The announcement on Tuesday of the House of Bishops’ guidance for the welcome of transgender people in the Church arose from a diocesan motion brought to General Synod in July 2017. There were several things about this debate which indicated how problematic the whole process was bound to be.
First, it was brought by Chris Newlands on behalf of Blackburn Diocese, and the Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, actually voted against the motion when it was debated in the diocese. Secondly, the wording of the motion was rather slippery: it did not ask the bishops to produce a liturgy for the welcome of transgender people, but asked them to consider whether such a liturgy should be devised. In that sense it was a ‘null’ motion: whatever you thought about the substantive issue, how could anyone object to asking the bishops ‘to think about it’, as they were of course at liberty to think about it and quickly say ‘no’. In fact, Richard Frith, the Bishop of Hereford and Vice-Chair of the Liturgical Commission, actually said in the debate that no new liturgy would be forthcoming, so we already had the answer. And, thirdly, there was a complete absence of any adequate theological reflection, either prior to the debate or during it.
The problems inherent here came to the surface when the House of Bishops’ decision (as they had indicated in the debate) not to offer a new liturgy was in January 2018 leaked to the Daily Mail who construed is as a rejection of what Synod had ‘demanded’—the confusing arising precisely because of the slippery wording of the motion. They then had to rush out a statement, which is still listed as offering a ‘theological rationale’, but is in fact almost devoid of theology.
The problem with this week’s statement is almost the opposite. Having said that they will not produce a new liturgy, it almost appears as though they have offered one: the guidance is not entitled ‘How to conduct the Affirmation of Baptismal vows when transgender people are present’ but ‘Guidance for gender transition services’ which will be ‘incorporated into Common Worship’. So it now appears that we have ‘gender transition services’ when we were told that we would not have such things. The overall result is not what some trans people wanted, which is at least one good thing, since the liturgies that have been proposed are entirely sub-Christian and probably merit the label ‘heretical’. But the bishops do appear to have proposed a new use for existing liturgy, rather than issuing pastoral guidance on the use of a liturgy under particular circumstances. Dr Rachel Mann, who is a trans member of General Synod, commented:
I helped ensure that trans people were properly addressed in the guidance, that the recommended ritual possibilities would be rich and flexible, and that the biblical resources would be broad and vibrant. I know many people will feel that an entirely new liturgy of welcome and affirmation should have been developed. Given that that was not on the table, this guidance is genuinely exciting and fresh.
It is flexible and sensitive enough that, for the first time, trans people’s stories can be acknowledged and celebrated with boldness in the C of E. It says that we, too — as trans people — are bearers of the image of God. . . as much as non-trans people. This is surely something to celebrate and welcome, and represents a watershed.
Tina Beardsley, another trans person involved in the process, commented online:
‘What is the status of this new House of Bishops’ Guidance on trans people and the liturgy?’ was one of the questions I was anticipating when I was interviewed on Premier Christian Radio half an hour ago. And the answer – I checked – is that HoB’s guidance is something that clergy ‘must’ follow it. ‘Does that mean people will be forced to do so?’ was the next question. Well, yes, was my reply. The House of Bishops issues guidance about all sorts of things, such as marriage, for example, so that those clergy who wish to officiate at the wedding of a same sex couple in church are currently unable to do so due to the force of House of Bishops’ guidance. The word ‘guidance’ is misleading in this context. It doesn’t mean you can follow it if you like it but not if you don’t like it. So maybe the issuing of this guidance today is more significant than it looks. It also raises the matter of conscientious objection, which clergy would presumably need to take up with their bishop.
So those involved in the process do think that this is a watershed, that is changes C of E practice and teaching, and that it is compulsory. And, not surprisingly, it was widely reported that ‘Church of England to offer baptism-style services to transgender people to celebrate their new identity for first time.’
If these assertions are not true, then the House of Bishops needs to issue clarification immediately. If they are true, then the bishops have in fact done precisely the opposite of what they said they were going to do, several times in the debate, and in the subsequent statement, and they need to offer an explanation
Quite apart from the immediate perception, the guidelines issued raise a series of fundamental questions about the bishops’ approach.
Why the complete absence of theological reflection? Given deep Christian theological thinking about creation, and the narrative of male and female, the affirmation of creation in the teaching of Jesus, the reference to bodily difference in creation in Paul (Romans 1), Paul’s appeal to the resurrection body in sexual ethics (1 Cor 5), the importance of bodily resurrection as the post-mortem destiny of humanity—why is there simply no reference to this at any point? The use of the affirmation of baptism vows is particularly problematic here; not only is this central to Christian understandings of initiation and discipleship, baptism actually enacts bodily death and bodily resurrection in the immersion in and coming up out of the water. We tamper with these foundational understandings at our peril, and the ambiguous language in the guidance of ‘identity’ (‘This could provide both the candidate and congregation with an opportunity both to understand theperson’s Christian journey and to affirm them in their identity’ para 7) is in real danger of hijacking language about initiation, new life and eschatology to trans ideology.
Why the collapse of Christian language of initiation into cultural memes? The problems with the guidance begin with its opening line:
The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ
Since when was the gospel of ‘repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mark 1.15) reduced to ‘unconditional affirmation’? If the point is that trans people shouldn’t be treated as a different class of humanity, then that would be hard to disagree with—so why not simply say that? All the debates around sexuality become mired in impossible ambiguity because of different construals of what it means to ‘affirm’ people. Jesus welcomed the marginalised, and called them to repent along with everyone else (Luke 5.32) and so should we.
Why the misuse of biblical texts? In reading Scripture, context is everything, and the listing of passages where God’s redemptive action leads to a change of name, in the context of a service which appears to be celebrating the transition of name and identity, has strong echoes of Tina Beardsley’s proposed trans liturgy, misreads these texts badly, and overlays on the scriptural narrative a particular ideology of sex identity.
Why the complete absence of reference to biological reality? One of the heated debates around trans ideology and advocacy relates to biological reality—what is actually going on in the transition process? A correspondent to the medical journal The Lancet just this week made an impassioned appeal for proper engagement with biological reality:
Sex has a biological basis, whereas gender is fundamentally a social expression. Thus, sex is not assigned—chromosomal sex is determined at conception and immutable. A newborn’s phenotypic sex, established in utero, merely becomes apparent after birth, with intersex being a rare exception.
Distress about gender identity must be taken seriously and support should be put in place for these children and young people, but the impacts of powerful, innovative interventions should be rigorously assessed. The evidence of medium-term benefit from hormonal treatment and puberty blockers is based on weak follow-up studies. The guideline does not consider longer-term effects, including the difficult issue of detransition. Patients need high-quality research into the benefits and harms of all psychological, medical, and surgical treatments, as well as so-called wait-and-see strategies. This approach will provide reliable information for children, parents, and clinicians, and inform societal debate.
Where is pastoral consideration for families? There is a single, trivial reference to the families of the trans person at the centre of the process:
If members of their family are to be present, the minister will wish to be sensitive to their pastoral needs. (para 4)
So what does this mean for the wife who feels devastated by her husband who decides he is trans? For the children who feel abandoned? What does it means for parents who feel that their child has died, and that they need to come to terms with this new person? And what does it mean for marriage, given that the Church does not recognise same-sex marriages? Are a woman and her former husband, now a trans woman, still married or not? How could the bishops have issued ‘pastoral guidance’ without considering these issues? Is their own pastoral experience so limited?
What about the impact on teenagers and their own thinking? The writer to the Lancet goes on to observe:
We need to understand the rapid increase in referrals of girls and any relationship with gender identity legislation, the interplay between gender dysphoria, sexual orientation, and unpalatable roles in our highly-gendered society, and the twin potentials for underdiagnosis and overdiagnosis and treatment.
What might this kind of service say to a teenage girl, who is learning very quickly how challenging modern life is for a woman, and is thinking that life could be much less challenging if only she were a boy—and here is the Church saying that such a change is not only unproblematic, but might even be God’s intention for her? How could such a Church escape the charges of being misogynistic at the very least, and perhaps even open to the accusation of child abuse?
What about the poor success of transition, continued mental health issues, and the vexed question of detransition? A trans person wrote this letter to the Telegraph last month:
Trans legislation will endanger the young
SIR – I wish to express concern over the Government’s proposed trans self-identification Bill, particularly in its implications for young people.
The current reckless and, in my opinion, irresponsible “trendy to be trans” culture (which social media has helped to promote) is pushing many very young people into making life-changing surgical decisions. I cannot stress enough how vital it is to have in place medical criteria and adequate preparation and conditioning (which the Bill seeks to remove) before embarking on such action. What if he or she discovers that they were not trans after all, but in fact gay, a cross-dresser or asexual?
Trans success stories are eagerly promoted by those calling for self-identification, since they regard them as lending credence to their cause. It is indeed tragic that some transsexual people take their own lives if transitioning is delayed; but how many also die by their own hand when all goes disastrously wrong? I had high hopes of finally realising my teenage dream when I left hospital in 1995. Sadly, over the years, it has all unravelled for me due to post-op complications, family torn asunder and societal prejudice, but most of all because I cannot entirely escape my male origins. I must accept the harsh reality that no amount of drastic cutting of my body can ever alter my biology – fact. And this proposed Bill is claiming to be a definitive solution to the question of gender identity.
I would not want others considering such drastic, irreversible action to end up like me, lost in a twilight world of fear and loneliness. They should be made aware of all the risks and warned that for all the legal entitlements the proposed Bill promises, it will not bring public acceptance.
And why do something now, when there is a long and lengthy debate happening under Living in Love and Faith? Following the disaster of July 2017 in Synod, it was wisely decided by the Business Committee to postpone any further debates on sexuality until after the LLF reporting in 2020 (or beyond). So why didn’t the bishops include this under the same rubric? Why put the pastoral cart before the theological horse on this issue but no other?
So did the bishops consider all these issue before issuing the guidance? If they did, then were is evidence of their thinking? If they did not, then why on earth did they start tampering with liturgy, and baptism liturgy at that, before engaging with these issues? Some might say that they felt under pressure to act. But why? The questions around trans identity are much more complex than those around same-sex marriage, and wide society is much more ambivalent. When Jenni Murray was no-platformed for suggesting, from a feminist perspective, that trans women were not the same as biological women, she reflected:
I know that in writing this article I am entering into the most controversial and, at times, vicious, vulgar and threatening debate of our day. I’m diving headfirst into deep and dangerous waters.
Did the bishops not think the same? Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and there seems to be little that is angelic about this guidance. The House of Bishops are, to many people, now looking either incompetent, incoherent or duplicitous in this move, and without further comment and response, they will be inviting members of the Church to make their own decision as to which is the best description.
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254 thoughts on “Wisdom and folly: the bishops’ guidance on transgender welcome”
Excellent. Thanks Ian
Ian Thanks for a thoughtful piece. However you claim there is a problem with the first sentence.
‘The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ’.
Well – unless you think that the words ‘All are welcome’ should never appear unqualified on church notice boards or church websites …. I think I know exactly what is being affirmed and intended in that statement and do not assume for a minute it is sidelining the Christian theology of salvation. Context is all.
Indeed, all are welcome to hear the good news that calls us to repentance and faith. But ‘welcome’ is not ‘affirmation’, and I would advise anyone who wants to put ‘All are affirmed’ on their noticeboard to remove it immediately. I in fact know of no such notice. Do you?
Part of my ministry is working with those who have committed crimes and who have serious mental health issues that cannot be managed in the regular prison system. What does the language of ‘affirmation’ mean for them? Surely you recognise the pastoral problems in the deployment of this term without careful explication…?
Much food for thought here. It is good to approach the issue theologically rather than in an emotionally charged way. Thanks Ian.
@David Runcorn – I think there’s a world of difference between a ‘welcome’ and an ‘unconditional affirmation’. Since when did welcome involve the later? The Church welcomes all and *unconditionally* affirms none, surely?
Thank you Ian
“welcome” is one thing, a necessary Christian thing – and both Churches where I have been priest Trans people have regularly attended and been and felt welcomed. However “blessing” a chosen ‘identity’ is quite a different thing altogether. But it would seem this official Advice, supported by surprising statements by Bp Henderson would have us move from welcome to blessing.
Thank you for this, Ian. A very carefully crafted response to an issue that will I’m sure be an occasion for considerable concern and even anger among biblically faithful Christians wondering what on earth their bishops (and bishop Julian especially) are playing at.
The thing that strikes me most is how the trans issue has been able to bypass all the scrutiny and care being given to same-sex marriage, as though it does not inherently involve many of the same questions and is not part of the same ‘progressive’ movement in sex and sexuality. It smacks a little of simplistic biblical literalism, as though without a clear proof text prohibiting it there is nothing to talk about. Or is it just that conservatives only have the energy and resources to fight fully on one front at once?
I was deeply dismayed at the level of support showed by Synod to the trans motions that came before it – as you say, without any adequate theological reflection. The bishops seem to have allowed themselves to be led by the hand here right into the middle of the twilight zone of postmodern gender theory, apparently unawares and contrary to what they had said they were intending. Can they not see how ridiculous it is for a church prepared to use a form of one of its most sacred rites in endorsement of the trans movement then to continue to deny similar endorsement to the gay rights movement in its marriage rites? Apart from anything else, a marriage of trans people will often involve two people of the same (biological) sex. How can a church which is prepared to celebrate a man ‘becoming’ a woman not then also celebrate a man marrying another man – the two issues are grounded in the same faulty anthropology and involve the same repudiation of the biblical doctrine of creation. T is part of LGBT after all – these are not unconnected matters or movements.
The bishops have clearly made a grave mistake. It is not yet clear that all of them realise what they have done. They need to backtrack and without delay or this will have serious repercussions for their credibility, the credibility of the Church, and the future trajectory of the Church’s teaching.
“The bishops have clearly made a grave mistake. It is not yet clear that all of them realise what they have done.”
I think that the Bishops may have a clearer realisation than you think.
“Apart from anything else, a marriage of trans people will often involve two people of the same (biological) sex. How can a church which is prepared to celebrate a man ‘becoming’ a woman not then also celebrate a man marrying another man – the two issues are grounded in the same faulty anthropology and involve the same repudiation of the biblical doctrine of creation. T is part of LGBT after all – these are not unconnected matters or movements.”
It seems to me that it is unconceivable, especially if it does become easier to choose ones own gender without as much difficulty, that weddings involving at least one trans person will be allowed.
Surely there can’t be any problem, even among traditionalists, of a trans man (biologically a woman) marrying a trans woman (biologically male)? They are opposite sex/gender whatever your theology.
And if only one party is trans, a trans woman say, but legally male, and the CofE has received and blessed him as being “her” then the church must, and will, surely marry them. You then have a situation where the CofE is insisting that it’s staying true to marriage being male-female, society (generally) believing them, and the orthodox/traditionalists believing that gay marriage has defacto entered the CofE causing people to leave, or their resolve to weaken.
Follow shortly thereafter with an elderly, or at least older, couple who have been married 40 or 50 years, 4 kids, X grandkids. One decides to transition but they both want to remain married. Gay marriage is legal, so as far as the government is concerned they are married. What do the remaining CofE orthodox do? It’s tough, I don’t know what I would think. It probably splits traditionalist opinion:
-They *are* still factually married. If you disagree then you’ve just accepted that trans women *are* women and should be treated as such.
– If you say that they shouldn’t still remain married, then you are a) again saying that trans men are actual men and you can’t oppose marriages where one person is trans and b) you are going to get hit over the head with “what God has joined together”
– If you say that they should stay together, it can be spun very convincingly that you are in favour of gay marriage being recognised by the church. With trans marriage already on the books by then, you already think it *is* allowed in the CofE
– If you say that they should remain together but be celibate then with 4 kids and 4,7,12 whatever number of grandkids and 50 years of marriage (that you assumablely would have approved with up to now) you end up looking sex obsessed and lacking any grace
And then you are left with a much easier rubber stamping to official CofE gay marriages. The orthodox already think it’s there, and have split on the transitional spouse of 50 years example.
In response to your example, I think I would say that they are still married in law and in the sight of God; and they are still a man and a woman biologically. You then have a pastoral decision as to how you address them, but Yarhouse tackles the dissonance between your pastoral address and both theological and biological reality in his language of ‘stance’.
