to external reference points, in particular the reference point of Scripture, which features prominently in the ordination and marriage liturgies. There is an invitation for affirmation from ‘family and friends’, but no space is given here to the issues and challenges that are often presented to spouses and children by those wanting to make sex identity transition.

The final blessing continues to co-opt biblical language of both creation and salvation. ‘God the creator dreamed of this day at the beginning of time’ echoes language about salvation planned ‘from the foundation of the world’ (Matt 25.34, Eph 1.4, Rev 13.8). And this new sex identity constitutes ‘new life’, that language used in the NT for the life of salvation in Christ.

Overall, then, this liturgy departs markedly from Anglican practice in being rooted in biblical ideas and theology for what it is doing. Instead, it plunders Scripture for ideas and language to describe the felt significance of the moment—but in doing so it elevates sex identity change to the level of salvation, claiming implicitly through its ritual structure that fluidity and self-construction of sex identity, separated from bodily sex identity, is the eschatological goal for humanity which is anticipated in this rite. Instead of Scripture shaping the theological ideas, key bits of Scripture are pressed into the mould required by this ideological outlook. This is not simply an act of welcome; it is an act of radical reconfiguration of theological understanding, not only of sex, gender and the body, but of salvation and eschatology.

In their explanation of the decision not to create a new liturgy, the bishops made this key theological comment:

The rite of Affirmation includes the opportunity for the candidate to renew the commitments made in baptism, and for the congregation to respond. The emphasis is placed not on the past or future of the candidate alone but on their faith in Jesus Christ. The Affirmation therefore gives priority to the original and authentic baptism of the individual, and the sacramental change it has effected, allowing someone who has undergone a serious and lasting change to re-dedicate their life and identity to Christ. The image of God, in which we are all made, transcends gender, race, and any other characteristic, and our shared identity as followers of Jesus is the unity which makes all one in Christ (Galatians 3.27-28).

This is the central theological point about identity within Christian faith—that it is centred on the work of Christ, not the self-construction of the interior life of the individual, that it has a clear corporate dimension, and that baptism points to the one ontological, salvific action of God in Christ. Despite Tina Beardsley’s protestation, her liturgy contradicts every element of that, and offers us an alternative, individualistic, internally focussed understanding of redemption achieved by being true to one’s felt sex identity, with no reference to traditional Christian teaching about sex or the body.

There is no doubt that those who experience gender dysphoria need urgent help, support and welcome, and I think many in the Church of England want to offer that welcome. But as long as those campaigning on their behalf cement the need for welcome with an assertion of a radical reconfiguration of theology, then they are inhibiting, not helping, this pastoral process.

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50 thoughts on “What’s wrong with transgender liturgy?”

  1. Thank you for this very thoughtful theological and scriptural analysis of a liturgy suggested by a transgender campaigner.

    I particularly appreciated that you used the terms ‘sex’ and ‘sex identity’ instead of gender, which I found aided clarity.

  2. I echo Will, I find the precision of terminology here consistent and helpful.

    It will be interesting to see the manner in which other church traditions follow suit, or try to. I come from an English Baptist, and therefore largely ‘non-liturgical’, setting where I cannot see the conflation of these two ideas (sexual identity/christian identity) being reconciled, especially through the one sacrament we do have some form of defined practice for; Baptism.

    I find that aspect of this debate the most alien. I can understand and empathise with those who wish for a formal, liturgical, affirmation of their percieve change in ‘status’, but I cannot understand or emapthsie with those who equate that status with salvation and desire to express it through baptism.

    • To clarify, I used the term ‘Sexual Identity’ above intent on meaning ‘the sex a person identifies as’, not as a synonym term for Sexuality/Sexual orientation.

  3. Thank you for this very informative article. It helped my lack of understanding about such issues. Plus some unusual endorsement for the actions of the Bishops (I think).

  4. Concerning support for controversial liturgy, the House of Bishops has previously referred to the Pastoral Letter from the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Pentecost 2003 which said:
    ‘The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites.

    This is distinct from the duty of pastoral care that is laid upon all Christians to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations. As recognised in the booklet “True Union”, it is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.’.

    Similarly, the lack of a theological consensus on transitioning sexual identity continues to prevent the HoB from authorising transgender liturgy. And, as explained in the excerpt from the 2003 Patoral Letter, this is distinct from our Christian duty of pastoral care to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual identities.

    Tina Bearsley knows full well that this lack of theological consensus exists, as it is evident in the following excerpt from http://sibyls.gndr.org.uk/documents/SuE0126a-Beardsley%20on%20Pilling.pdf, which criticised the Pilling Report for failing to address transgender people,
    “One striking omission at this stage in the Report is that there is no corresponding summary of the submissions made by the ‘lobbying groups’, nor from the individuals listed at the end of the document. Even if the working group had reservations about these submissions, or decided to reject them, it would have been courteous, as part of a listening exercise, to acknowledge what had been said via this formal process, and why the working party chose to adopt a different approach.
    This point is especially pertinent in relation to the submission from the Sibyls, Christian
    spirituality for trans people, which had noted that, although trans people are mainly concerned with gender identity, rather than sexual orientation, gender, sexuality, and spirituality are inextricably linked, and went on to highlight the predicament of married transsexual people who, at that time, prior to the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, could only obtain gender recognition by dissolving their marriage. This anomaly is a concrete, and highly emotive, example of the interface between gender and sexuality as it affects trans people, but the working party chose not to address this, nor indeed, trans people’s needs at all:
    ‘This report focuses on questions concerning same sex relationships. However, the group believes that the experiences of those with transgender and intersex conditions raise important theological and pastoral issues. Some of these issues were outlined in chapter 7 of the 2003 House of Bishops report “Some Issues in Human Sexuality” and the Church of England needs to address them‘. (paragraph 38)
    As the Report does not engage with the arguments of the Sibyls’ submission as to why it was
    important to include trans people in the remit of the working party, one must assume that the
    decision was taken on the basis of the working party’s meeting with transgender people, which it summaries thus:
    ‘The issues raised by the transgendered people we encountered were not primarily about sexuality as such, but about feelings of shame and exclusion in relation to gender.’”