While I strongly disagree with the traditional doctrine of human sexuality (as strongly as I support equal marriage), I must agree that the CoE’s current position’s absurd. As you say, it’s incoherent, with its welcome of trans people being grounded on axioms that also require the welcome of LGB people. I don’t know of any other church that warmly welcomes trans people while condemning homosexuality and telling gay people that they must remain celibate for life. The affirmation’s (properly) inseparable.
There can be no starker illustration of the fact that the CoE’s refusal to affirm same-sex relationships is rooted in realpolitik. Of course the theology’s a contradictory mess: for most English bishops, it plays a very distant second to politics, if it even gets a look-in. Given the fickleness of politics, and the increase of social acceptance of LGBT people, the amoral foundations of the CoE’s doctrine bode ill for the future of the traditional position in England.
To use the word “equal” with the word “marriage” is straight-forwardly dishonest.
No it isn’t.
Not only is the word ‘equal’ in the context of marriage dishonest, it is also irrelevant.
Since genuine marriage is the union of a man and a woman, it combines the two opposite sexes into a complementary whole; ‘equal’ adds nothing informative to understanding that act. Other arrangements may exist but the only way they can be described as ‘marriage’ is by redefining the word.
The deliberate redefinition of words amounts to seizing ownership of words in order to exercise power and is well understood as a tool of totalitarian authorities. Whenever it’s done in a religious, social or political context you would be wise to investigate what is the real intention. Invent your own words for whatever you want; people can then choose whether to use them if they wish. But don’t steal other people’s words from them.
Logically, ‘equal marriage’ could only really mean a marriage where the man and women had equal status.
As everyone here surely knows, “equal marriage” is simply the widely-used term for marriage that’s extended to same-sex couples (i.e., marriage that treats hetro- and homosexual couples equally). I supported marriage equality back when it was called “gay marriage,” but that term’s now outdated and considered offensive by many (since they take it to suggest two categories of marriage). I don’t agree, but since I don’t care enough to take a stand over it, I defer to the current fashion.
If it’s a big deal among the commentariat, will “same-sex marriage” do?
1) the idea of two ‘opposite’ sexes is ideological and modern. There are two distinct sexes, opposition is a construct.
2) complementarianism is a modern ‘doctrine’. In any case the two sexes are not united into a whole through marriage, otherwise single people, the widowed and the divorced would be merely halves. Marriage creates a new kinship group, it doesn’t unite two halves in a sub-platonic whole.
3) marriage belongs neither to church nor state; it has been redefined often down the centuries. Arguably, marriage in the contemporary West is the most equal it has ever been.
4) so, since neither Church nor state owns marriage neither has a monopoly on the use of the word. It is not and never has been univocal.
As sadly all too often happens your response to Don does not withstand intellectual scrutiny.
The idea that is the basis of your bizarre assertions that marriage between two opposite biological sexes is simply a “modern” idea cannot realistically be made when until recently in history same-sex marriage did not exist at all in anything other than peculiar circumstances. So you have no real basis for your claim at all. Marriage was, until recently, only between opposite biological sexes and there simply was no other basis at all.
James, I only ever use the term ‘same sex marriage’ for that reason. /to distinguish it, I sometimes refer to ‘other sex marriage’, but I should really just use the term ‘marriage’.
Historically, ‘marriage’ as an idea has included within it an assumption of physical and psychological difference (however that is construed), and a procreative kinship unit which nurtures the next generation. That is why many people don’t recognise ‘same sex marriage’ as truly marriage, and in fact the legal definition of marriage has had to be changed.
You seem to have trouble understanding my comments, let alone scrutinizing them ‘intellectually’.
Also you seem unable to respond without being rude. Have you a problem?
Where did I say that marriage between two mixed sexes is a modern idea?
I am puzzled.
1. I think you are right that the word ‘opposite’ has different connotations from ‘distinct’. But the idea of opposition (in the sense of standing opposite one another) is actually found in the second creation account in Genesis 2. ‘kenegdo’ suggests an equal and opposite pair, facing one another. Perhaps we read different things into the term ‘opposite’..
2. Again, the Genesis account does indeed suggest reuniting into one whole two separate things which had previously been a unity. That is the whole rationale of the narrative! This has led to doctrines of the indissolubility of marriage, with which I don’t agree…but it has come from this root. I agree that this offers a difficult account of singleness…and this is why the church has often struggled with it. We need to be shaped by the fact we worship a single saviour, but the cry of the man ‘here is flesh of my flesh’ indicating, at least at an existential level, a sense of completeness that was not present does imply an expected sense of incompleteness in other cases.
3. I am always puzzled by the claim ‘Marriage has been redefined down the ages’. Marriage practice has certainly change–but when in law or theology was marriage ever something other than a lifelong exclusive union between one man and one woman?
The idea of male and female as opposites is found in Greek philosophy in the Pythagorean table of opposites so is certainly not a modern innovation.
I don’t share your belief that kenegdo implies ‘opposite’. Nor that the kinship bond created in Gen. 2 is particularised by difference. Flesh of my flesh suggests that the bond celebrates sameness – a human recognition of kinship different from that of the other animals.
Of course, marriage has usually been between different sexes (apart from the marriages contracted by Nero and his like, and I would not take them as a model). But marriage is a malleable institution, which is probably part of its strength. (Law an theology has mandated or permitted polygyny.) It has changed often and will, doubtless, change again.
Penelope, I am not asking you to ‘share my belief’. I am asking you to look at the facts in relation to the meaning of words and the shape of the narrative.
‘kenegdo’ is an unusual phrase, used only here in the OT, and not the one we would expect to find if the issue were simply finding a companion to end loneliness (which would be kemohu and not kenegdo). Neged is not just alongside, facing, in relationship, (in) front, but more strongly, opposite to, corresponding to (BDB), over against, complementary to. As Wenham, citing Delitzsch, says, the relationship is not just ?zer (help, assistance, support alongside, but ?zer kenegdô: help alongside as from someone different, opposite, matching.
Secondly, given the need for this difference, the narrative follows the obvious course by bringing the animals to the Adam. The striking lacuna is the idea that God could simply form another Adam from the soil. The animals do not do the job (there is emphatic repetition of the phrase ever kenegdo) because, though different, they are not equal.
Thirdly, the climax of the story reveals its purpose: it is an aetiology seeking to explain in God’s creation why it is that these two unlikes find such striking union in marriage. The whole point of the story is to explain the rather strange phenomenon of this bond, and its purpose. It is again striking that it does not offer a parallel explanation for same-sex attraction, unlike the later aetiological myth in Plato’s Symposium. That is, it is not offering an explanation for *all* sexual attraction or bonding, but for this male-female one–and as you say, in some tension with the cultural norm of polygamy. It is this one relationship, claims the narrative, which is ‘holy, a gift of God in creation, which all should honour’.
If you are not able to look at the text and allow it to shape your understanding of what it says, then we have a difficulty.
But how can you speak of ‘marriage’ at all when removing its core meaning. When and where has it lacked that core meaning? As soon as it does so, it is not marriage, but something different.
Only in Genesis 2 can ‘marriage’ be seen as a reunification of two separate things, and does this suggest that marriage creates an androgynous ‘whole’?
Marriage has not always been the union of one man and one woman. Often it has been the union of one man and several women.
I did not disagree that kenegdo could imply equality, an equality which the other animals do not provide. But it does not imply that the delighted recognition of same flesh means ‘opposite’.
No Penelope, it is not being rude. I have never once called you names or used rude terminology. I have been clear with you, and you obviously don’t like such clarity. Many times you use the technique of saying one thing and in later posts then redefining what you said, which is the art of obfuscation.
You have avoided my question.
Not really Penelope,
Your statement that I have not answered your question is just one of your tactics.
Your original text said:
1) the idea of two ‘opposite’ sexes is ideological and modern. There are two distinct sexes, opposition is a construct.
2) complementarianism is a modern ‘doctrine’. In any case the two sexes are not united into a whole through marriage, ….”
This quotation is so completely clear that what you were stating is that male and female (i.e. opposite sexes) in marriage is “is ideological and modern” …. and then you said “….the two sexes are not united into a whole through marriage….”
Your next tactic is to alter what you said completely whilst claiming other people simply don’t understand what you had earlier said.
So, once again I have been clear in response to you without being rude.
As I said, you have completely misunderstood the points I was making about ‘opposite’ sexes and complementarianism being modern constructs. That does not make mixed sex marriage a modern construct.
Post-2013 the infernal strategy has always been to move LGB into centre ground by highlighting T and thus mainstreaming something even more extreme and out of kilter with biology. Clearly trying to become the other gender is more extreme than simply behaving like it.
To the logical, the C of E Synod summer 2017 checkmated itself. You cannot simultaneously ban people from wanting to behave in line with their biology *and* encourage people to do violence to their biology. The milder course of action is treated as unthinkable, when all the while the more extreme course of action is seen as commendable!
Incoherent thinking, or else evidence that ‘situation ethics’ is intrinsically incoherent and half the time seems to consist of people picking the stances that suit them even though they do not form a coherent whole and are not the result of joined-up thkinking. Think Nick Clegg: We must legalise cannabis – gosh look at all the mental health problems there are: why isn’t more being done about them?
@ Will Jones
“T is part of LGBT after all”
Well, yes, of course it is. Anyone is free to cook up any initialism that they fancy, and any letters that they decide to include in it will automatically become part of it. If I decided to come up with, for example, HBTR (heterosexual, bisexual, transgender and reincarnated), no-one could stop me. What is surprising is that the tiresome LGBT (not to speak of its seemingly endless extensions, e.g. LGBT+, LGBTI etc.) has been so widely and uncritically adopted – surprising because there is no more logical justification for grouping people who cannot or will not accept their biological sex with homosexual or bisexual people than for grouping them with heterosexual people.
As I’m sure that you will agree, people’s biological sex is not “assigned” to them by anyone: they are born with it indelibly imprinted in their chromosomes, and no amount of bodily mutilation or tampering with hormones will alter it. That is a plain scientific fact, which neither needs to be nor can be reinforced by reference to the arbitrary and illogical initialism LGBT.
Yes, William, I agree:
(1) There is no reason why anyone should accept the grouping of these 4 things into a single entity.
(2) The grouping together of four things could easily be like a govt bill that grouped together 4 matters – i.e. a potential Trojan Horse situation.
They are grouped historically and they are grouped ideologically, there is nothing arbitrary about it. Homosexuality and transgenderism share the same faulty anthropology, one which rejects the biblical doctrine of creation of humanity created male and female for sexual union. Do you really think they have just ended up lumped together without any good reason?
Yes, I think they are very strongly connected indeed, not least anthropologically. My point was a different one – that ‘LGBT’ has become a cliché, where it is assumed that what applies to one initial applies to all.
@ Will Jones
In so far as they have been grouped “historically”, the cause is presumably either ignorance concerning what homosexuality is – extremely common in the past, and not that unusual even today – lack of critical and intelligent thought, or both.
No unusual degree of insight is needed to see that rejection of one’s biological sex is not only a separate category from sexual attraction to people of the same sex (as it is equally from sexual attraction to people of the other sex), but also quite a different *kind* of category. That is why the initialism LGBT is both arbitrary and illogical, as I have already observed. I would add that homosexuality is no more the result of any particular anthropology, or of acceptance or rejection of any doctrine, than heterosexuality is, nor does its existence depend on any ideology.
The initialism LGBT is a comparatively recent concoction, which has been foisted on the public without any consultation or debate. Yes, of course there is a reason for it: it is, among other things, an attempt to persuade homosexual and bisexual people that their sexuality somehow confers on them an obligation to subscribe to the notion that you can change your biological sex if you are dissatisfied with it, and to support any demands that “transgender activists” may make, while glossing over the complete absence of any moral or logical basis for that position. No such obligation exists.
@ Christopher Shell
Yes, I agree that the idea of “LGBT” is to present people with a pre-set, all-or-nothing package, the unspoken but insidiously implied message being that rejection or even critical scrutiny of any of the individual items in it is simply not a legitimate option.
“If these assertions are not true, then the House of Bishops needs to issue clarification immediately. If they are true, then the bishops have in fact done precisely the opposite of what they said they were going to do, several times in the debate, and in the subsequent statement, and they need to offer an explanation.”
And if they do neither? If there is no response from the HoB, what then? Is their silence enough for you?
I think it would be worth anyone concerned about this to ask every bishop they meet at every opportunity. I think there might be a formal challenge to the addition of this to Common Worship.
Looking ahead: blessing of same sex relationships in November 2020, same sex marriage in church in 2022, compulsory by 2024? Is anyone going to take a bet against this?
However – I think there is a danger in a situation where ‘progressives’ have a programme, while non-progressives are resigned to the seemingly inevitable. We also have a programme, and our programme is more coherent than the other one. Faith is always the best attitude.
I find it very hard to believe that all the bishops support this. But what or who is the driver who “must be obeyed.
It has achieved three illiteracys at once: theological, scientific and pastoral.
All, certainly not.
All who are company men: meh, whatevs. Do stop making a fuss and pass the port!
Like that line about three illiteracys. The unholy trinity?
COMMENDED VS. AUTHORISED LITURGY
Some of you may remember the BRGS report (GS2055) of which Synod refused to ‘take note’.
Although it addressed same-sex relationships, paragraphs 40 to 42 may be helpful in understanding how the HoB distinguishes authorised from commended liturgy. I’ve quoted them here, but replaced each instance of ‘same-sex relationships’ with ‘gender reassignment’:
“Were the Church to make available a form of pastoral service in the context of gender reassignment, two routes would be open: a form of service may be “Authorized” or “Commended”. An Authorized form of service would guard against legal challenge to clergy who made use of it and would permit only limited local variation. Nor would it be open to clergy to use a different form of service for the purpose.
41. On the other hand, the process of authorization is complex, involving the full Synodical revision process, culminating in Article 7 references to the three Houses separately and then the vote needs a 2/3 majority of those present and voting in each House. It is a complex legal obstacle course – but one with (if successful) a clear and robust outcome.
42. In contrast, forms of service may be “Commended” by the House without Synodical approval. **But such forms of service would not only be open to alteration and adaptation locally** (thus undermining consistency) but would potentially be open to substantial challenge since the clergy may not use forms of service which are contrary to, or indicate any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter, and the fact that a form of service has been commended by the House of Bishops is not conclusive that it meets that requirement. The House did, however, take this path in 1985 for the Service of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage. This pastoral provision for those who were divorced with a former spouse still living was offered while the Church of England’s consideration of further marriage in church after divorce had not reached a conclusion.” (endquote)
Given that this guidance represents just commended, but not authorised liturgy, it is not only open to local alteration and adaptation, but it is also, by HoB admission, open to the challenge if it indicates a departure from the doctrine of the CofE in an essential matter.
So, in contrast with the Church’s position that same-sex marriage explicitly contravenes Canon B30 (a position which was successfully established as part of the Church’s religious exemption from the Equality Act), the key issue here is whether you can really prove that re-purposing baptism liturgy to affirm transgender identities does indicate a departure from CofE doctrine in an *essential* matter.
The pastoral use of liturgy is different from either affirming (as Bishop Barry Rogerson did of Carol Stone) that “there are no ethical or ecclesiastical legal reasons why the Rev Carol Stone should not continue in ministry in the Church of England”, or encouraging trans people (as Lichfield did) to serve on PCCs and explore licensed lay and ordained ministry.
Instead, the use of liturgy is constrained by the requirement that it should not indicate an essential departure from CofE doctrine. The reason for this is that public worship in the Church of England is a matter governed by law.
There is no comparison of this recent re-purposing the Affirmation of Baptismal vows with the 1995 decision of bishops to commended a Service of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage. For the latter, while acknowledging the pastoral need, the bishops clarified that ” “would not be a marriage and would contain no marriage vows” and “the service would express penitence for the past, thanksgiving and joy in the present and dedication for
There are two key contraventions of essential CofE doctrine:
1. Liturgy which affirms and reifies transgender identities without qualification will render Canon B30’s reference to man and woman inapplicable.
Through that canon: “1. The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, …”.
To be consistent with English law, man and woman in canon law does not refer to gender identity, but to biological sex, primarily evidenced, by (i) chromosomal factors; (ii) gonadal factors (i.e., presence or absence of testes or ovaries); (iii) genital factors (including internal
The fundamental question is whether this guidance is affirming an identity which is in defiance of the canonical definition of marriage as a union of “one man and one woman”. So, it’s quite pertinent to question whether the guidance sufficiently indicates that a married man or a woman, who has transitioned, still does not belong to the same sex as his/her spouse.
In particular, the reference to ‘male’ and ‘female’ in the guidance on use of baptismal liturgy for affirming and celebrating a person’s gender transition obscures the important binary sexual dichotomy which is maintained by Canon B30 and the wedding liturgy (the latter referring to “male and female” five times).
Therefore, as commended liturgy, it should be challenged as indicative of a departure from the Church’s doctrine in an essential matter.
Why wasn’t there a bigger uproar earlier in the year about this? Didn’t they announce they were going to do this anyway?
Additionally, the Archbishops only recently released a statement saying “Trans people with gender recognition are already able to marry in our churches.”
Same sex marriage may (or may not) already be happening, and supposedly approved, in the Church of England ( I add “may not” because the theological discussion hasn’t taken place, but I think we all know it is same sex marriage).
I was shocked then because it acknowledged the de facto position as though it was formally approved. We all know the Church is marrying and ordaining trans people, but that never happened with theological dialogue, it was just because there isn’t anything in Canon law saying “you can’t change your gender / sex”… because it was so unthinkable!
It has passed just because we are following the government’s recognition of gender.
Yes, there were concerns, and I commented at the time. See the linked articles above the comments.
A few comments.
First, Ian, you misrepresent the Lancet. You imply that this is the position of the Lancet itself, rather than a letter to the Lancet (very different things). The position of the Lancet is better described by their editorial of 30th June-6th July 2018, commending guidelines from Australia
Secondly, I believe Tina Beardsley is wrong in thinking that clergy are forced to offer affirmation of baptism for those who are transgender. The guidelines ‘encourage’ clergy to use this rite, but does not say that clergy ‘must’ do so. This is separate from the issue of whether and how guidance is binding on clergy in any case.
Thirdly, your points about pastoral consideration for families is unfair. The minister is alerted that pastoral impact on families should be considered. This is a short document and should not be expected to cover every single possibility. I note that baptism or affirmation of baptism, with or without a new name, has the potential to upset other family members irrespective of whether the candidate is transgender.
Fourth, you choose to use a letter to the Telegraph rather than any medical research to claim that transitions offer a poor outcome. The evidence suggests that the majority of those undergoing medical transition have good outcomes.
For example, this German study:
“The very high rates of subjective satisfaction and the surgical outcomes indicate that gender reassignment surgery is beneficial. These findings must be interpreted with caution, however, because fewer than half of the questionnaires were returned.”
Hess, J., Rossi Neto, R., Panic, L., Rübben, H., & Senf, W. (2014). Satisfaction with male-to-female gender reassignment surgery. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 111(47), 795-801.
Or this study from Belgium in 2006, about those who had transitioned:
“While no difference in psychological functioning (SCL-90) was observed between the study group and a normal population, subjects with a pre-existing psychopathology were found to have retained more psychological symptoms. The subjects proclaimed an overall positive change in their family and social life. None of them showed any regrets about the SRS.”
Or this study from Ontario in 2013, which shows that rates of suicide attempts drop dramatically after transition: https://doi.org/10.7202/1017478ar
Or this meta-analysis from 2010 of 28 studies, which found (though with the caveat that the quality of the data was low owing to differences between studies and methodological issues) that:
“We found 28 studies with fairly long follow?up duration that demonstrated improvements in gender dysphoria, psychological functioning and comorbidities, lower suicide rates, higher sexual satisfaction and, overall, improvement in the quality of life.”
Where there is abundant evidence, it seems remiss to rely on one letter to a newspaper.
And finally, calling it child abuse is the cheapest of cheap shots. Not worthy of you at all.
Surely it is long past the time when you should be able to tell the difference between scientific papers that exist to ask for further research to be funded, from scientific papers that make an actual scientific, verifiable claim (verifiable being the important bit – it is NOT science unless it can be repeated with the same result).
Are you saying we should stick to letters to the Telegraph for our scientific understanding?
No. He said that we should stick to scientific papers that make verifiable claims for our scientific understanding.
Not merely child abuse, but particularly severe child abuse at the level of violence to the core of one’s being, is an ever-present possibility here. The Esaus who prefer the short-term lure of fashionability either don’t care much for the precious children or cannot see the big picture.
But then when HIV/AIDS broke out with incalculable harm, the lifestyle and behaviour round it became more affirmed not less. Likewise the more we are aware of the correlation with suicidality, the more people want to encourage trans-ism. This is why they call secularism the culture of death.
Thank you for writing this response Jonathan. This article upset me & I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to articulate why due to the emotions bought up. Thank you especially for the links to relevant studies.
Do check up the corrective information in the comments below.
Jonathan, thank you for your questions. To address them in turn:
1. Yes, you are quite correct that I was citing a letter from the Lancet, not the Lancet’s editorial position. I have corrected that. But the key issue for me is whether that is true? Do we as humans have a biological sex which is identified (and not assigned), and is it the case that for the vast, vast majority who are not intersex, that this is unambiguous? If so, then what is being claimed when someone ‘transitions’ their gender identity?
Thanks for the link to the Australian standards…which on a brief read I find chilling. The guidance is indeed rooted in, for example, research that shows that a child who believes that they have a gender identity different from their biological sex feels less distress when adults accept this. But there appeared to be an absence of explanation of why it is good for the long-term health of a child to confirm them in something which is, technically, delusional (as girl who feels that she is a boy is not in fact a boy), which involves life-altering intervention which cannot be reversed, and which appears to be intricately connected to the negative portrayal that girls see of themselves in the media and wider world.
2. Tina Beardsley might be wrong–but Tina has appeared on national TV saying this, and the bishops have allowed Tina to be spokesperson on this. At the very least there needs to be a public statement correcting this. And have you read Tina’s liturgy for transition?
3. I don’t know how much pastoral experience you have had dealing with people who transition, or whether this has occurred in your family. I can assure you that it is traumatic, and that the idea that the Church should use the word ‘celebration’ in this context is felt by many to be an almost unforgivable betrayal. If the document is too short to address this, then it is too short–and of course it raises the question of whether this whole process is at all appropriate.
4. Yes, indeed, I have used some anecdotal experience, from a trans person, to highlight an issue…and the entire debate in Synod was based on similar anecdotes. I guess you would therefore want to question the whole way that debate was conducted?
Thank you for the links to the research you list, which I will aim to look at (once this batch of marking is finished). My conversations with medical professionals tells me that the transition process is ‘successful’ in around 40% of cases—which is about the same rate as the placebo effect. They say that there continue to be an elevated level of mental health issues, and of course there are some very unpleasant side effects of taking hormone-suppressing drugs for life.
In relation to ‘child abuse’, do you approve of the practice of chest-binding amongst girls, and the use of puberty-blocking drugs which effect life-changing and irreversible effects, including irreversible infertility, on the basis of an ideological construction (not a medically-informed one) of gender identity?
And perhaps the most important point of all: at no point here am I seeking to make a substantial point about what ought to be done pastoral and practically in this area–though I have explored that a little in the related posts listed under the article. What I have pointed out is the range of issues that the bishops have failed to consider before making what appears to be a significant change to Anglican practice. Do you think they have considered all these issues adequately? If so, where have they done that?
You wrote that: “The evidence suggests that the majority of those undergoing medical transition have good outcomes. However, even the evidence which you’ve cited is qualified by a lack of data on long-term medical outcomes related to bone mineralisation and adolescent brain development.
I read the Lancet editorial to which you’ve referred. It’s worth clarifying that it doesn’t so much endorse the guidelines published by the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service as it highlights that these are the first which focus solely on transgender and gender-diverse children and adolescents.
In particular, the Lancet notes that recommendation in the guidance that the social transition process should be led by the child is qualified by the fact that the empirical evidence is incomplete: ” Gaps in the evidence remain, however, and further research on development of gender identity and long-term outcomes after treatment is needed.”
The Australian guidelines themselves refer to empirical evidence that “the main concern with use of puberty suppression from early puberty is the impact it has on bone mineral density due to the absence of effect of oestrogen or testosterone on bone mineralisation during this time.”
Although, to ameliorate this impact, the guidelines recommend a Tanner Stage 1 assessment and monitoring of bone mineral density, the guidelines acknowledge: “the long term impact of puberty suppression on bone mineralisation is currently unknown”.
In fact, apart from the studies referenced in this guidance, the Porto Biomedical Journal in an article entitled Buying time or arresting development? The dilemma of administering hormone blockers in trans children and adolescents endorses these concerns:
“Although the use of puberty suppressants is described in international guidelines, there is
no consensus in the Endocrine Society Guidelines and the Standards of Care of the
World Professional Association of Transgender Health.
The primary risks of pubertal suppression include adverse effects on bone
mineralisation (which can theoretically be reversed with cross-sex hormone treatment)
and compromised fertility; data on the effects on brain development are still limited.”
In its guidance on puberty blockers, the UK’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) underscores this concern about the lack of research into the impact on brain development: ““The blocker is a physically reversible intervention: if the young person stops taking the blocker their body will continue to develop as it was previously. However, we don’t know the full psychological effects of the blocker or whether it alters the course of adolescent brain development.”
At the recent Faith Science and Sexuality one-day conference organised by the Ozanne Foundation, I questioned one of the speakers, Dr. James Barrett (Lead Clinician, GIDS) about this acknowledgement about the lack of research into the long-term effects of puberty blockers and he replied (to my mind, rather glibly) that there were significant unknowns about any new drug, including aspirin.
His response was cue for a nonchalant ripple of laughter among the panel on stage. However, in the ensuing lunchtime conversations, I spoke to several attendees who expressed concern over his remarks. Many were old enough to remember how thalidomide had been heralded as a cure for morning sickness.
Jonathan, although the question of whether transition was helpful or not was *not* part of my discussion, you appear to be misrepresenting the evidence here. One of the largest, and most cited, studies was from 2011.
Their conclusion was that, whilst transition did appear to relieve some aspects of gender dysphoria, it was a long way from address other mental health issues:
‘Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population. Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group.’
So the idea that sex reassignment is *the* solution to this complex problem is quite misplaced.
Thanks for this Ian. As it happens, I had already written to my bishop asking for clarification and reassurance before I read your excellent post. My four bullet points mirror your opening objections almost exactly:
– The absence of any mature theological and exegetical underpinning to the guidance. The list of Scriptures in the appendix, suggested as appropriate for any such ceremony, displays a pitiful disassociation from context that is truly disturbing.
– The insistence of the celebratory nature of an event that to some minds, mine included, actually marks the tragic rejection by an individual of God’s very good created design.
– The confusing association of baptism; a rite marking union with Christ via public repentance and profession of faith, with a chemical/surgical sex change, or with the fantasy of claiming to be the opposite sex to what is demonstrably observable – both anatomically and chromosomally.
– The emphasis on being “guided by the wishes of the candidate” which reduces a minister’s role as teacher and pastor to that of a yes man/woman at the mercy of the whims of his/her congregation or community.
I am really, really dismayed by this move. As my wife said to me last night, “This is not what you got ordained for.”
Very well written and very useful 4 points
Useful comments , especially as I am in Blackburn diocese. Reblogged it
Beginning of the end.
If the House of Bishops cannot think theologically, and they are our leaders,
the CofE is lost.
Exactly. But the solution is to have properly theological and non-culturally-conformist Bishops.
How you propose that, given the current position of Caroline Boddington who keeps appointing such people? The criteria are all wrong. The appointment of Dame Sarah is the most glaring example to the See of London. What a joke.
‘properly theological Bishops’ – I agree Christopher, but what would this look like and how & where would we get them? We have had years of training clergy in their 30’s & 40’s & 50’s who graduate with a diploma or even a certificate in theology. Now the move is to ‘context based training’ which offers part-time theology alongside a part time extended placement. When & where are they to get a sound and robust in theological training? We are identifying gifted potential future Bishops, and sending them to courses on leadership – I would rather have them do a PHD or at very least a DMin.
Of course, having a PHD in theology is no guarantee of orthodoxy or orthopraxy as we well know
Absolutely! Though I do think the stellar intellects of Popes John Paul and Benedict were such a help, the more appreciated in their absence. If one is going to be infallible, intellect is a requirement; less important than holiness, but if there is only one leader they should be the one that combines both these things. That may have been the thinking in appointing Rowan Williams, whose character and brainpower are both widely respected. Coggan and Temple had that combination, together with enviable communication and clarity powers.
But vision and leadership are requirements in addition. Had Stott been Archbishop in the 1980s and Green in the 1990s – we can but dream.
I can’t see the significance in Dr Rachel Mann’s statement:
‘It says that we, too — as trans people — are bearers of the image of God. . . as much as non-trans people.’
Baptism doesn’t celebrate the image of God (Donald Trump bears the image of God) but the new creation in Christ Jesus via the washing of regeneration and renewal through the Holy Spirit!
I think we ought not to use the word trans. Much of the dishonest vocab that is floating around is Trojan-horse-like, smuggling in dodgy elements under the cloak of kosher elements.
Trans is clearly not a clear word; but clear thinkers use clear words. Trans can mean any of:
(1) someone who has had bits cut off or added (gruesome thought)
(2) something approximating to intersex or non-binary (non-XY / non-XX)
(3) someone who says they are (or feel they are) male or female despite appearances to the contrary.
But 1, 2, and 3 are 3 different realities, needing 3 different words to describe them. Supposing someone says ‘There are 2 trans people in our school’. They must know how obscure they are being. I conclude that they like obscurity, and consequently that there must also be a good reason for them to prefer obscurity in this context (because if it is not clear what one is saying in the first place, it is harder to refute it!). The dishonest like obscurity; the transparent like clarity.
If people want to use the word trans to describe their lived reality, that is up to them and it describes that reality: they are transgender. Just as you and I are cisgender. And, fortunately, you have no power to police people’s language.
Your 1 and 3 are not different realities. People experience being trans in different ways. Some want to transition surgically, others do not. Some take cross-sex hormones, others don’t. There is nothing gruesome about it, unless you believe all surgical and medical interventions are gruesome.
Your 3 presumably describes intersex people. Intersex is a difference in sex development and has nothing to do with being transgender. Unfortunately many intersex people have had unnecessary surgical interventions, mostly in infancy and therefore without their consent. Interventions which often lead to physical impairments.
It is hugely ironic that those who support surgical intervention on intersex infants, who cannot consent, to ‘normalise’ them, oppose adults, who can give consent, undergoing surgery to help them become the other gender.
Btw, just to be clear, I am not cisgender. I am a man.
That is your prerogative. To describe reality as you experience it. I would describe you and Christopher as cisgender men. I am a cisgender woman. Neologisms have a long history, if you see what I mean!
How dare you address me in any other way than the way I choose to be addressed. I take your comments to be deeply androphobic.
Well, what do you expect from a member of the matriarchal gynocracy?
Consistency? In what way am I being inconsistent?
Seriously, I think you may mean me using a term to describe men of which you don’t approve. And you do have a point. But aren’t we more careful with the language of identity when it describes the vulnerable, minorities and the non-normative? You and I are so privileged. We don’t lose that privilege simply when someone ‘othered’ in our societies claims a place.
But Penelope, you wouldn’t deny surely that my 1, 2, 3 are significantly different from one another. No-one who valued clarity (i.e. who was a clear or precise thinker, a decent level of thinker) would prefer the more fudged option that lumps all 3 into one. They would seek 3 different terms to describe these 3 realities – and also wonder at the motivation of those who preferred to resist that. Less vagueness must always be better, mustn’t it?
Did you read my reply? I argued that your 1 and 3 are the same. they are both transgender; they simply inhabit this reality in different ways.
Your 3 is significantly different because it describes intersex. Intersex and transgender are two significantly different things. It is you who tried to unite them under the umbrella term trans.
Although Christopher can defend himself, I suspect that he was saying that the way the term ‘trans’ (without any qualification as in transsexual or transgende) is used by some (or many) people is confused. That is, some people use the term ‘trans’ to refer to those with one of the intersex conditions. This whole area is rife with the sloppy use of language.