    As you rightly explain, Beardsley’s liturgy is Gnostic by dismissing the transgender person’s overt sexual characteristics (which are part of their God-given embodiment) as an obscuring of their ‘true nature’.

    So, as I wrote in my previous post: ‘Today, gnosticism also finds expression in identity essentialism, where the body is merely the vehicle and the over-painted canvas of self-identification.

    This contrasts sharply with Jesus’ rhetorical question about the inescapable constraints of our physiology (as representative of earthly limitations) is entirely applicable to transitioning sexual identity: ‘ Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

    In summary, the very concept of transgender identity raises serious theological questions which the Church has not addressed. Until a consensus is reached and articulated, there can be no possibility of any episcopally authorised transgender liturgy.

  5. On the change of name point, it’s interesting that in scripture, people who change name typically retain their old names. This holds both in the new testament (Simon/Peter) and also in the old testament (Jacob/Israel). The only exception to this pattern is Abraham and Sarah, whose are no longer referred to by their former names.

    • Yes. Even then there is a good reason: ‘Abram Abraham’ and ‘Sarai Sarah’ don’t cut the mustard. The old identity was anyway being replaced, or rather transformed.

      • Go and look up the names “Abram” and “Abraham”, likewise “Sarai” and “Sarah” in Hebrew. Examine the Hebrew letters and you will see that in each case the new name is an addition to the old name, in the case of Abraham a single letter added, in the case of Sarah an addition to a letter to change it to another letter. In other words, the old names are contained within the new names. They are not discarded, but embedded within the new names. There’s some deep truth in that, resurrection truth.

          • It’s certainly an interesting case, in that (unlike the other cases) it is not a divinely commissioned change of usage. Nor is the context of the change of usage (which of course may have been gradual and/or an afterthought) his conversion, as one might have expected.

            There could be some significance in changing to a Gentile-language name from a Hebrew one. And there is certainly etymological significance in his new choice. All (by now) hackneyed points.

          • Rev,Dr,Ian,Paul – these are all your names and there may be more where they came from – but the one you chose to use says something about you and your relationship with those you are interacting with. No-one interchanges names lightly and certainly not a Jewish man for whom names reveal being ( there is a later Jewish saying ‘for in our name lies our soul and self’). The source of the name Paul may be Saul’s Roman citizen nomos, or a name given by God, or the church, or taken by him self. But that Paul self identifies by Paul and not Saul which is the name he is introduced to us with by Luke and addressed as by Jesus on the road to Damascus must lead us to ask why? Even if it is purely pragmatic for ministry to Gentiles, I personally think one can infer something missiologically significant from that, 1Cor9v20,21.

  6. This is so far from consistent logical thinking as to be deeply disturbing.

    Professor Winston has pointed out that the number of people who come to regret sex-change is above 50% and unacceptably high. He pointed out that depression comes about from the drugs administered and not just from surgery (and NOT from bullying which represents less than 1%). He was aware that some research suggest no ill side affects, but Quentin Van Meter, MD, FCP, a pediatric endocrinologist and a Fellow of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, has given lectures. He has been involved in transgenderism work at hospitals and has revealed just how the original research by Dr K Zucker, in Canada is now supplanted by completely unscientific studies in its place. The transgenderism is based on no real science at all, the most common fault being the complete lack of any control group (which is basic science avoided).

    Professor Winston’s reward for such a statement on Radio was a large of hate mail from the “trans” lobby, a particularly vocal minority.
    The researcher who wanted to research sex-change regret recently had his application refused. There is funding for those who support transgender but not for those who question it.

    If 50%+ regret sex change later then what is proposed here is a service in which the Church is affirming a sex change that they then come to regret. Where does that leave the Church?

    This “liturgy” ( I have sat on one of the liturgical advisory committees and question if this is actual liturgy) includes:

    Have you prayed and heard the whisper of the Spirit calling you to this transformation?
    I have.

    I would have to question whether they ever heard the Holy Spirit as opposed to the Spirit of the age when this service is saying to God – “Sorry that You got it wrong the first time!”

    Then it says:
    (to those assembled) And do you, family and friends recognise that it is time to lay this identity aside so that God’s sacred purpose for this Child of God can be achieved?
    We do.

    If the actual family and friends are NOT amongst “those assembled” then the one group not actually being asked is the family and friends. At best it only asks those members of the family that agree and sidelines the rest, which is classic hateful ideology.