Yes – and of course there is transvestite as well.
For sure, when people have a simplistic one-word slogan, they are hiding something. It is not as though they are not intelligent enough to be more nuanced than that. However, they wish not to be, and it is good to explore the reason for this.
In my chapter 10 in ‘What Are They Teaching The Children?’ I list 30-40 such simplistic one-word slogans. The motivation behind them is anything but pure. They all try to pre-empt argument, usually because the people know that the argument would otherwise be lost.
The categories we have are all wrong. ‘Trans’ presupposes that the default for such people will be (‘biologically’ as the saying goes) one extreme (fully male) and in your head the other extreme (fully female). But it is highly unlikely that such a bipolar reality would actually be the default here, and much likelier that the so-called biological and mental realities would be rather closer to each other within one and the same individual.
We could categorise:
intersex is being born with gender ambivalence,
surgery is achieving it (one and the same individual’s history encompasses both),
and mental confusion about this is having it thrust upon one (which is why the more people preach it the more it happens, and why it is rife in Brighton. What are the chances of the number of actual ‘trans’ people always corresponding in a graph to the ideology of the councils and local authorities? More likely the latter causes the former.).
Minneapolis Star Tribune 6 Aug 2015:
A study of 9th and 11th graders found that
1-2% of straight males,
3% of questioning males,
6-7 of gay males,
and 8-9% of bisexual males
2% of straight females
10% of questioning females
10% of lesbian females
and 9% of bisexual females
had been impregnated!
This proves beyond question that our categories are wrong:
(1) The main factor in unhealthy sexual development is being (through circumstances or unhealthy culture or normal human wilfulness) somehow messed up so as to be out of alignment with one’s real body and nature, not anything called ‘orientation’.
(2) Secondly, what we call gay etc is often hypersexuality and being bored with the vanilla which fails to deliver what the tempter promised (not that its replacements do either: law of diminishing returns; *post coitum onmium animal triste* applies not in marriage but in carnal contexts). By which time the dupe of the culture has been thoroughly messed up – and irrevocably were it not for Christ.
(3) Temptation has a zing, and consequently those many who need this zing have transgression of norms/laws as a virtual requirement. This is something Christians understand and others often fail to (e.g. in drug legalisation contexts: where one should draw the line).
I mean ‘omne animal’.
Actually David and Christopher, people don’t use trans to describe intersex. Unless they are very ignorant (though C is right to say that trans can include transvestite as well as transgender).
So far this thread has been largely strong conservative voices in agreement. I am wondering why no thoughtful response has been made by Ian or others to Jonathan Tallon’s critical and well informed contribution here?
And John. What you call ‘God’s very good created design’ obviously works for you. But are really unaware that for significant minority’s the experience is very different? Do you not know, for example, the suicide and attempted suicide rates for young people in the trans community?
That is because we all have a life to live!
My response above.
…and now more substance on research from David Shepherd.
A non-conservative response, not to Jonathan whose research I could hardly better, but a response to which I perceive as being the main flaws in the biblical and theological anthropology of Ian’s argument and the conservative case generally (and here articulated by several commentators).
The appeal to the Genesis binary is, I think, mistaken. Firstly, transgender people do not (usually) disrupt this binary; they reinforce it. Genderqueer and non-binary people are a minority. Most trans people conform to the norm of there being two sexes/genders.
Secondly, I would suggest that it is mistaken to see the ‘pairs’ in Genesis 1 as binaries. Surely they are merisms: night and day encompasses dawn and dusk; earth and sky encompasses littoral, rivers, marshes, deserts; male and female encompasses intersex, genderqueer, non-binary, two-spirit people, gender non-conforming people, eunuchs, Hijra.
I agree that trans ideology reinforces a binary, but it does this by creating stereotypes of appearance and behaviour which I think are quite damaging. The idea that a girl who likes playing with trains is ‘really’ a boy reinforces some of the most superficial stereotypes and I think is harmful to women. The notion that sex identity is given is rooted in a theology of God as creator; when we are secure in that we are free to express our interests without fear.
I think the question of whether the pairs in Genesis are binaries or merisms (like ‘rich and poor’ and ‘great and small’ in the Book of Revelation) is worth asking…but I think it is quickly answered.
In literary terms, the primary theme in Genesis is ‘separation’: God separated light from darkness in v 4; God separated the water above from the water below in v 6; the water is gathered in v 9 to separate it from the land; the lights of the sky separate day from night in v 14; and interestingly it is that separation that then immediately leads to fruitfulness. If you are going to grow a crop, you need dry land, not a marsh or hinterland.
In the second creation account, in Gen 2, there is again the theme of separation, though the language is different. As the best literature on this explores, the phrase ‘ezer kenegdo’ is an unusual one that expresses both similarity *and* difference, connectedness *and* separation. The animals are separate but not connected; another adam would be connected but not separate; the creation of another, but who is connected, comes about precisely by an act of separation by God.
Culturally, the intermediates within the merism either don’t exist, or are seen as a bad thing. In Israel there is no dusk; it just goes from day to night (which you’d know if you’d lived there.) Marshes are unproductive and harbour disease; many kibbutz settlers coming to the unproductive land which the local Arab populations had failed to make productive died of malaria until all the marshes and swamps were drained so they could be cultivated. And desert is infertile; it is God’s bringing of order and blessing that makes it bloom.
So your imposition of an alien idea to the text is firmly resisted by it. The binaries are there in Genesis, and both in the later use of those texts within the canon and in the history of interpretation, they have rightly been seen as central to a biblical anthropology.
I am surprised that you conflate gender non conformity with transgender. Most gender non conforming children grow into adults whose gender aligns with their biological sex. Some children may feel a confusion about identity which is why the protocols at the Tavistock are so conservative. The vast majority of juveniles referred there do not go on to transition. So much of the hysteria in the press and on social media is disingenuous to say the least.
Your observation about dusk is interesting, but daybreak exists even at the equator. But I don’t think it disproves the idea of merism as a poetic device. Shorelines and swamps and deserts may ne inhospitable but they are all part of God’s good creation. Perhaps they weren’t inhospitable before the fall.
I am not ‘conflating’ gender-non-conformity with transgender. I am noting what appears so often in the personal narratives, and an aspect of the deep logic of transgender ideology, which has been noted widely by others.
In relation to Gen 1 and merism, I have not offered ‘interesting ideas’, I have noted some key aspects of the text (that in Gen 1 God’s ordering of a disordered world involves separation into binaries that then brings fruitfulness) and located that in its (rather than our) social context. You might or might not agree with that idea, but if you are going to say ‘This is not what the text says’ you need to engage with the data of the text and provide textual counter-evidence to the observations I have offered.
If not, then you are just imposing your own ideas on the text, which I don’t think it going to be persuasive.
But God doesn’t divide into binaries in Gen. 1. The writers believed in an (at least) three tiered world. I’m not imposing my ideas on an ancient text.
Three-good, two-bad is a bit Animal Farm isn’t it? It is just as questionable and arbitrary as JAT Robinson’s depth-good, height-bad.
Also worth noting that Jonathan omits a rather important study that does not really support his case. And one of the studies states that ‘half did not return the questionnaire’ which indicates a biased outcome.
Suicide and attempted suicide in the ‘trans community’:
But if being ‘trans’ is an example of being disturbed (and if your thoughts are not at peace with your biology, that is a, or the, classic example of being disturbed), then your behaviour will not be at peace.
Think, for example, of someone who has been sexually abused. Their proper biological cycle of development has been disturbed. Trauma would therefore be understandable. Likewise someone who behaves (or is behaved to) sexually in ways not in accord with the biological/developmental pattern has suffered disturbance and is at risk of trauma. Growing up according to natural law is how things should be. Jesus said, Feed My Lambs (not experiment on my rats).
You’re simply assuming that the state itself cannot be a disturbed state, and that any disturbance must lie elsewhere. But assuming things without justification (while ignoring the elephant in the room) is always a bad move. Being out of kilter with oneself is the very definition of disturbance, the *most* obvious example of it. One is calling reality what it is not, and denying the reality that is.
Societies that are in thrall to ideology will end up with disturbance of this kind, whereas those that are in line with natural law will thereby avoid it. Hence the recent increase of such disturbance in societies like this one.
You ask: “Do you not know, for example, the suicide and attempted suicide rates for young people in the trans community?”
To shed some light on the effectiveness of gender reasssignment surgery, I would recommend the 2011 peer-reviewed study of 324 trans people by Dhejne, Lichtenstein et al (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3043071/)
The study overcame several of the methodological shortcomings of previous research (including those cited by Jonathan Tallon). These include comparatively small cohort sizes and lack of comparison with randomly selected population controls matched for age and gender.
Key results: “The most striking result was the high mortality rate in both male-to-females and female-to males, compared to the general population. This contrasts with previous reports (with one exception) that did not find an increased mortality rate after sex reassignment, or only noted an increased risk in certain subgroups.
Mortality from suicide was strikingly high among sex-reassigned persons, also after adjustment for prior psychiatric morbidity. In line with this, sex-reassigned persons were at increased risk for suicide attempts.”
So, in addition to the lack of research into the long-term effect of puberty blockers on bone mineralisation and adolescent brain development, I’d ask you whether you’re aware of this evidence of overall higher post-transition mortality, death from cardiovascular disease and suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalisations among gender reassigned people.
Do the supposed benefits of transitioning upon which the bishops have decided that the Church should pronounce divine affirmation outweigh this hard evidence of serious health risks posed by puberty blockers and cross-sex hormonal treatments and gender reassignment surgery.
David Runcorn: my comment about God’s very good created design is not based on “what obviously works for me” – since you don’t know me you are hardly competent to assess that – but on what holy scripture records God declaring after creating humankind *in his own image, male and female*. Those 7 words between asterisks merit prolonged meditation and deep reflection.
Of course, from the earliest times there has been no lack of voices protesting, “Did God really say?” My sense is that this is rarely, if ever, a humble quest in the fear of the Lord to better understand God’s mind, but more a sustained attack on sound doctrine with the objective of binding the Church to the latest liberal heresy or ideological fad.
If you’ll forgive my butting in, they are I believe, a merism. That is, God created male and female and everything in between. Just as God created night and day, and earth and sea, and everything in between: dusk, dawn, littoral, rivers, desert…
That’s not what the text itself suggests, with its repeated emphasis on ‘separation’. See discussion above.
David, there are now several responses to Jonathan’s post. Do feel free to comment on them.
And on your ViaMedia article, I have questioned your use of slavery as a parallel. I’d be interested in your response to that.
One question that hasn’t been raised is that of a child seeking baptism under a name and gender contrary to their birth certificate. How are clergy to approach this? Is full parental consent required (both parents or those with legal parental responsibility)? What if the child’s wishes are contrary to those with parental care? Would it be a requirement to wait for re-designation of gender on a birth certificate before considering baptism in this case? Perhaps clarification with regard to a request for baptism in the first instance (rather than re-affirmation) and an individual’s legal identity and status (under 18 and 18+) would be helpful.
Another whole set of questions not considered…
Ian, I feel that Jonathan Tallon’s point needs to be addressed, if indeed as Christians we believe in telling the truth. Possibly by oversight, your article misrepresented ‘The Lancet’ which has made clear in a editorial that they believe in gender affirmation of people who transition.
Therefore when you write: “The Lancet just this week made an impassioned appeal for proper engagement with biological reality”… well it didn’t. It’s view goes pretty much in the opposite direction, in line with the GMC, the NMC, the NHS, the Law, the Department of Education, the Police, the Army and the majority of companies in the UK. You have (inadvertently?) misrepresented the position of ‘The Lancet’ whose editorial reflects the prevailing views of professionals (as opposed to religious dogmatists) who recognise (a) the profound distress that gender dysphoria can cause (b) the benefits reported by over 90% of people who have transitioned (c) the far more productive and happy lives that transition can give to people.
Far from ‘The Lancet’ making “an impassioned plea for proper engagement with biological reality”, it was actually just a small handful of people who submitted a letter in the correspondence section of ‘The Lancet’. None of these people have any history of peer-reviewed study or research in this specialist field.
The Lancet – in line with the GMC – advocates for affirmation of people in the gender they identify in, and for practical treatment to assist their transition.
The professionals do NOT back the position of those who repudiate trans identity, which is a fringe viewpoint frequently motivated by religious dogma. In the same way that Christian counselling to gay people can be dangerous because dogmatically so-called ‘conversion therapists’ believe ALL gay people are in error, in sin, and should remain celibate for life… which is a deeply harmful basis for counselling… you seem to be driven by religious absolutism on the complex issue of gender identity and dysphoria, even if it means that truthful or accurate reporting must be sidelined.
‘The Lancet’ has been misrepresented in your article. That is not a good advertisement for truth.
Thanks for highlighting this. I have edited the text to correct the error.
But I am sure you will be aware that one of the great complexities of this issue is that the scientific research in this area has become mired in ideological conflict, the case of Kenneth Zucker being a prime example. Zucker was greatly concerned about the lack of proper evidence for claims being made, and also highlighted the catastrophic damage that could be done by following the ideologically shaped approach that Jonathan links to from Australia. The really helpful BbC programme on this is linked here:
But the real question is whether or not the content of the Lancet letter is correct: Do we as humans have a biological sex which is identified (and not assigned), and is it the case that for the vast, vast majority who are not intersex, that this is unambiguous? If so, then what is being claimed when someone ‘transitions’ their gender identity?
On your accusation of religious dogma, can I counsel you to be quite careful of whom you condemn for what? I do not accept many of the ideological claims made by many transgender campaigners, not because of any dogma, but because of the biological evidence–in line with many feminists and not a few medical professions, such as Robert Winston. It is not helpful for the case of your argument to clump such views with fundamentalist gay conversion therapy; I do hope you understand the arguments of those you disagree with a little better than that.
That’s interesting but… “the Law, the Department of Education, the Police, the Army and the majority of companies in the UK.” surely are following others not leading through scientific, sociological, philosophical or theological work of their own. The political and social values of the day providing the acceptable current meta-narrative for them are enormous.
One might grant that the general thrust of medics is as you say, the but there is they do not all agree. Its dangerous to dismiss a minority simply because it is a minority.
Susannah, could I just check something? You have accused me of dishonesty, and of ‘denying trans identity’ (though it is not clear what you mean by that; I certainly recognise that a small group of people suffer great distress from experiencing what is now called ‘gender dysphoria’), and also accused me of being a dangerous fundamentalist.
Answers and responses to all these have been offered. Are you going to engage with these, or are you happy to accuse and insult people, and then disappear?
Ian, it was *you* who misrepresented ‘The Lancet’, not me. I cut you some slack by writing “POSSIBLY BY OVERSIGHT, your article misrepresented The Lancet”. I also gave you some wriggle room by carefully writing “You have (INADVERTENTLY?) misrepresented the position of The Lancet”. I think I was being pretty generous there, because you were presenting The Lancet as advocating more or less the opposite of what its editorial has advocated. The claim that The Lancet advocated these views was FALSE, Ian, and you know that – which is why, having been called out on it, you have edited your post.
Now, I admit when I wrote “you SEEM to be driven by religious absolutism on the complex issue of gender identity and dysphoria, even if it means that truthful or accurate reporting must be sidelined” that was drawing close to alleging that you were sidelining the truth… after all, the truth DID get sidelined with a falsehood… but being up front with you, while I was dismayed that The Lancet was being falsely attributed with a viewpoint it did not hold, I do not know for certain whether you were deliberately massaging the case, or were just careless. But I chose my words carefully: possibly by oversight, inadvertently, you *seem*.
You say I am accusing YOU of ‘denying trans identity’. The actual words I wrote were: “The professionals do NOT back the position of those who repudiate trans identity”. ‘Those’ may or may not include you – you tell me. I knew what I meant by the term ‘trans identity’ but it’s up to you whether you would repudiate the ‘trans identity’ I refer to.
‘Trans identity’ is the way significant numbers of people understand, feel, and identify themselves as having gender mentality that conflicts with and is incongruent to the sexual reproductive aspects of their body, and the gender society stereotypically attributes to people with those sexual reproductive body parts (typically associated with genitalia). Furthermore, ‘trans identity’ is a lived experience… reflecting how an individual feels and how they understand and identify themselves.
This ‘identity’ is frequently repudiated by a minority of radical feminists and by Christian fundamentalists. Now I used the term ‘religious absolutism’ to propose that the tone of your article implied a critique of trans identity based not on professional expertise (though the article managed to hijack ‘The Lancet’), but on religious motivations (which to be fair, I accept that any Christian may have).
I am not ‘happy to accuse and insult people and then disappear’ – here I am 48 hours later… people have lives – but I am happy to agree that you can choose whether to define yourself as ‘fundamentalist’. Your definition may vary from mine of course. If you believe in the inerrancy of the Bible at the literal narrative level on issues like the Fall as a factual event, or Adam having no ancestors, or Noah gathering together every single species of animal in a worldwide flood higher than Mount Ararat… or indeed the monstrous idea that God would actually command the slaughter of the Canaanite children… then by my definition you would be a fundamentalist. And then I would find your biblical position dangerous to gay and lesbian people, because you would logically also expect them to be celibate all their lives. And logically, if you regarded the Bible as inerrant rather than culturally contextual, then trans identities and trans lives would then be endangered by the repudiation of their own identities, based on the creation narratives and God specifically making people male and female.
I have limited time, and I have engaged again and again online for years with Christians who are negative towards gay sex, towards lesbian sex, towards people transitioning. Again and again and again. Usually it is the other party that disappears.
You want engagement? Explain a little further exactly what you DO think about people transitioning, and then, if you want to go further, organise a public debate. I’ll debate you. I do NOT run away.
And a couple more points: I am NOT a trans activist. I do not belong to any trans group. I am a Christian from an evangelical background. I am just a person living my life, happily, productively, alongside God… getting on with my life… and dismayed by the way too many Christians vilify lesbian (and gay) sexuality.
And the other point: I believe in Christian unity in diversity. In other words, I respect the conscientious right of Christians to hold contrary positions in good faith. And the deepest test is not ‘Who is right?’ but ‘Can we love each other?’ And in that context, I totally affirm your desire to walk with God, and pray for your flourishing, as a cisgendered man. Please try to pray for my flourishing too, as a transgender woman. That is my identity. That is how God knows me, and loves me, and accepts me.
Let’s try to tone down the rhetoric with one another. Face to face is always best. The whole ‘Lancet made an impassioned plea’ thing was pretty crap, you have to admit. I think I was right to protest that. The fact you deleted that demonstrates you recognised that, and thank you. As to your honesty, and notwithstanding I put in provisionals, I don’t want to impugn you, so let’s re-boot and try to find mutual respect.
Once I know what it is you really believe about people who transition – and where you think God stands on that – then I really do invite you to organise a public debate. You want me to ‘engage’, and suggest I was doing a kind of drive-by character assassination… I am willing to engage, face to face, and in front of an audience. Are *YOU* willing to engage like that? I understand if you don’t want to, of course, and I’m not trying to be confrontational: I think it would potentially be instructive to many people. We could film it too, and put it online.
Grace of God be with you, Ian.
I do hope that Ian takes up the offer of a public debate.
Before the moderators banned my comments, I engaged in debate with you, Erika Baker and Tobias Haller on Thinking Anglicans.
In case Ian is unavailable, I would relish the opportunity to debate you or anyone on these issues in a public forum.
I’d even pay for the venue. So, as a rank layman, I don’t think that I could make it much easier.
I’d hold off that suggestion right now, David, partly because my proposal was specifically addressed to Ian, and partly if I am honest because if I can avoid public debate right now I mostly would – as I am very engaged with all my marriage preparations >>so happy<< .
I will just say this: I do get that on internet forums we sometimes find ourselves banned or moderated, because online communication can get out of sync from what a person is really trying to say and – more importantly – who they are. And I'd want to say for the record, that I have found you courteous, reasonable and I also respect your faithfulness (even though, as you know, I hold very different views on some topics).
Of course, if Ian wanted to 'team up' with you as a tag team, I have some great potential team members for a public debate on gender and human sexuality in Christianity.
The forum would need to be quite high profile, otherwise it just becomes a kind of talking blog, with few people actually listening. This blog here is quite high profile, and it's been interesting to visit it (albeit it a bit distressing). What I hate about internet forums is that everyone pitches in if you say something challenging, and you end up fire fighting on more fronts and with more people than you wanted to or have time to. (I apologise to anyone I haven't answered here.)
But I wanted to acknowledge you generous offer, and I don't rule something like that out altogether in the future, but for me it would depend very much on time/commitments, and on audience.
My life is framed around prayer and contemplation in the deeply traditional and pretty conservative(!) patterns of the Spanish counter-reformation: so I am both deeply conservative on some things, while at the same time socially liberal on others. But my commitment to prayer (which I have the privilege to pursue) takes out quite a chunk of my day, and most of what's left is dedicated to relationships and local community.
May God bless you and keep you in grace and quietness of heart, knowing you are loved, treasured, and understood. And indwelt by God's astonishing presence – in whom we live, and move, and have our being.
with love from
1 Christopher correctly distinguishes all categories that fall under the description of trans and as the Bishop’s have been shown to have had little or no consideration of theology it is relevant to trace the roots of what has been described as “cultural/educational marxism” into which much of the trans movement falls.
2 There are two recent publications that trace the source of much of what is going on in gender matters inclusive language such is CIS. Interestingly, from different starting points, secular and Christian the both arrive at similar source 1. Social/cultural Marxism is an inclusive cover-all term that can be applied.
3.1“The Coddling of the American Mind” by free speech campaigner, lawyer Gretg Lukianoff and Social Pyschologist, prof Joathan Haidt (L&H). They are atheist who are deeply concerned about what they term, the “three great untruths” affecting and informing the attitudes and practices damaging universities, which have “devastating consequences for young people, the educational system and democracy itself.” And it’s secular.
3.1.1 There are references to Marcuse (M) and critiques of Marcuse’s 1965 Essay, “Repressive Tolerance” (RT). Marcuse proposes replacing RT with “liberating tolerance” (LT) which means “intolerance against against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”
M recognised this was in opposition to the spirit of democracy and the liberal tradition of nondiscrimination . He advocated the use of “repression and indoctrination.”
3.1.2 In the words of L&H; “In a chilling passage… M argued that true democracy might require denying basic rights to people who advocate for conservative causes, or for policies he viewed as aggressive or discriminatory, and that true freedom of thought might require professors to indoctrinate their students.” Read that again.
Comment: this: secular utopia is secular dystopia. And it’s happening now, progressively so, by self proclaimed progressives, cultural marxist
3.2This is all part of what LH term “concept creep” and subjective emotional reasoning, to expand the meaning of hate speech and a “call-out culture (where) almost anything that is interpreted by anyone as having a negative impact on vulnerable members of the community-regardless of intent can be call hate speech.”
3.3 LH show in this drift towards (or rather, where there is confluence of the waters of philosophical and identity politics breaking into foaming white -water- rapids over the last decade through the agencies of what LH term the iGen , internet generation) what has been described by Lord Jonathan Sacks as both a moral and pathological dualism and a categorisation of people into “good”v “bad/evil.”
3.4 Supporting this twin dualism is a framework of “bureaucracy safetyism” and a new culture of expansive and expanding vulnerability, which exponentially generates victimisation, in turn, leading to a moral dependence on groups and individuals who have been “slighted” who come to rely on external authorities (such as pressure groups, organisations even the state) to resolve their problems. Ultimately this leads to a withering away, “atrophy,”of other forms of conflict management.
3.5 Buttressing and underpinning the dualisms and the framework is the yearning or “quest” for justice. Here the authors focus on “Social justice(SJ) ” – a moral philosophy for a fair and just society.”
3.5.1 SJ comprises “intuitive” notions of justice which relies on a combination of “distributive justice” (a perception that people get what they deserve) and “procedural justice”- a perception that the rules and processes are fair and trustworthy.
3.5.2 It can be seen how the emphasis on SJ is based on intuition and perception x 2), not on objectivity. But the idea of fairness contains a greater or lesser degree of objectivity. Although fairness is spoken in terms of “equity”, it practically amounts to, seeks, is reduced to equality of outcomes, even though, if there is a different outcome between people groups or individuals there is no correlation to the outcome to prove that there is evidence of bias, systematic, individual, or otherwise.
3.6 Where does all this take us? It takes us to a place where arguments may be made, discussions take place from a common view, starting point, on terms that thinking secular society may understand.
3.7A helpful list of “Distorted automatic thoughts” on which the feelings /intuitions are based is set out in the appendix, much of which can be seen in modern discourse, as a simple form of discourse analysis and self-analysis of our own contributions. The list derives from CBT, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. In Christian terms, it is the renewal of the mind through the washing of the word.
4 From a Christian perspective is a book which also bring to light the substantial significance of Marcuse: ” That Hideous Strength: How the West was Lost- the cancer of Cultural Marxism in the Church, the World and the Gospel of Change” by Melvin Tinker.
4.1 It is pungent book that curries Christian flavour, not favour in the church. It stings the eyes open, bringing a much needed watchman’s or “wakeman’s” clear trumpet call on the walls. It is a call to speak out, to contest, to be a Christian contrarian, as was CS Lewis. It is needful within the church as well as without.
4.2 But it is a call to speak from a knowledge of western culture in which we swim as icthus fish. Like salmon we need the ability to swim in salt and fresh water, church and secular.
It is not just for Anglicans. The RC church is also a target of cultural marxism.
4.3 For me, of the real eye opening significance are chapters 3 and 4 which trace the main sources of cultural marxism and its development through:
4. 3.1 the methodology of Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School, formerly, the Institute for Marxism, then The Institute for Social Research, the goal (accord to Williams S Lind ) “was not truth but praxis or revolutionary action: bringing the current society and culture down through unremitting, destructive criticism.” Truth is locked into its own point in history, so it is historically relative.
Comment: It is a place where biblical revisionist dwell.
Marcuse was/is a key influence in the Frankfurt school.
4.3.2 Kirk and Marsden admen methods in the use of propaganda:
“It makes no difference that the ads are lies, not to us, because we are using them to ethically good effect, to counter negative stereotypes that are every bit as much lies, and far more wicked ones:not to be bigots, because the ads will have their effect on them whether they believe them or not”
This relies on: 1 emotional manipulation
2 Uses lies
3 is subjective and one sided
NOTE Personal story telling (anecodote ) is important in this regard. The books of Ozanne and Vicki Beeching are examples within the church. The media is awash with personal trans stories. And of course there are courses/conferences on story telling
4.4 Strategy and tactics are laid bare by Tinker. Avoidance, not answering key points, and only putting their side is endemic. Little wonder that Tinker seems to be something of anathma within some parts of the Anglican liberal church.
4.5 But the book doesn’t end there. The words “and the gospel of change” are part of the front cover sub-title.
4.5.1 He considers the spiritual battle, the “battle for Christ” the reality of God in Christ, in
1 his Deity, 2 his humanity, biologically male 3 “what is in Christ, is the whole created order, made by him, sustained by him, having its goal in him (Colossians 1:16,17)
4.5.2 This is in opposition to the World Council of Churches belief in God, Mother-Father Spirit” and all it’s derivative beliefs, such as the revealed in the publication of a bible entitled: “Judith Christ of Nazareth, The Gospels of the Bible, corrected to reflect thast Christ was a woman, extracted from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
4.5.3 Key to this is biblical and systematic theology, and preaching combined with engaging with the culture, so there must be knowledge of God and of the culture, to compare and contrast, with “courageous refutation”. Perhaps in the manner of CS Lewis, a Christian contrarian, from which the title of the book derives.
Avoidance. Not answering key points. Only putting their side. Yes, Geoff, these things have been all too clear practice for decades. Could there be 3 clearer signs of dishonesty and untruthfulness?
You will have encountered all that within the Church more than I. There is clear evidence of it even within the scope of Ian Paul's blog, or rather the comments.
The strategy and tactics are anchored in Marcuse and the Frankfert school
“was not truth but praxis or revolutionary action: bringing the current society and culture down through unremitting, destructive criticism.”
That too is clear from comments here as well as in the media and education.
1 For evidence of avoidance, this is classic:
The application the edicts of Marcuse has been evidence by the BBC radio 4 Women’s hour.
Recently, it hosted a series on “gender. and trans.” Evidently, on one day Bex Stinson, head of trans equality at Stonewall, refused to appear in the studio with her interlocutor from the New Statesman, on the grounds that the debate (per se) was too toxic! Stonewall by name, marxist stonewalling by cultural strategy and tactic.
There you have it: debate is not to be tolerated, countenanced.
Who’d have thought it, the inclusive BBC, in name of the national interest , seeking, by open debate to leach toxicity over the airwaves.
2 Rapid Onset Gender Disphoria is another avoidance issue:
Prefix “trans” means, “on the other side of…” We are awash with abuse or misuse or mangle of language to advocate for a spread of position from a narrow position, to generalise from the particular.
Children are inherently, suggestible. What is termed “rapid onset gender disphoria” may have roots in peer pressure, or lop sided teaching or promotion. The results in Brighton may be evidence of this.
” We have heard from many parents describing that their child had a rapid onset of gender dysphoria in the context of increasing social media use and/or being part of a peer group in which one or multiple friends has developed gender dysphoria and come out as transgender during a similar time frame. Several parents have described situations where entire friend groups became gender dysphoric. This type of presentation is atypical and has not been studied to date. We feel that this phenomenon needs to be described and studied scientifically.
If your child has had sudden or rapid development of gender dysphoria beginning between the ages of 10 and 21, please consider completing the following online survey. If you have more than one child with gender dysphoria who fits the above description, please complete one survey per child.” http://www.transgendertrend.com/rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria-research-study/
3 Deep Regret is another avoidance. There are life stories that reveal a deep regret in people who have transitioned , but they are not mentioned, not given centre stage.
Entire friendship groups? Yes, because children are suggestible, and this offers the promise of delicious rebellion – rebellion, moreover, that they will be able to get away with and have the additional filip of laughing at the weakness of the adults who cave in. Is anyone going to join me in weeping for and standing for these precious children?
We can make a predictive map of which areas will ‘throw up’ so-called dysphoria according to the trendiness of the populace and the composition of the local council.
One thousand times more (larger scale) child abuse is done by this kind of suggestion on trendy adults’ part than is done by the stereotypical predator.
They are both (1) suggestible and (2) very keen to fit into their peer group. A dynamite mix in these circumstances. But brain decisions made here and now become part of their personal history, their identity, who they are.
Sorry, but Christopher has not correctly distinguished between all forms of trans. He has conflated intersex with transgender which is both inaccurate and insulting.
So speaks a cultural marxist who is a classic exemplar in the application of the strategy and tactics identified in both books. David Wilson above makes an appropriate response to you, as you well know. So please don’t insult our intelligence with harping on, ” bringing culture down through unremitting destructive criticism”.
You have some serious avoidance issues if that is the only comment to me from the totality of my comments, which Christopher picked up on. I trust that your silence on the substantive points (which hold-up a mirror ) is acquiescence and you thereby self -identify.
Sorry Geoff if you could write that in intelligible prose, I might be able to respond. And I am not a cultural Marxist.
I certainly shouldn’t semi-conflate the two. I (probably wrongly) thought that ‘I’ was being popularly included under the ‘T’ umbrella within ‘LGBT’. I have taken T to imply ‘transposition’ rather than one-directional ‘transition’, and intersex to be located somewhere on the journey/route/transit between female and male, within the overall spectrum.
It is in some ways unfortunate that the umbrella term LGBTi includes different realities and identities, but T and I are as different from each other as they are from gay and bi sexualities. Not all transgender people transition medically and some intersex people see themselves as male or female, others have a more androgynous identity.
It does mean that there are endless complexities and nuances, 57 varieties, which is why any system that fails to frame things in terms of male and female (which is actually still happening even among those who want to avoid it) is in my view doomed to failure.
Life is complex and nuanced. Trying to force it into binaries is doomed to failure
On the contrary. The fundamentalism which says that there are no binaries at all in life is a massively sweeping and inaccurate generalisation. There are multiple areas of life. How can we pontificate that none whatever of these is bipolar or binary? Plenty of areas may well be. Male is one pole, female is another – though the area in between is very sparsely populated – the exact opposite of normal distribution.