    This “liturgy” even includes:
    Rite 5: Release from Wedding Vows

    ….which is yet another case of the promises made before God being deleted.

    This proposal is a travesty of Church and Scripture.

    • It’s all about control and ideology. ‘Holy Spirit’ never gets defined. ‘Release’ is biased terminology (I know ‘certificate of freedom’ is already a term, but it too is biased in an ungodly direction, of all directions to be biased in). ‘Recognise’ means that the truth is certainly one way rather than another – just, only some people have come to appreciate that. That is sometimes the case in life – but here? Given the science and the commonsense? ‘Child of God’ is (predictably, alas) the vague creational not the salvational usage. The process as a whole does not make sense – what sort of purpose is achieved by making someone the wrong way at first, then hoping that they will ‘recognise’ this and do the necessary?

      Mental problems come from being mixed up or messed up in some way. For example: drugs can mess with your mind, promiscuity can mess with your sense of self or integrity, abuse can mess nigh-irrevocably (but thanks be to God who gives the victory) with your proper development and formation. There are few more fundamental ways of being mixed or messed up than denying your biology and having to live in that constant tension. It reminds me of those people (too many! – politicians; professionals standing up for the firm they work for and its company policy) who have constantly to be vigilant not only about what they do and do not say, but about the precise way that they phrase it. The unreality of it all must be so tiring; nd it never relents, this keeping up of the pretence. What a way to spend one’s life.

  7. Michael Lakey makes this interesting comment on Facebook:

    The question is twofold: 1) is there a problem with this proposal; and 2) is the problem categorical or not (such that any proposal would suffer from the same problem)?

    My own view is that a) the state of theological anthropology in the Church of England prevents there being a ‘thick’ enough rationale for this; that b) the divisions in the Church of England would preclude any such liturgy being the liturgy of *the Church* (which surely is part of their point); and that c) even if a and b could be settled to any degree of satisfaction, it would be difficult to articulate any meaningful relationship between this ritual and historical Christian teaching on the orders of Creation and New Creation. In short, to do this without settling all of these questions is incompetent, divisive and uncatholic.

    My rationale would be that religious rituals communicate nodal religious symbols. I find Clifford Geertz helpful on this.

    //”[S]acred symbols function to synthesize a people’s ethos – the tone, character, and quality of their life, its moral and aesthetic style and mood – and their world view – the picture they have of the way things in sheer actuality are, their most comprehensive ideas of order.” (Religion as a Cultural System, 89)

    But ‘we’ are a people whose ethos, tone, character, quality of life, aesthetic style and mood, world view, and comprehensive idea of order is fragmented. And I don’t mean fragmented in the sense that we all inhabit the same chaotic cultural universe. Rather, the CofE is inhabited by several groups, *rival* groups, who occupy basically different cultural universes, but the cultural universes posited by those sub-cultures are not inherently disorderly (well some of them are, but most are not). In a church in which the centre *has not* held, it is not possible to attain to the requisite unity of mind/uniformity of life that such a ritual could be anything other than sectarian (in the pejorative sense of the word).

    And here is the rub: I think the people pressing for this have as their deepest heart’s desire a ritual that is ‘thicker’ in its significance than a mere ‘welcome’. I think what they desire is something that lies between the orders of creation and recreation–an affirmation that God made me this way and that transition has brought me home to my body in a creative/re-creative way. I suspect that they are looking for an ecclesially-mediated Divine “Let there be . . .” But because producing a liturgy that affirmed *that* symbolic universe would do violence to the symbolic universe of lots of other Anglicans who do not buy into the theological anthropology that underlies/is the corollary of that desire, a liturgy of welcome is about the most that can be pressed upon the Church–and even then it isn’t clear whether it will succeed.

    And the result of this is that this proposal is destined to disappoint literally everyone (except those blithely unaffected by it). But not in the good way of disappointing everyone, in which everyone’s will to power is foiled. Rather, this is the incompetent, divisive and uncatholic way of disappointing everyone.

  8. Ian, I take my hat off to you for writing this clear, thorough and sensitive post . When I read Tina Beardsley’s proposed trans liturgy I felt as if I had stepped into some sort of quicksand, but after re-reading your post I feel as if I am getting my ‘land-legs’ back!

  9. When I see statements by the LGBT lobby brigade 2 Timothy Ch4 v1-5 come to mind. And I find it frustrating that the liberal side of the church make such unhealthy and in some cases very negative comments just because we don’t agree or believe what they want us to.

    It was a very insightful and help post, which I will be printing out for further studying and reflection.

  10. I found it hard to get past this bible abuse… (though I did read it all!):

    “What we do here has echoes in the Bible. God called barren Abram and Sari, struggling Jacob and the murderous Saul and transformed them into Abraham and Sarah whose descendants are more numerous than the stars, the patriarch Israel whose name became a nation and the Apostle Paul genius missionary of the Early Church. Both true nature and God’s purpose was recognised in a change of name and recognition of the calling the new name symbolised. Today PN joins this honoured and holy tradition.
    We come to watch God’s sacred purpose ful lled in calling PN to their true identity. From this time on they will be called N (changed name) as a male/female/nonbinary/gender queer (use appropriate term) servant of God.”

    Even the ‘blessing’ is a gutted Father/Son/Spirit to …creator/child/spirit. In this surely lies a divergent mission theology? It’s not merely ‘gender name-neutral’.

  11. What’s more, there is no evidence in the text of Acts itself that Paul was a new name for Saul. Not only does Paul continue to be referred to as “Saul” throughout Acts, there is no indication in his conversion story that he was being given a new name. A more likely explanation of the two names would be to see “Saul” as his Hebrew name and “Paul” as his Greek name.

  12. And both Paul and Saul are male names – the change of name did not entail a change of gender, just as it didn’t with other changes of name in the scriptures. I have also been thinking of changes of name/title in everyday life which indicate a change in circumstances/status, but never a change of gender – Miss < Mrs, Mrs < Ms, Prince < King etc. Then there are the Honours -Sir, Dame etc.
    Certainly I accept the theme of 'You are; you will become', but this does does normally entail becoming a different gender!

  13. Hi Ian,

    I enjoyed reading your post but I think you have opened a ‘can of worms’ again! I realise that some of the transgender community would like formal recognition of their ‘new’ status by the Anglican communion of which they remain a part, but I concur that a new liturgy may not be what is required. Setting aside the excellent theological reasons you give for your position on this one, I would like to add that for most, if not all, transgender people, all they really want is to be accepted still in their new identity. Much of the fury and posing that is associated with their state comes from the battle that they have needed to undergo to be accepted by their culture and society, for who they are. From my own experience, I have noticed that once I verbally and behaviourally accepted my child’s transgender identity, then much of the angst died instantaneously. Unfortunately, others in our culture and Christian society were not able to allow this to happen, and so have missed out on the blessings in relationship that ensued.

    • Dear Marie, many thanks for your comment and sharing your experience. I would agree with you that simple acceptance by name is what most trans people actually want, and that is why I would agree with Mark Yarhouse who follows this pastoral strategy (whilst still professional and theologically raising major questions) in contrast with the ‘purist’ position of Robert Gagnon, who asserts that changing references and names is a collusion with a lie.

      I think the difficult for me, and many in the C of E, is that campaigners for transgenderism in the Church have completely identified ‘welcome’ with ‘liturgical affirmation’ in this sort of way. As I think you are suggesting, this is unhelpful on all sides.

    • Hi Marie,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think that you’re spot on in writing:
      ‘I would like to add that for most, if not all, transgender people, all they really want is to be accepted still in their new identity’.

      In support of this view, the Sibyls’ submission to the Pilling working party explained:
      ‘most trans people’s concerns are of a more practical character, in contrast to the theoretical question of whether their experience is physiological or psychological in origin. For example, ‘will I be rejected by my congregation if I am open about the fact that I cross dress?’ ‘Am I likely to lose my leadership position as youth leader/music director/ Reader, if I undergo gender reassignment?’ ‘Will my gender transition be an issue if I enter the discernment process for authorised ministry?’ ‘How is my bishop likely to respond to me as one of his clergy when I inform him that I am transgender and wish to consider gender reassignment?’

      So, this implies that behind the request for official transgender liturgy is the need for the kind of official sanction and blessing which would be a bulwark against the very real threat of transphobia: experienced as shunning, demotion and ostracism from the churches to which they are members.

      However, we cannot blame this threat of rejection on the lack of official support. I’m sure that you’re aware that, as far back as 2000, Carol Stone became the first priest to undergo gender re-assignment in the CofE, receiving the full support of the then Bishop of Wolverhampton, Barry Rogerson. Then, in 2005, Sarah Jones became the first transgender person to be ordained as a priest in the CofE. Again, the Bishop of Hereford gave his full support.

      These instances provide a clear precedent in CofE leadership can be relied upon to ensure that transitioning one’s sexual identity is not a bar to entering or remaining in ordained ministry.

      Of course, this is not guarantee of parish-level acceptance. And that’s why piecemeal endorsement by a few bishops is no substitute for HoB-authorised liturgy as the supposed antidote to experiences and threats of sudden ostracism and rejection.

      Nevetheless, authorising transgender liturgy will cure nothing if it is not representative of (small ‘c’) catholic doctrinal consensus (lex orandi, lex credendi).

      Until the CofE achieves a consensus theological position on the phenomenon of sexual identity (and the Episcopal Teaching Document represent an invaluable opportunity for this), it would be premature for the HoB to authorise transgender liturgy which accords authoritative status to the unexamined beliefs owned by some in the Church without adequate reflection on those belonging to others.

      • Hi David

        How do you think concerns about sex identity transition interact with concerns about same-sex marriage? If the church supports a man in identifying as a woman, does that mean it supports ‘her’ marriage to a man under current arrangements? Can a transgender ‘woman’ marry a man in church? Can ‘she’ marry a woman?

        Surely the church has (or should have) serious theological concerns about men identifying as women (and vice-versa)? I can see arguments for good pastoral practice, but it wouldn’t seem sensible for churches to be led, for example, by people who misidentify their sex. I’m sure that had the question been put to the apostles they would have included it in their list of qualifications for holding office in the church (1 Tim 3): e.g. ‘He must identify with his own sex’. Some things were surely too obvious to state.

        • Hi Will,

          Your question is thought-provoking. Initially, I would want to distinguish those who have a medical diagnosis and prescribed treatment for gender dysphoria from others who have not sought medical expertise.