To say that male is one pole, female another is awfully ideological. The idea of two opposite rather than two different sexes.
What do you have against the idea of opposite sexes? I have already refuted your claim that it is a recent innovation by pointing to its presence in the classical Pythagorean table of opposites. And Ian has shown how the biblical language suggests an element of ‘opposite’.
Opposite implies contrast. The sexes contrast one another in some of their characteristic features. And the opposition is a basis of attraction, as each is drawn in substantial degree to what is different in the other.
In humans the male is characteristically larger, stronger, taller, of deeper voice, more physically and emotionally resilient, less empathetic, more open to risk, and so on. The female is characteristically smaller, weaker, shorter, of higher voice, less physically and emotionally resilient, more empathetic, less open to risk and so on. The male is characteristically more interested in ‘things’ the female in ‘people’. In reproduction the male gives and the female receives, the male provides and the female nurtures. (None of these points of distinction are contentious from a biological or psychological point of view, see eg https://jordanbpeterson.com/political-correctness/the-gender-scandal-part-one-scandinavia-and-part-two-canada/.)
The sexes are opposite in the sense of contrasting in many of their characteristic features, and you have provided nothing to cause doubt about that ancient and well-attested idea.
I have nothing against the idea of opposite sexes, except that it is an ideological and scientific construction, male and female are distinct, but they are about as ‘opposite’ as a square and an oblong!
And no, Ian has not shown that kenegdo implies opposition. He has asserted it. That is not the same thing.
I have suggested, often, that what draws the ish to the shah is not difference, even, but sameness, flesh of my flesh….. Certainly there are physical differences between human males and females. I think the psychological and emotional ones are overstated and may be culturally influenced.
Even your male ‘gives’ and female ‘receives’ language is ideological. It is the product of cultural assumptions about both the meaning and the mechanism of human reproduction. It is a cultural construct rather than a scientific fact. And it belongs with the myths of the competitive sperm, the active male and the passive female.
Honestly, if it wasn’t so sad, it would be highly amusing how many conservative commentators who accuse liberals of capitulating to the surrounding culture are themselves captive to cultural constructs which inform their own reading of scripture, tradition and history.
And citing Peterson rather confirms that.
Ah yes Penelope, I see you are a greater authority on psychology than Prof Peterson. He cites large scale studies across many contexts. You make assertions about how things are ‘social constructs’. Would you advise me to favour your view?
A key quote:
‘What happens if you look at sex differences in personality and interest by country? Are the differences bigger in some countries and smaller in others? Would the differences between men and women be larger or smaller in wealthier countries? In more egalitarian countries? The answer: the more egalitarian and wealthier the country, the larger the differences between men and women in temperament and in interest. And the relationship is not small. The most recent study, published in Science http://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6412/eaas9899 (by researchers at Berkeley, hardly a hotbed of conservatism and patriarchy) showed a relationship between a wealth/egalitarian composite measure and sex differences that was larger than that reported in 99% of published social science studies. These are not small-scale studies. Tens of thousands of people have participated in them. And many different groups of scientists have come to the same conclusions, and published those results in very good journals.’
And you still haven’t admitted you are wrong to claim that the idea of sexes being opposite is a modern innovation – another unfounded assertion.
I’m still hoping for an answer Penelope. Would you advise me to listen to Prof Peterson and the numerous large-scale studies he cites demonstrating that sex differences increase in conditions of social equality, or to your unfounded assertions that sex differences are social constructs?
And I’m still waiting for an admission that you are wrong to claim that the idea of the sexes being opposite is a modern innovation when it was clearly part of classical thought.
I’ve read Peterson’s piece, which is another 30 seconds of my life I’ll never get back.
I did answer your point about the idea of opposite sexes being an ancient category. I replied that they are as opposite as a square and an oblong.
And you didn’t reply to my other points about cultural constructs, such as the myth of male activity and female receptivity/passivity.
Stating you have read something is neither refuting it nor answering my question whether you would advise me to heed his expertise on psychology or yours. Do you now accept you must revise your understanding in line with the established evidence?
You now also need to cease making the unwarranted claim that the idea of the sexes being opposite is a modern innovation since it is untrue and thus deceit.
The male gives semen and the female receives. That is not a social construct!
Male and female (while not opposite without qualification) are certainly opposite in certain central ways.
First: they are the only 2 in their category, which means that what is not one is t’other.
Second: they are the only 2 poles in the spectrum.
Third: they are comparable to north and south magnets (re: attracting and repelling biologically).
The male ‘gives’ semen and the female ‘receives’ is a social construct based on the idea of male activity and female receptivity. It is about as ‘real’ as the myth of competitive sperm.
You could construct this exchange/intimacy quite otherwise, but this is how it has been idealised in western and western Asian patriarchal cultures. To see this as ‘natural’ means that you are subscribing to a particular western ideology, the one in which Paul saw long hair as ‘natural’ for a woman.
Similarly, Peterson’s citations of various studies does not support gender essentialism; they rebut it. The evidence that gender behaviour changes in different societies (albeit unexpected changes) demonstrates that much of what we take to be gendered behaviour
is culturally conditioned.
Peterson really comes apart on the ‘gay cake’ issue https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO9j1SLxEd0
Er, Penelope, you say:
The male ‘gives’ semen and the female ‘receives’ is a social construct based on the idea of male activity and female receptivity. It is about as ‘real’ as the myth of competitive sperm.
Did not your parents give you “that talk” about how babies are made? How do you think the male sperm meets the female ovum?
Being more serious, it does not seem to me ludicrous that the different roles in the actual act of coitus should be reflected in different psychological attitudes between make and female.
If you think that the giving and receiving of semen in coitus is a culturally conditioned understanding then I can’t help you! I’d be (genuinely) interested if any culture conceives of it otherwise. But it really isn’t the main thing we’re talking about here.
Your claim about the studies Peterson cites is incorrect. It’s not that they rebut ‘gender essentialism’ by showing ‘unexpected’ changes, it’s that they show that sex differences that exist in all contexts become more pronounced in conditions of greater social equality, showing the significance of underlying biology. You are egregiously misrepresenting these research findings and their meaning. Again, your presumption to know better than senior psychology researchers is not credible. You haven’t answered my question, but I can infer that you do indeed appear to think I should prefer your take on the meaning of psychology research to Peterson’s, which is preposterous.
You also continue not to engage with my request for you to confirm that you will desist from your untrue claim that the idea of the sexes being opposite is a modern innovation, which has been repeatedly shown to you to be demonstrably false.
Will and David W.
Look at the words you have used again and again: the male ‘gives’ and the female ‘receives’; language, as I have said, based on the cultural ideals of male activity and female receptivity. A similar myth then arises about the competitive sperm swimming strivingly up the vagina to ‘penetrate’ the ovum. Science has disproved that myth. Semen are mostly passive, being swept towards the cervix by the female body. https://aeon.co/essays/the-idea-that-sperm-race-to-the-egg-is-just-another-macho-myth. And https://www.jstor.org/stable/3174586?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.
There is no evidence that males and females have different roles in coitus (in reproduction, yes, once fertilisation occurs), but not in sexual intercourse. Much of the perceived ‘passivity’ of the female role, the fact that she is ‘penetrated’ (which is seen as active) underlies the distaste for male/male intercourse invoking penetration seen in the Classical world in ancient western Asia and in late antiquity. And, in turn, is predicated on the notion that woman is inferior, passive, weak, porous etc.; and the scientific myth that the sperm are homunculi, the woman merely the ‘field’.
An ‘opposite’ construct could be made in which the female is the ‘active’ partner in this exchange. But that would be equally mythological and culturally bound.
I do not know how other non-western cultures frame coitus, but I would imagine that there will be parallels in andrarchal cultures which would figure the male as giver and the female as receiver. It is in this cultural context that the penis is figured as a weapon, which is one of the drivers of transphobia and a fear of trans women in ‘female’ spaces.
I think there are problems with the research which Peterson cites and with the conclusions he draws from it. Though even he admits that men and women are more alike than they are different. Sex differences becoming more pronounced in more egalitarian societies does not necessarily produce greater inequality of outcome, nor is it very surprising. You might argue that the less women have to prove, the more comfortable they are with genuine gender differences and the less afraid they are of displaying them. Peterson was a middle-ranking, obscure academic until he reinvented himself as a controversialist – the saviour of white male protestant identity.
Finally, Will, I have answered your Pythagorean instance, twice. I have observed that women and men are as opposite as squares and oblongs.
I did not make any of the claims you cite. I just said that in coitus the male gives semen and the female receives it. That is just a factual description of what happens biologically and was just one example of the contrasts between the sexes. I didn’t infer anything from it.
You fail to explain, with your psychological expertise, why the studies Peterson cites have problems – yet more unfounded assertion. And yet you then concede his main points, referring to ‘genuine gender differences’ (what are these pray tell?) and giving a reason why they are more pronounced in egalitarian societies. You’re all over the place!
Lastly, the point is that male and female are a pair on a classical list of opposites (one which included more than squares and oblongs) so you must now cease to claim that this is a modern innovation.
One rather weird Pythagorean table doth not an argument make.
Nor does my accepting that there are differences between the sexes/genders. I never suggested otherwise.
You used your male gives and female receives construct to underscore your belief
that there are two ‘opposite’ sexes. It is not biologically true. It is a metaphor.
One of the things which is slightly dodgy about the studies Peterson cited is the way they were constructed. The researchers thought that respondents were unlikely to be both kind and competitive, so structured the questions accordingly. A tad biased?
I did not concede his points. I thought that greater differences need not result in inequalities of outcome, which is Peterson’s odd conclusion.
Anyway, this is my last comment here. Susannah Clarke has shamed all our petty wrangling with her wisdom and compassion.
The classical table of opposites was a staple of ancient philosophy and later and disproves your claim. Have some intellectual integrity and admit it.
You have conceded that there are genuine gender differences. The differences in outcome in, say, pay due to hours worked etc is a well established fact in the countries being studied – for feminists it is precisely the problem.
The point about male and female role in sex was just one example of difference as I have explained, not a grand theory or a pivotal point.
PS For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying (and neither does Tinker) expressly or by implication that Ozanne and Beeching are lying in their books. The point is that the books are examples of personal story telling.
But surely you’d say that there are examples of pandering to the way the culture rather exclusively frames matters, or spin in the direction of what readers want to read.
Indeed, Christopher. Once our minds have been informed, our eyes and ears find it , the methodology, everywhere. (And it don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories). It is prevalent, by certain commentators , on Ian P’s postings. Lukinoff and Haidt trace it out in the the field of education , the academy.
I’d say that Queer Theory is grounded in it. Identifying goals and motives is important.
In Church, once every teaching has been reduced to a second order matter, there can be “good disagreement” (although frequently far from it) in perpetuity. But now lines may have been crossed. I’d liken it, however, to a process of transpiration, of osmosis. The church is leaking culture.
Geoff and Christopher
Biblical texts were influence by culture. Two thousand years of doctrine and exegesis and theology have been influenced by culture. Scripture and theology are products of culture. How could it be otherwise?
It can easily be otherwise. You are saying that culture is the biggest thing there is, and other things have to march to its tune. But we all know that there are several bigger things than culture. Cosmology and the laws of physics. Biology. Human nature. The creator.
It is with a sense of increasing dismay and despair that I note that this article now has over twice the number of comments compared to the previous one (about church statistics).
Can I suggest that this may not be the best way to spend all our time? (That doesn’t imply that this subject isn’t important though …)
Can I suggest that readers look back at the previous article and find the comment by ‘Froghole’. In this comment is contained the following: “I would estimate the proportion of viable churches I have attended (by ‘viable’, I mean those with a critical mass of young people, mirroring the age distribution of the wider population) as amounting to little more than 1% of the total – of the 4,500+ I have seen.”
Now think for a while. That means that around 99% churches are non-viable. Doesn’t this seem like an important subject? Also, please don’t waste time arguing about the minor points of the collection of the data – it doesn’t make a scrap of difference in the long-term trends.
You could look at this article https://davideflavell.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/year-zero/ and note that the opening graph could be extended to the left to show a maximum of around 900,000 in 1900 and a steady, slightly increasing, decline ever since. (Methodists count just as much as Anglicans and then put all the numbers in the public domain.) Sketch the full graph and think about what the zero level on the ‘membership’ axis means and what date you estimate for it.
You could also look back to David Keen’s analysis from last year and read the long comments by Anon – who is also Froghole, as far as I am aware.
Nothing further to say really in conclusion, other to note that Froghole also says “things are almost uniformly dire and are getting worse, and quickly”.
Thanks Tim. Yes, I would dearly love to spend all my time on the other things. I therefore urge the bishops to leave the whole subject of sexuality alone–to withdraw these guidelines, and suspend the LLF process, and focus on what really matters.
But if statements like this keep being issued, then we need to respond. And following questions are asked, as above, we need to offer clear answers, as we have done.
On the question of viability, I am not sure the numbers are quite so bleak. One of the things I noted (and mentioned in AC) is that, perhaps surprisingly, the proportion of young people in the Church as a whole (according to the Worshipping Communities measure) matches the national proportion in the population as a whole.
So I don’t think I agree that things are ‘uniformly dire’—but I don’t underestimate the challenge.
As you say, I think the bishops and other leaders in the Church should stop allowing themselves to be hijacked by these very small special interest groups. We have better things to spend our time on.
God cares as much for very small special interest groups (and their allies) as god cares for the cisheteronormative majority. That’s the gospel.
Where do I deny that God cares for the marginalised?
And let me check my NIV for Jesus’ reference to the ‘cisheteronormative majority’…
You should read the NRSV!
Thanks Ian for your reply.
This is probably the wrong place to continue this discussion, but if you want to spend more time thinking about issues like this, then you only have to post something on a blog …
I wish I shared your optimism.
More quotes, this time from the Church buildings survey report 2015 by Churches Trust for Cumbria (www.ctfc.org.uk), which is available at https://www.carlislediocese.org.uk/uploads/1356/Churches_Trust_for_Cumbria_Report_2015-pdf.html
“The figures are bleak for all denominations: less than 7% of persons attending church are aged 18 years or younger. Within this, there are striking variations between the situations in different churches in Cumbria. [Would need to be around 25% to match the population.]
• 35 churches have an average of more than 10 children present on Sundays; these all have large congregations (50+), and meet more than once a week
• Of these 35, only 10 churches report an average weekly Sunday attendance of more than 20 children or young people every week
• 62% of churches state that amongst this age group they have only one or none attending on a Sunday”
Note: Cumbria has over 600 places of worship. 10 out of 600 is 1.66%, which would tie in with Froghole’s ‘around 1%).
OK, but note that Cumbria is very rural, and rural dioceses are over-supplied with church buildings. Despite that, on average rural church attendance is twice the level of urban.
And you need to check out the other blog, and the linked national statistics, which actually show that total involvement in worshipping communities for young people matches the national average.
And the number of churches which are ‘sustainable’ is at one level neither here nor there. We might be moving into a period of having a smaller number of larger churches, as I think David Keen hints in his own diocese. People are mobile now in ways they were not even 20 years ago.
I am not optimistic, but I am not pessimistic. I hope I am a realist.
I work mainly with small rural churches. For better or worse, rural congregations are ‘hefted’ to their churches. They, mostly, do not travel to services in neighbouring churches, even when they have transport and would travel the same distance to the doctor or the supermarket. Often these tiny congregations are a larger proportion of their community than in towns and cities.
Closing these churches, which is, sadly, sometimes inevitable means that congregations are lost – mostly they do not relocate – and, ironically, dioceses lose money through the loss of common fund.
I have no idea what the answer is, but I am concerned that success seems to be predicated on an urban, middle-class model.
I think you are quite right about that. But as I say in my other piece: counting numbers is just a means to the end of the goal of making disciplines.
If people really simply stop going to church when the most local building closes, was their attendance there actually forming them as disciples?
I’m really torn about this. Having been brought up an RC, I am used to traveling to church and used to the sense of gathered Church. But the Parish system is very precious, in an established church, it encompasses all inhabitants of the Parish, whether they are religious or ‘none’; Hooker’s inn rather than a cottage.