          However, in the absence of pat answers, I’m inclined to ask what you understand to be ‘good pastoral practice’ in relation to clergy who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

          So, let’s say that a married parish priest, or curate seeks professional counselling and medical help for gender dysphoria and, on that basis, is eventually follows the recommendation for gender re-assignment. Should the Church take disciplinary action against that person for ‘conduct unbecoming’?

          And how about candidates for ordained ministry?
          I’ve read the recommendation from the Ministry Division which goes:
          ‘1.14 Sponsorship of Transgender Candidates
          Transgender candidates are welcome to be considered for selection for ordained ministry in the Church of England. Any Bishop intending to sponsor a transgender person for a BAP will certify that they have decided that they would be prepared to ordain and offer a title to that person if during the course of training and formation they were deemed to have a vocation to ordained ministry.
          It is important that the DDO handles such situations sensitively and with integrity and that both the candidate and the BAP Advisers know the mind of the Diocesan Bishop in a given situation. Any decision regarding candidates needs to bear in mind the public nature of the ordained ministry, an understanding of the human condition and the gospel imperative of holiness and integrity of life for all believers.

          What’s not obvious (or, at least, not obvious to me) is why the continuation transgender person’s prior marriage (after gender re-assignment) should be deemed tantamount to entering a same-sex marriage. Doesn’t that response simply reify the transitioning of sexual identity as an actual change of sex?

          • What’s not obvious (or, at least, not obvious to me) is why the continuation transgender person’s prior marriage (after gender re-assignment) should be deemed tantamount to entering a same-sex marriage.

            Is that not the legal situation, since a person who obtains a gender recognition certificate has legally changed gender? I’m not sure how the law works here – I know there was a (pre-SSM) legal change that prevented a person who changed gender legally from having to end their marriage, but I’m not sure how it interacts with church law.

            By good pastoral practice I was really thinking of congregants, and possibly using preferred names and pronouns. But I don’t think I’d support trans people becoming involved in leadership – doesn’t sound sensible.

            In terms of clergy, it hardly seems appropriate for a trans person to be occupying the position of church elder/presbyter. I guess that would mean some kind of disciplinary action if necessary – it does seem a bit heavy handed, but then it’s not really appropriate to have people with serious mental health issues (with an ethical dimension) in such a prominent ministry and exercising significant authority in God’s church. Kind of discredits the church and undermines the office don’t you think? Would you be happy under a transgender vicar?

            What do you think? Should we just be affirming them?

          • Confused? You will be, after watching another episode of Soap.

            Once accuracy to reality is regarded as no longer important, the end-game is to have as many churches as there are individuals, each inhabiting their ‘own’ reality.

            The oft-noticed modern trend of infantilisation (e.g., wanting things to be the way we would wish, otherwise we’ll thcweam and we’ll thcweam until we’re thick (- and we can!)) is one thing – being affirmed in it (as though George were affirmed by her teachers in her ‘I’m a boy!’) makes the retreat from reality worse; although this soft approach from adults might be criticised as pussyfooting, it is not at all helped by the law, possible sanctions and loss of career.

            Right now, there is a concerted attempt by The Times to change the marriage law to favour who want their own selfish way and want it now. And, simultaneously, to curse those who have developed more mature qualities and attitudes. Sticking to the biblical path in such laws lad to those laws being essentially stable for centuries. Once there is a deliberate deviation from God’s ways, no degree of change is sufficient, and there is constant tinkering because the correct answer (an answer so well known that it was ubiquitous for centuries) is so distant from where the telescope is looking – and of course the infantilisation dictate (who told them it is a dictate? Did they hear a voice in their head? Whose voice is that likely to have been?) means that the law and norms can never be changed in the direction of greater maturity.

          • Hi Will,

            To clarify the legal situation, please have a look here: http://www.pfc.org.uk/caselaw/Goodwin%20&%20I%20v.%20United%20Kingdom%20Government%20What%20Does%20It%20Mean.pdf.

            In particular, the judgment in Goodwin & ‘I’ vs. UK included the following declaration:
            “a test of congruent biological factors can no longer be decisive in denying legal recognition to the change of gender of a post-operative transsexual. There are other important factors — the acceptance of the condition of gender identity disorder by the medical professions and health authorities within Contracting States, the provision of
            treatment including surgery to assimilate the individual as closely as possible to the gender in which they perceive that they properly belong and the assumption by the transsexual of the social role of the assigned gender.” I Para 81
            The ’Corbett’ test for a persons sex
            [i.e. considering chromosomal, gonadal, genital factors] is no longer sufficient. Other factors must be taken into account.

            Despite this legal requirement for gender re-assignment to be recognised, as you’re aware, the Equality Act provides religious exemptions, whereby the Church’s qualifications for ordained ministry may lawfully differentiate in terms of protected characteristics, such as sexual identity.

            However, given the higher legal scrutiny to which this exemption is now routinely subjected, this certainly does not provide the Church with ‘carte blanche’ permission to dismiss any clergy who undergo the current medically prescribed treatment for gender identity disorder.

            The Church hierarchy is fully aware of that routinely taking disciplinary action against transgender clergy would incur the wrath of the British public and has sought to avoid rashly provoking it.

            You wrote: ‘I guess that would mean some kind of disciplinary action if necessary – it does seem a bit heavy handed, but then it’s not really appropriate to have people with serious mental health issues (with an ethical dimension) in such a prominent ministry and exercising significant authority in God’s church. Kind of discredits the church and undermines the office don’t you think? Would you be happy under a transgender vicar?