Similarly, I am intrigued by Christians who aren’t interested in learning more about their faith, yet concerned that this insistence on ‘discipling’ leads to rules and conformity. Whither generous ecclesiology?
I think those statistics are just for Anglican churches not all churches.
Statistics about numbers of small churches in the CofE I think are mostly misleading as a guide to church more generally as the CofE is for historical reasons burdened with an extraordinary number of small rural churches (with expensive historic buildings). The church is very aware of this situation nationally and regionally and is taking many steps to address it. But these thousands of small rural churches do tend to skew discussions about church statistics somewhat.
Will Jones: No, the figure of around 600 is for all denominations. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_churches_in_Cumbria 340 are Anglican. This gives an average of 861 people per church building, which seems about right for a church (as a group of people) to be a noticeable part of its community.
Ian: Yes, Cumbria is rural – but rural residents get a bit fed up at seeming to be dismissed like this. They are still people who need to hear about God.
Travelling 10 to 15 miles to church is OK-ish for Christians, but comes with the danger that you will be likely to treat churchgoing as if it was comparable with visiting the supermarket or going to the cinema – something to be done in your nearest town as an individual or part of your close family and something you do purely as a consumer. The danger is that it ends up as nothing to do with your local community and something that doesn’t link with any other part of your everyday life.
When/if the rural Methodist church my wife and I worship in closes (probably soon), then we really don’t know what we will do. We have worshipped for a while in a large independent church in the nearest town, 7 miles from home, and also in a very large CofE evangelical church in the nearest city, 12 miles from home. Is that really the best we can expect in the future? This may be necessary, but is it ideal? As I said, discussion better as part of another blog …
I wonder if there isnt considerable correlation between the two recent posts: the haemorrhaging of church attendance and the panic by the Church to accommodate to prevailing social norms regarding sex and gender. Seems our church’s only strategy at the moment is to bend to the Western world’s worldview in the hope that some will take pity on us and come back to church. Is it working? Nope.
Simon. The cofe has been steady decline since shortly after WW1 actually. That suggests our analysis needs to go rather deeper than the ‘latest controversy’. The ordination of women was blamed before this of course.
That is indeed true – and maybe its not such a bad thing – since between the wars until the 1960’s there was a ‘refining’ not merely a ‘declining’ in the church as ‘cultural religion’ dissipated. But just as numerically in the 1960’s the CofE was in decline, evangelicalism has flourished and the charismatic renewal movements nourished the church. All that set against the various theological controversies post war: Bultmania and its existentialist de-historicizing of the faith; the ivory tower nihilistic Death of God Bishops; the gobbledegook of a Creed denying Bishop of Durham; the Cupittized clerics at sea on the Sea of Faith etc
But we seem to be rushing to a different place today – no longer a few idiosyncratic clergy on the side-lines, but institutionally driven drift and a moulding of the faith in the image of the world. We have filtered our ethics through the canons of a society for whom Jesus Christ is irrelevant, not Lord; and we re-write our Traditions and bend our Scriptures to the prevailing appetites of this world.
I see John below saying he cannot see himself in Holy Orders 12 months from now. What sort of a welcome are we offering when it drives away our priests?
I see Philip Almond has posted above with his well worn call to consider the doctrine of sin. I have been either amused or even bemused by his single-minded focus on this one doctrine – but today when I read him I thought maybe he was a Holy Fool, who had the Word of the Lord.
Two Fools: Whose fools are we?
“Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.” Friedrich Nietzsche, The Parable of the Madman (1882)
From the prescient pen of a one who even in this sane writing foretold his own end: from “Racca ” to being a “Fool for the LORD.” Two racca’s.
Whose fool are you?
“Paul can sound like the Solomon of Proverbs: “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15–17). Wisdom and folly are stark opposites. Choose one and you live; choose the other and you die.
But the cross has disturbed Paul’s Solomonic wisdom. Sometimes, it’s not “Be wise, don’t be a fool.” Rather: Seek the folly of God.
That’s the message to the Corinthians. Paul’s gospel is foolishness to the Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). But it’s not just the Greeks who find the gospel folly. Paul calls the gospel “the foolishness of God (1:25), though he immediately adds that this divine folly is “wiser than men” (v. 25).
The gospel is folly, and it assembles a company of fools: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Fools like Paul himself, who doesn’t boast of strength or prowess or success, but boasts of his weakness and tribulations. “Indulge me in a little folly,” he tells the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:1, 16), before going on to recount his apostolic resume of failure—labor, imprisonment, beatings, lashes, stoning, shipwreck, dangers, dangers, dangers, dangers, dangers, dangers, dangers, dangers (2 Corinthians 11:16–27; eight dangers [kindunoi], for those who are counting).
Let the Corinthians boast of their prudence. Paul exults in being Christ’s fool (1 Corinthians 4:10).
The choice is not wisdom vs. folly. Rather it’s a choice between follies. One can choose the short-term wisdom of anthropic folly, or the short-term folly of divine wisdom; the folly of success or the folly of the cross.
In short: You’re gonna be a fool, and the only question is, Whose fool are you gonna be?” PETER LEITHART https://www.patheos.com/blogs/leithart/2017/07/whose-fool/
Simon ‘between the wars until the 1960’s there was a ‘refining’ not merely a ‘declining’ in the church as ‘cultural religion’ dissipated.’ I am intrigued by the idea of ‘refining’ and ‘dissipation’. But I am not sure what counts as evidence of this? I taught a graduate course on ‘The History of the CorE in the C20’ for six years. It was fascinating. I noticed how, in each part of the century church groups/traditions tended to interpret the times according their their own sense of priorities. I am not sure you quite avoid falling into that trap when you park all the ills of the church at the door of a small group of notorious ‘liberals’ – until the faithful, renewed charismatic evangelicals arrived.
And the period between the wars where you simply discern ‘refining’ and ‘cultural dissipation’ was a time of huge renewal within the Anglo Catholic wing of the church. Did you know, for example that each year in the 1930s there were lay congresses being held on the themes of mission and evangelism and more – attracting up to 30,000 people a time.
I came across this recently – ‘The unity of Evangelicalism was broken. The movement had always been marked by variety in doctrine and attitude [but] it became so sharply divided that some did not recognise the other as evangelical – or even, sometimes, as Christian. Conservatives could not tolerate liberal views. The split became deep and permanent’. This was Bennington writing of the 1920s. But it sounds very familiar a hundred years on.
David – thankyou
by refining over declining I am trying to say that loss in numbers is not necessarily always negative per se – yes there was a decline in the CofE but many would have been attenders out of social convention rather than conviction and committed discipleship. A sort of winnowing is not an entirely bad thing – Jesus endured it (Jn6:66) enables you to know what’s what and who’s who.
I am aware of the late blooming of anglo-catholicism between the wars – especially the church planting in cities and slum parishes where good and godly priests pioneered work among the poorest of the poor and sunday church became a theatre of colour, texture and light amidst the smog and grime. But in a post war age of technology & television, the people were no longer attracted by the liturgy performed in crumbling victorian buildings with chipped plaster statues.
When I refer to evangelical and charismatic traditions bringing renewal I am of course not only thinking CofE, are you? as per your lecture series. I think of the rise of Pentecostalism, the Evangelical Keswick movement, the flourishing Open Brethren, the charismatic renewal movement in the house-churches, the evangelical renewal events like Festival of Light, Acts 86, March for Jesus, Dales/Downs, Stoneleigh Bible weeks, Spring Harvest, New Wine, Soul Survivor, John Wimber, church planting through ICTHUS, Pioneer, salt & Light, 250 New Frontiers connected churches – 120 new Vineyard churches planted in UK in past 25years etc etc Substantial signs of renewal and real growth in evangelical and charismatic quarters. Some of these may be in decline but they kept the flame going and kingdom advancing serving the purposes of God in their generation.
I presume your quote is from Bebbington not Bennington.
David – there can be more than one reason for church decline. It has declined at times when antiChristian forces have been changing societal norms (1960s-70s and the last 20 years), and it has seen healthy growth in times when the culture has been more Christian-acquiescent (1950s, 1980s).
Ian’s posts about sexuality and gender always attract more traffic and more commentary. I confess I am an offender.
But I would suggest that there is little point in speculating about Church growth or decline without addressing what we believe the church should be. Ian has suggested that it would be better if the whole thing were withdrawn and the LLF process abandoned. What then of our LGBTi siblings who are either already part of the church or are our ‘mission field’. Do we abandon them to the cruelties and the exclusion of the past (and sometimes present) in the quest for shiny heternormative churches full of young families. What happens the the marginalised? And that includes old ladies in tiny country churches paying their common fund as well as gay men and women who are part of faithful congregations. Do we stop listening to their stories because tradition stopped on December 15th 2018? And if we abandon those who spoil our successful, heternormative ideal and our churches grow, will this growth be from God?
On the thread “Is the Bishops’ Policy on Civil Partnerships Sustainable?” an exchange between us took place between November 6-9 2018, where I invited you to respond to my November 6 post about the results of the Fall of Man. I don’t think you have responded (sorry if I have missed it – where is it?). Sorry to weary you all with my oft-repeated comment: this whole disagreement needs a prior and more fundamental discussion (agreement or disagreement) on the Results of the Fall, including the physical results (if any – that’s a big part of the discussion/disagreement).
I apologise for not responding to your previous comment and again for not having the time at present to go back and reflect upon it. I see the result of the Fall (I do not believe in a literal Fall) as our inability to live in harmony with nature and each other and our inability to discern truth simply and transparently.
I do not know whether there are physical results of the Fall, many diseases have evolutionary purposes, and certainly precede humankind. I also think it’s problematic to assume that people who have ‘dis’abilities or non-normative conditions are in any way ‘lesser’ than the able bodied and able minded.
Genesis is (generically) chock full of aitiologies. The Fall narrative notes quite correctly that:
other animals do not show shame at nakedness
other animals do not show concern with good and evil.
It is also unarguable that if this is so of humans today *and* clearly cannot always have been so, then it follows that there must have been a time or times when such an experience happened for the first time.
Thank you for this reply. I hope you might be able to respond more fully at some point because, repeating myself, I do see disagreement about the doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin as the fundamental disagreement among Anglicans and others; not just in their bearing on the same-sex disagreement but more fundamentally in their bearing on the whole doctrine of Atonement and Salvation. I will reserve comment on what you have said in this post until you have time to set out your view in full.
Yes, another time. But thank you for replying and have a blessed Christmas.
Penny, who is suggesting ‘returning to the exclusion of the past’? The vast majority of evangelicals and others concerned about the Church’s faithful teaching readily oppose bullying, hatred and rejection of their gay members. No-one that I know is arguing for exclusion in that sense.
But I challenge your narrative of marginalisation. One prominent gay campaigner is quite open that 20% of London clergy are gay. What proportion of cathedral deans is gay? I would guess around 40%. Are what proportion of diocesans? These disproportionate numbers are reflected in the wider wide: 9% of MPs are out as gay; 12% of senior BBC leadership are out as gay; the entertainment media are dominated by gay men and women. And this compares with around 2% of the general population.
If any other group had this kind of representation, we wouldn’t be talking about ‘marginalisation’, we would be talking about the domination by a privileged elite.
Ian. I think we both know of ministers and churches who continue to refuse communion to same-sex couples, or to baptise their children. Even places where gay people have been removed from the coffee rota. That is why I think, though I disagree with their theology, Living Out does good work in conservative churches.
As for proportions of gay clergy. I do not believe that there being more gay priests in the church than gay people as a % of the population says anything about affirmation and inclusivity when so many still live in the closet or beneath the radar. And until they can blessand have their own partnerships blessed in Church, they remain on the ecclesial margins: excluded or tolerated, but never included.
“Thanks Tim. Yes, I would dearly love to spend all my time on the other things. I therefore urge the bishops to leave the whole subject of sexuality alone–to withdraw these guidelines, and suspend the LLF process, and focus on what really matters.”
Exactly right Ian Paul. Thank you.
The bishops achievement is removing the ballast from the ship as if lighter is better
I believe Julian Henderson has betrayed the evangelical constituency by heading up this advice and claiming it is biblical. He should resign from chairing CEEC or it will fracture.
TJ, I am rather relieved actually that posts like this drive significant traffic and comment. It reassures me somewhat that the Church of England is not after all sleepwalking into apostasy without a vigorous protest. In years past, most evangelicals I know have bitten their lip, and got on with preaching the gospel and building the church, no doubt hoping it would all fizzle out. But this sudden and momentous lurch away from orthodoxy crosses a red line – for me at least – and unless this pastoral guidance is rescinded, as things stand, I cannot see myself in Anglican orders this time next year.
This is an excellent piece, Ian.
The issue is so clear, so fundamental and so binary that I don’t think there needs to be a lot more said either about the theology or the biology. There are other excellent pieces out there making much the same points. Bishop Henderson and his group have thrown a bucket of garbage into the valuable and much loved reservoir of the Church of England’s liturgy, thereby threatening the contamination of something that must be as pure, holy and coherent as possible if it is to remain fit for its purpose: helping Christians who meet together to find the right words as they approach ‘the throne of the heavenly grace’. We probably all have our minor quibbles about the odd phrase or ambiguous sentence in our liturgy – we have been able to live with that. But the unacceptability of this House of Bishops’ Guidance is on a completely different level. What’s to be done?
For evangelicals, I see no way how the CEEC can retain Bishop Henderson as its president.
More generally, this latest outrage amounts to a particularly loud click of the ratchet by which Archbishops Welby and Sentamu, along with their colleagues in the House of Bishops and others, are intent on leading our church, inexorably, to full alignment and affirmation of the progressive norms which have overtaken our surrounding secular culture. There is now a fundamental dichotomy between the true Christian faith and the direction of travel of the Church of England. This is not about minor nuances of churchmanship or the bees in bonnets we all have on behalf of our own pet obsessions; it is about the core of our faith which rests on the word of God. Probably none of us have forgotten how when the Bible was used in debate at the July 2017 Synod of Shame it was disparagingly dismissed by Archbishop Sentamu as “word and word and word”. No, the disgrace of that sweaty July day in York won’t easily be forgotten, even by those of us who have never been near a synod. And the ripples are still spreading.
However, churches and individuals who have had enough of this cannot just read and write documents and make comments for our own semi-private consumption. It’s way past time to take the fight to those who are subverting the very essence of the church’s doctrines and their essential role as bedrock for the faith to which we are supposed to bear witness.
A ship is commanded by its captain and officers. They decide who takes the ship’s wheel and on what bearing the ship is heading. But there is another power on board – the engine room – and those who man the engine room can turn off the power upon which the captain relies. Similarly, those who wear fine raiment in cathedrals or occupy high administrative positions at Church House, Lambeth Palace or diocesan HQs rely entirely on the graft and dedication of clergy and people at parish level – it is those people who are the engine room of the church. They are its life and energy. They keep the thing alive and moving. And this is where a church is different from a ship: bishops and other seniors are indeed there to give a lead, but that lead is for serving the parishes, enabling their witness and growth, it must be a joint enterprise which is going in the right direction or the journey will end in disaster.
Thus far, those in the parishes who see the church heading for the rocks, who disagree with what’s been happening, have remained largely silent, inexplicably silent. But silence is not neutral. Silence signals consent. The alternative is to make their views impossible for the church’s hierarchy to ignore. And we’re not talking about being satisfied with a polite hearing; we’re talking genuine repentance. There are three actions that can be taken.
The first is to shout far louder and incessantly as a UNITED group, bang publicly on the hierarchy’s doors till they are opened and the message is received – not just in response to the latest outrage but continuously demanding a rowing back from previous outrages which we are not minded to forget. The second is to withhold money; no one will be too thick skinned to get that message. Again it needs to be done in unison. The third is to leave; that’s both the final victory of refusing to capitulate and also a sad admission of failure; it’s not unreasonable to shrink from facing that. But there comes a time, possibly different for each of us, when we must choose whom we will serve.