            I understand that the current medical treatment for GID can obscure and connote ingratitude for the glorious God-given sexual differences. Also, we do not have to adopt society’s mores in being complicit in affirming people in whatever gender that they perceive themselves to belong.

            That said, I wouldn’t be happy for the Church to take disciplinary action against a parish priest who is transgender, any more than with a prosecution for disorderly behaviour of anyone who experiences Tourette’s Syndrome or the early onset of dementia.

            Instead, in such situations, I would expect clergy to engage pastorally and collegially through mutual listening and an honest exchange of fears and concerns. There needs to be reliance on the greater persuasiveness of this approach when compared to the antagonism aroused by the Church immediately resorting to disciplinary compulsion. (Jude 22 – 24)

          • Dear David, having read your legal status as determined by the ECtHR link that you gave what is actually revealed is a total absolute mess fully supported and cheered on by the ECtHR. The sooner we cut the ties with the ECtHR the better.

  14. Thank you for bringing this text to our attention, and for your comments on it, with which I sympathise.
    Just one point for now: while there is no ‘authorised’ liturgy for this, parishes will be free to devise or choose their own – and many might consider this freedom better than having to go along with what HoB proposes.

  15. As Christians we are required to love people.

    The passage, “God is love” so often quoted in society is from 1 John 4 and is consistently God is agape love, it is not any other form of love such as eros, it is instead “God is agape love”. This is more akin to caring for each other.

    If we care for others then the idea that we should support transgender people by encouraging them to take drugs that will make the majority infertile and encourage surgery on a perfectly healthy body expresses the total perversity and illogicality of the idea that we should express our caring love towards someone by encouraging them to hurt themselves.

    Yet the vociferous people who oddly think they are supporting transgender people by encouraging them to hurt themselves are the very ones who call everyone else transphobic when the truth is that they themselves are actually the most transphobic of all. It is the “vocal minority” who actually express the greatest hatred towards transgender people. They are the ones who encourage such people to make themselves infertile and to surgically and permanently alter themselves.

    So this proposal is that the Church should love people by joining in with encouraging them to impair their fertility and surgically alter themselves …. but that is not love at all. Why is the Church even considering such an anti-love position?

    • It is because of the perennial reason: no joined-up thinking, no seeing the wood for the trees, no attention to the mega-picture.

  16. I think there is a large danger in using the term ‘trans’ as though it were self-explanatory without further unpacking and nuancing. I listed (I think) 11 possible meanings before, and to these can be added all the different stages and outcomes of partial or complete physical transitioning. The idea of lumping that together with someone just announcing themselves a member of the other gender….

    Both lying and being mistaken are quite undeniably *possibilities* when one’s sense of being the other gender is a mental sense only. Whereas in the case of anatomy and chromosomes (2 pieces of data which tend to confirm one another…) neither lying nor being mistaken is a possibility. This means that there is never a possibility of the mental (even where it is sincere – and even where it is sincere it is generally not supported by measurable data) trumping, or failing to come a distant second-place to, the combined evidence of anatomy and gender.

    But the main point is that when the above point is made, it is generally not addressed.

    (As ever I am reclaiming ‘gender’ from the ideologue and imposed new usage.)

  17. Christopher – ‘… when one’s sense of being the other gender is a mental sense only …’: sometimes I wonder if ‘culture dysphoria’ might describe it more fittingly when finding it difficult to fit in with cultural norms for one’s biological sex lead one to believe that one was ‘born in the wrong body’.

  18. Having been confirmed into the CoE as an adult convert to Christ, I’m a little at loss to see any justifacation for a special trans liturgy. My new identity is in Christ, transformatively so.
    The suggested liturgy has been well critiqued by Ian and other commentators here. Ian, in particular has shown that it is not so much as progress, as regress:on the wrong side of history.
    It would be naive to leave it there, as outside influence are at play, with trans services being carried out by Chalke. This is the trans, transformative, liturgy of God:
    “The new birth is very, very much more than simply shedding a few tears due to a temporary remorse over sin. It is far more than changing our course of life, the leaving off of bad habits and the substituting of good ones. It is something different from the mere cherishing and practising of noble ideals. It goes infinitely deeper than coming forward to take some popular evangelist by the hand, signing a pledge-card, or “joining the church.” The new birth is no mere turning over a new leaf but is the inception and reception of a new life. It is no mere reformation but a complete transformation. In short, the new birth is a miracle, the result of the supernatural operation of God. It is radical, revolutionary, lasting.

    Here then is the first thing, in time, which God does in His own elect. He lays hold of those who are spiritually dead and quickens them into newness of life. He takes up one who was shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, and conforms him to the image of His Son. He seizes a captive of the Devil and makes him a member of the household of faith. He picks up a beggar and makes him joint-heir with Christ. He comes to one who is full of enmity against Him and gives him a new heart that is full of love for Him. He stoops to one who by nature is a rebel and works in him both to will and to do of His own good pleasure. By His irresistible power He transforms a sinner into a saint, an enemy into a friend, a slave of the Devil into a child of God.” A W Pink. The Sovereignty of God

  19. Contextually, have (any of) you reading recommendations (on- or offline) as to the liturgical history of the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, and to any (other) liturgical actions historically in connection with name changes like Frank Weston taking the surname Churchill in Jane Austen’s Emma or by deed poll (etc.)?

    Has anyone addressed whether in the case of someone regretting, ‘detransitioning’, etc., the Beardsley liturgy could be merely repeated, or whether a distinct complementary liturgy ought to be presented as well?

    • David

      Are you really saying that the first time the Church used the liturgy was all a big mistake?

      Surely this is the person themselves imposing their will upon God and asking God to bless it, only to de-transition and then ask God to bless that as well?

      Any sane person does not demand that God bless everything they personally only to discover that their personal wants create a nightmare world.

  20. Hi David,
    I cannot answer your questions about liturgical actions historically in connection with name changes, but I think it is an intere4sting question. I changed my surname by deed after my ex-husband remarried because, as there was a second ‘Mrs X’, I thought it was no longer appropriate for me to be called ‘Mrs X’. Before changing my surname I discussed it with my adult children and other family members, and also with friends and they all gave me their blessing. It did not occur to me to ask for a service at church to bless my change of surname. I suspect that church leaders would have suggested such a service to me if they had been aware of suitable liturgy.

  21. It’s a side issue to theology (or is it?) that name changing in our society doesnt seem have a consistent path. Weddings don’t change the woman’s surname. The register merely records both surnames. Most women (but not all) then use their husbands surname. But, as Christine writes, undoing that needs a change by Deed Poll. I believe you can call yourself whatever you want…it’s proving identity Mr Donald Duck to society at large which is the issue. Baptism uses names but that person’s name, as far as the State is concerned is done at the Registrars. I’ve a vague memory that there’s some time limit for changing the name of a baby or adjusting it in connection with baptism but can’t recall the exact (if existing) details.

    Liturgy for an adult doesn’t change anyone’s name, Statewise…if this bothers us.

    • Actually it is a bit more confusing than that. You assume, like most people, that a person only has one surname.

      The Queen or King is Head of the Church

      I personally have a Royal Warrant from 11th December 1935 giving me two surnames. This is the same type of Royal warrant as Her majesty already has when she has both the surname Windsor and Mountbatten-Windsor. My Royal Warrant “confused the hell” out of DBS although its predecessor CRB had been fine when I declared BOTH surnames so they could search properly.

  22. Clive,

    “Are you really saying that the first time the Church used the liturgy was all a big mistake?”

    With reference to “the Renewal of Baptismal Vows”, no – I just want to know more about its history, and further about any liturgical dimensions (or lack thereof) historically where (civil) name changes are involved (in contrast to baptisms, confirmations, marriages, monastic vows, coronations).

    With reference to a use of the Beardsley liturgy (or ‘liturgy’), well, it sounds like it is not very circumspect about the possibility of it’s ever being a mistake, while evidence suggests a number of those undergoing it might well come to the conclusion that it was. Have its proponents addressed that eventuality, and, if so, how?

    For example, is there something like a professed ‘gnosis’ that it never could be a mistake, though it could be somehow deplorably departed from?

    Or is the situation more like, say, Lewis’s ‘Evolutionary Hymn’ – “Groping, guessing, yet progressing, / Lead us nobody knows where” and “Goodness = what comes next” – and so allowing an unblushing simple repetition (as often as called for)?

    Or is there loving distinct liturgical provision envisaged for someone who came to the conclusion that one’s previous personal convictions/wants/decisions – including seeking the original Beardsley liturgy – had less than sanely created a nightmare world, and wanted to give public testimony of this within the welcoming, affirming Church?

    • David,
      1. Whatever the circumstances of any historical name change liturgy, you’ll be aware that any one- off decision, at law, does not necessarily set a precedent to be followed, but to be restricted to the individual facts at any one timDavid,
      1. Whatever the circumstances of any historical name change liturgy, you’ll be aware that any one- off decision, at law, does not necessarily set a precedent to be followed, but to be restricted to the individual facts at any one time.
      2 You are also aware that the proposed liturgy is for more than for a simple name change, but is for a change in personal identity which you seem to characterise in somewhat florid terms in your last paragraph.
      3 CS Lewis Evolution Hymn, was a satirical poem to evolution, as a philosophy, replacing God. This is what trans proposes – a continuous relativism, so called evolution progress in personal gender, without the solidity of identity in Christ as a Christian.
      “Lead us, Evolution,lead us
      Up the future’s endless stair;
      Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
      For stagnation is despair:
      Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
      Lead us nobody knows where.

      Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
      In the present what are they
      while there’s always jam-tomorrow,
      While we tread the onward way?
      Never knowing where we’re going,
      We can never go astray.

      To whatever variation
      Our posterity may turn
      Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
      Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
      Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
      Towards that unknown god we yearn.

      Ask not if it’s god or devil,
      Brethren, lest your words imply
      Static norms of good and evil
      (As in Plato) throned on high;
      Such scholastic, inelastic,
      Abstract yardsticks we deny.

      Far too long have sages vainly
      Glossed great Nature’s simple text;
      He who runs can read it plainly,
      ‘Goodness = what comes next.’
      By evolving, Life is solving
      All the questions we perplexed.

      On then! Value means survival-
      Value. If our progeny
      Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
      That will prove its deity
      (Far from pleasant, by our present,
      Standards, though it may well be)”

    • David,
      Apologies – a further thought.
      Gnosis as an absolutetruth is what you seem to be suggesting which can be sinned against, by “deplorably” departing from it, presumably through the apostacy of denial of it’s exixtence, while at the same time a “mistake” would merely be accomodated as being evidence of the supremacy of the Gnosis and denying those “previous personal convictions/wants/decisions….had less than sanely created a nightmare world..”
      While alternatives are set out, with a seeming intellectual detachment, the last “loving” alternative seems to be the conclusion and presupposed starting point, thereby rendering the others as intellectual, obfuscating, red herrings.

  23. David and Ian,
    Thank you both for your supportive comments concerning the need for identity recognition, and for the information relating to the House of Bishops decision to withhold the authorisation of transgender liturgy at this time.
    You may be unaware that I am not a theologian, nor do I live in the UK. I am the mother of an adult transgender child who made the change 22 years ago at the age of 29. –Nor have they regretted their decision to do so, any time since then.
    My concern about the liturgy is that it tends to fix situations rather rigidly, in a context that is culturally more fluid, so I would concur with the House of Bishop’s decision to wait until there is further agreement within the Anglican Communion worldwide. I do understand the very difficult decisions that need to be made regarding transgender issues and the governance of our Anglican Communion, but these issues have been faced before in similar disputes, with regard to the establishment of female priests; and the ministry of divorced persons in the priesthood.
    To those who commented here, and appear to hold the belief that Gender Dysphoria is a psychological aberration, or a self-centred refuting of Scripture, I would simply remind you of the dichotomy of Law and Grace within Christianity. Christ Himself, challenged by the legalism of Judaism, responded by asserting that grace through abounding love should take precedence. I know that He claimed, and indeed did come to fulfil the law, but , according to the gospels, He frequently refuted the legalistic view that put the Law ahead of human need. (e.g.: Matt.:12: 1-8; Mark:2:6-12; Luke :6:6-11; John:5:2-18).
    If I had given birth to a spina bifida child, or one with congenital heart abnormalities, would you not have expected me to do all within my power to provide the medical means necessary to allow that child to reach their potential? Transgenderism is really no different – nor would I desire my child to be thwarted in reaching their potential because of it.

    • Hi Marie,

      Thanks for your considered reply.

      The key distinction between transgender liturgy and admitting women and divorcees into ordained ministry is that the latter examples do not involve the discontinuity of unwarranted liturgical innovation, whereby the Church articulates a divergence to its public profession of Christian belief without adequate theological reflection (as Beardsley has done).

      Although I would agree that Jesus ‘frequently refuted the legalistic view that put the Law above human need’, every example of human need, which you’ve cited from the gospel, involves Jesus prioritising the preservation and restoration of healthy bodily function (from, for example, hunger, extreme deformity and paralysis).

      On this basis, those verses cannot be pressed into making the case for the exact opposite: suppressing and mutilating healthy bodily functions in order to further ‘needs’ arising from an identity disorder.

      If you truly believe that gender identity disorder is analogous to spina bifida, and congenital heart deformities, then you would agree that, in the former case, the role of medicine is to re-form the mind as the locus of the disorder, which is psychological, rather capitulating to it by re-forming what is healthy.

      To resort to the chemical suppression of puberty and the surgical mutilation of genitalia is not the medical means by which humans reach their fullest potential.

      If it was, we’d all be doing it.

  24. Dear Marie, whilst I understand your point of view and respect it, you have not offered any evidence of other views expressed here that views stated are “legalistic” or any other mistaken label.
    To suggest that human beings can be in error but God is not is neither “legalistic” nor even “traditional”, the dichotomy is something that represents the difficulties of a Human being’s understanding – but not God’s understanding.

  25. Hello Marie,
    Notwithstanding that you say you are not a theologian, you step in boldly to make theological claims, to make a case, citing scripture in support. There is no dichotomy between law and grace. Law is God’s gracious provision, as are the covenants and the prophetic warnings and comforts and judgments – all consistent in the flow of the cultural of mores of the times. God of the OT is God of the NT.
    I’m not sure whether you are equating spina bifida or congenital heart abnormalities with gender change. You seem to be. If so, I’d suggest it is an error of category. Your offspring was a 29 year old adult. fully responsible for their own life, before God.

  26. Surely the issue with having a specific transgender liturgy that marks a “change” in either sex or gender identity is that it gives credence to the idea that any such change in identity has in fact occured.

    Christians accept that God has created us according to His will. If that is accepted then it sort of precludes the idea that He regularly messes it up and puts us in the wrong bodies – as if he is like an old British Leyland factory worker knocking out bad chassis on a Friday afternoon before clocking off to go to the pub.

    Accepting that we are created beings means that we don’t get to choose our sex or gender identity any more than we get to choose the time or circumstances of our birth. Those things are chosen for us by our creator.

    Chopping off or stitching on bits of anatomy doesn’t change the fact that at a cellular level we retain our birth sexual identity for life.

    So the danger in such a liturgy is that in introducing it the church would be encouraging people In a dangerous delusion that they somehow get to choose their identity and that in being able to make that choice they can become their own creator, improving upon the shoddy work of God, and in adopting that attitude they would get a wholly wrong and sinful view of themselves, of God, and of their standing with God.

    Such a liturgy is nothing but a thoroughly toxic idea.


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