In each case, action by individuals will be ignored; only well led, well coordinated joint action will have any effect. And if we’re too middle class and too English, too buttoned up to involve ourselves with such impolite vulgarities that’s fine; let’s just tut-tut our way to retirement or death; let no unpleasantness be our vision. And if that is our vision, we are clearly not in the mould of God’s prophets, or the apostles, or of Jesus himself (he could be a real social embarrassment); carefully crafted words yes, but please no unpleasantness. So if that’s just how it is if we want a place in the Church of England, let us at least shed any illusions about it. Because we’re now very rapidly losing our church.
Don have you seen that CEEC have responded critically to the guidance today – including, oddly, Bp Julian himself!
Good document – but raises question was Bp Julian misquoted in the press or now backtracking or what? very confusing
It’s mostly a good document. But it is indeed bizarre that it’s also signed by Julian Henderson: perhaps two ambiguities add up to an unambiguity?
One might be forgiven for thinking that the Bishops’ Guidance in question is a useful little stalking horse for exploring how liturgy for blessing of a same-sex couple’s relationship might be done. So it’s interesting to note in the CEEC document their concern regarding the legal position of any clergy who might refuse to accede to a trans person’s request to use this new liturgical possibility. I believe the same thing would apply, and far more seriously, if same-sex blessings were to be allowed / encouraged – a point I’ve made several times in the past, and now is being spotted by others in this Bishops’ Guidance case. It has to be a matter of real practical concern for clergy who simply cannot go along with this sort of thing.
The CEEC document concludes by saying: ‘We therefore seek and hope for reassuring clarifications and, where necessary, modifications from the House of Bishops in relation to the Guidance.’ The Bishops will be really quaking when they read that!
My above comment stands!
Well done Don.
You have just described a Liturgy adapted to welcome transgender people in their new identity as a bucket of garbage.
And suggested that the best way to get your own way in the church is financial blackmail.
What next? A horse’s head in Julian Henderson’s bed?
Perhaps, if you are losing ‘your’ church it’s about time. Shall we try God’s instead?
So, Penelope, by the same token, emotional blackmail should aptly describe the behaviour of LGB clergy, who bypass due process for changing Church teaching and withhold canonical obedience to enter same-sex marriages, knowing full well that even lawful disciplinary action will incur an accusation of homophobia.
Or is it that (in stark distinction to your slippery slope of evangelicals escalating their tactics from parish share revolt to deploying mafia-like intimidation tactics) there’s a special pleading for applyimg the ‘conscientious objector’ euphemism to LGBT clergy who have defied previous pastoral guidance?
If so, I’d suggest that’s a tad biased.
LGBTI clergy, evangelical, liberal catholic and Anglo Catholic are usually in churches which pay their common fund, because they don’t (with the exception of a few ACs) hold a theology of taint. Mostly, they can accommodate sharing a church and the Eucharist with homophobes and transphobes. They may use lobbying and campaigning to try to influence doctrine. They don’t use blackmail.
Penelope, you are surely not using -phobe language after all the times it has been pointed out that:
-the person who fears homosexuals and/or transgender people (even given that such words can be accurate to any person’s essence) cannot be found;
-‘-phobe’ does not mean hate/hating;
-the person who hates such people cannot be found either (or not among Christians);
-you leave no room for people who are opposed to a way of looking at things or to a way of being, and whose reasons for opposition have nothing whatever to do with either fear or hatred;
-you in fact effectively classify *all* who are opposed in this way as fearers/haters – when in fact this may be true of practically none of them. People ought to be commended for seeking to follow research and also for not merely following winds of fashion;
-you do so in a throwaway offhand way almost as though you are expecting it to slip under the radar because the cliches are by now so familiar and commonplace.
You seem to have this binary system: everyone who does not bow to the ideology that was created pretty much yesterday is a fearer/hater. And then you don’t even present this way of looking at things as your personal opinion – you treat it as the only game in town.
Quite a few levels of error here.
You wrote: “They may use lobbying and campaigning to try to influence doctrine. They don’t use blackmail.”
There are numerous instances of LGB clergy defying their oath of canonical obedience to enter a same-sex marriage.
That goes way beyond the romanticised view of them patiently “lobbying and campaigning to try to influence doctrine”.
It’s clear that the strategy is to change the ‘facts on the ground’ in order to short-circuit the due synodical process for effecting doctrinal change.
‘They may use lobbying and campaigning to try to influence doctrine. They don’t use blackmail’
Penelope – have you never read Satinover’s “The Politics of sexuality” ?
Penelope – correction – my memory of the title was wrong
John Satinover “Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth”
A medic’s statistical analysis of the medical & psychological consequences of homosexual lifestyle as well as a consideration of the aggressive tactics employed by the Gay activists in USA to change perception and policy. Uncomfortable but essential reading.
correction …again…’jeffrey satinova’
Behind many phobias there is hatred. But you may be right. I may start using transmisos and homomisos!
Thank you. I have heard of this, but not read it. I will. But, forgive me if I am a little wary of moral arguments which rest on perceived harm. Gagnon does that and it looks rather as if the tail is wagging the dog.
Besides, I rather agree with aggressive tactics to change perceptions!
Many priests and laity do not think they are being disobedient when the former swear to obey their ordinary in all things lawful and honest.
Believing that same-sex relationships are immoral and ‘unbiblical’ and trying to convince the House of Bishops that this is so, is perfectly acceptable lobbying. Withholding funds so that the HoB might change its mind is egregious blackmail. I cannot believe that conservatives want to ‘win’ by holding a gun to the bishops’ heads. What virtue is there in forced ‘orthodoxy’?
Penelope – Satinover is not a Christian – Jewish but not religious – this is not a theology or ethics book. Satinover is a scientist (PHD Maths) a medic (MD) and a professor of psychiatry. He merely puts forward the data and makes some conclusions on the basis of that. But what is of interest is his description of the bullying tactics of the Gay Lobby intimidating the American Psychiatric association. It is an important book but despised in some quarters for obvious reasons.
Thank you Simon. I’ll look it up.
I think Satinover is further qualified in physics too, maybe to PhD level.
Good stewardship involves applying moral criteria to the voluntary disbursement of funds. Parish share in not a tax.
That’s no more enforcing orthodoxy than LGB clergy are enforcing revision by dismissing synodical due process and entering same-sex marriages in defiance of episcopal guidance which they believe (contrary to the Employment Appeals Tribunal judgment) is neither lawful nor honest.
With respect I would not expect you to appreciate my comment because it was written to alert orthodox people within the C of E to the precarious position we are in; not least because we’re offering little or no organised and robust opposition to the current direction of travel. The Bishops’ Guidance in question is just another symptom of that direction of travel.
I’ve got a fair idea of where you’re coming from on the feminist / sexuality / transgender issues; and I’m wondering whether you appreciate how much at odds your approach is from the core beliefs of the C of E. But you might well be forgiven in that because the current hierarchy appears to support you rather than those who hold to the church’s official position. And the hierarchy is clearly not listening and certainly not engaging with those who are pointing out fundamental theological error as, bit by bit, it is losing its attachment and understanding of those things for which it officially still stands.
And the sad truth is that, by appointments (in particular) and facts-on-the-ground events and innovations, the orthodox faithful who provide a large slice of the life, energy and financial support of the church are being squeezed out. It is therefore eminently reasonable for them to remind the hierarchy in as effective a way as possible that this cannot go on.
So I wont’ apologise for how I expressed my views. It was intended to stir up rather than to soothe – not always an unchristian thing by any means.
I’m surprised by your suggestion of a horse’s head for Julian Henderson; progressives are well known for their coercive instincts but don’t you think that’s a step too far?
Yes, as I said you want to coerce the CoE into your version of orthodoxy by threatening to withhold funds. That is not lobbying and using scriptural and theological arguments. That is blackmail. If you ‘won’, what then? A victory achieved through threats and blackmail is hardly a moral victory.
Besides, quite a lot of conservative churches are already using that tactic. The good old CoE carries on providing them with resources, because that’s what Christians do.
I’d put it another way, Penelope.
It’s reminding the hierarchy that they’re departing from the church’s own version of orthodoxy about which we were all agreed not so long ago. Withholding money is what anyone does from a charity which changes its policy in a way that they cannot support. But this charity also happens to be a church; and churches are there to act on the revealed word of God rather than redefine it according to the current cultural mores. That is to say, a true church stands on a rock rather than floats around on the tide.
The Church of England may have had its ups and downs but until very recently it was firmly attached to a body of doctrine which kept it from drifting off from what we all accepted was true. It’s pretty clear that a group has managed to establish itself within the church, and that group owes its vision to something other than that upon which we were once all agreed. That group is now virtually synonymous with the church’s hierarchy. The new group seems to be saying that surrounding culture has thrown up situations which call us to revisit what we once believed. Those of us who are not convinced happen to represent a large and lively part of the church. We think human nature has not changed; but it’s current presentation of the same problems has confused some people into thinking it has. So we don’t look to the surrounding culture for our solutions, we look to the same Bible where truths, tried, tested and accepted have nourished and guided God’s people down the ages.
And it is we who are threatened by this new group. We are the ones who are being squeezed out of the church which has been our spiritual home. When I say ‘threatened’ I mean that the appointments that are being made and the events that are being staged and the disciplinary indiscretions that are being ignored are overt signals that the change they want is going to happen irrespective of the church’s doctrine and our views about it. That’s corruption. It’s a dishonest way of proceeding.
In those circumstances, to suggest that any pushback, financial or otherwise, is ‘threats and blackmail’ is plainly absurd. In particular, it would be a strange person who continued giving financial support for activity with which they fundamentally disagreed. Yes, it’s unfortunate that such a thing is happening within a church but that is certainly not of our choosing. And it’s not about achieving ‘victory’: it’s about saving the organisation from itself. The 3 things I advocated – much more vigorous dissent, withholding financial support, and ultimately leaving – are the only options available to us. I believe that failure to use them amounts to consent for the corruption I’ve just described.
So, Penelope, can you understand that suggestions from the encroaching group that we shouldn’t use those options is advice which has a tinge of mischievous self interest about it? Can you see how we might be inclined to think otherwise?
I understand your distress that the church appears to be departing from what you consider as orthodoxy. Though I would question whether the church has any ‘agreed’ theology on transgender since the possibility of transitioning is relatively new.
But, having read Susannah’s wise, gracious and poignant contributions, there is, I feel, nothing left for me to add. I do not know how anyone could read her comments and see anything but generous orthodoxy.
I don’t see why anyone ought to care a bit whether or not orthodoxy per se is stuck to.
They should care a great deal whether or not evidence is stuck to.
‘I don’t see why anyone ought to care a bit whether or not orthodoxy per se is stuck to. They should care a great deal whether or not evidence is stuck to.’
Ive read you write this a few times – I think I know what you are saying – that we follow truth not tradition? But Scripture does say we are ‘to contend for the faith as once delivered’ which is both and event and Christological/apostolic interpretation of event and which is not an evidence based thing per se?
Yes, the point needs unpacking.
Everybody will be attached to whatever they imbibed either (a) with their mother’s milk or (b) in formative years. Or to things that keep them ‘in’ with their peergroup. But that is a psychological thing, not an evidential thing.
It is worth bearing in mind that every orthodoxy was not orthodox at the time when it was first enunciated.
Even stranger, the chief champions normally cited in defence of orthodoxy (those who stated the orthodoxy in the first place) were, therefore, coming from left field in their own day.
Not that it matters whether something is left or right field. Things that are *true* come at times from all parts of the field: there is no pattern here.
Orthodoxy can potentially be formulated and promulgated by the unscrupulous or by elites who have access to people’s ears and brains.
The very word is an invitation to conformism (rather than thought) and unthinking conformism is the problem not the solution.
Orthodoxy is typically faithfulness to a sacred text. And the world has several texts that are held sacred, which are often mutually contradictory. People typically adhere to the one that is in their own culture. But the fact that something is written down obviously does not make it true.
Texts themselves exist primarily to bear witness not to themselves (!) but to the realities of which they speak. This is why we appeal to the Holy Spirit. Cores of writings that accurately reflect the realities that have been found truest and most precious, most productive of wisdom and most aligned with the Spirit as experienced by believers – these cores emerge.
The Spirit is one sort of evidence, and there are others (historical, cosomological, logical). These are different and cannot replace one another Baloche’s song ‘Yes, Lord, I believe’ contains the lines ‘I believe the tomb is empty ’cause I know my heart is full…’. That is incorrect as it stands (a bit like saying John 20.11-18 *must* be true *because* it so touches our hearts – that is invalid reasoning), but may end up being correct if a correlation can be shown between the details of our own experience and the power that came upon the first disciples at the particular point in time when it did do.
That is my perspective. So often argument from Scripture is circular; circular argument is not of a high level and cuts no ice. I always come back to this: the culture is dying in a morass of faulty foundations and assumptions, Christians are the market leaders in truth and efficacy, so why would we debase our case by committing one of the more elementary logical errors? This also prevents our being taken seriously, and it is our own fault. The reason why writings are cherished and become scriptural in the first place lies in the power of the realities to which the scriptures bear witness, not in the scriptures themselves.
Of course, it is chicken and egg because the process of reading scripture can engender these same realities in people’s lives. For us who are not close to the events, this may often be the main power whereby our lives are changed.
The general point – that things should be believed on evidence not on authority (partly because the latter approach can lead to abuses) I always expect to be uncontroversial. The argument from authority is well known in philosophy to be invalid. It is no good doing the kind of apologetics that affirm the text if the inviolability of the text was one of the presuppositions! Whereas if that is *not* one of the presuppositions, then confirmation of details in the text has weight. The spiritual authority of certain texts and individuals is, however, one kind of evidence.
Penelope, Christopher, Simon,
I don’t think anyone is saying that orthodoxy is synonymous with ‘the truth’. That which is orthodox for a particular group of people (eg a church) is simply that which is accepted by that group at a particular point in time. Obviously that group also believes that their orthodoxy is the truth but if it transpires that the truth lies somewhere else than where it once appeared to be, the group has a choice: either stick with its original orthodox belief or follow the truth. Clearly one would hope that a church would choose to follow the truth.
We in the C of E have a long held, tried and tested set of orthodox beliefs, one of which is that what we believe has actually been revealed to us by God himself. Of course to those who don’t hold to our beliefs that is a circular argument. They’re right. And we have to accept that faith steps in here. While faith ceases to be faith once there’s incontrovertible evidence, it is nevertheless reinforced by experience (which is a kind of evidence, though not necessarily tested scientifically).
If people within our church come along with challenges to our orthodox beliefs, it is incumbent on them to make such an evidential case that we are convinced to move in their direction. I find that the current ‘progressive’ case, insofar as it has ever been coherently made, is flawed for two main reasons. Firstly it is blatantly at odds with hard science (the objective discovery of how things are) and also the soft social sciences. Secondly (and more serious for the church) the logic of what progressives are saying actually undermines the core message of the Bible to the extent that the whole Gospel can claim no validity. But if that is the case, there is no reason for the church to exist, God is a myth, and we may as well go back to square one. If that is so, the progressives who still hold claim to their Christian faith are actually cutting off the branch upon which they are sitting. Incoherence pops up again and again.
We really have to accept the centrality of faith but that still requires us to be as coldly logical and honest as the scientist is in his / her laboratory. Without faith we’re done for as a church. We never will have the luxury of absolute proof. If we did have absolute proof we would have lost any genuine opportunity to choose; and if that were the case our chance to love God of our own free will would have gone, and so our relationship with him would be entirely different. But the fact that we have faith doesn’t give us a licence to wild and incoherent speculations and innovations, least of all based on the tidal swirls of a surrounding culture that is anything but rational in its deliberations.
Christianity is a dogmatic faith in which salvation is secured by believing the good news of certain creedal affirmations concerning God and the means of salvation. These principally consist of doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement and associated truths. Evidence can be adduced in support of the claims associated with these doctrines, but there is a dogmatic core taken on trust from authority based on a confidence in the integrity and accuracy of those to whom it was revealed and the writings which preserve their teaching. This is what orthodoxy in Christianity primarily refers to.
This dogmatic faith is (we assume) consistent with and supported by the natural truths available to unaided reason that can be gained by the application of logic and the scientific method of controlled experimentation. A dogmatic faith inconsistent with natural truth would struggle to maintain its rational credibility.
Truths about humanity being created male and female and being made for sexual union in marriage are primarily natural truths but are affirmed in Christian scripture. As natural truths they are subject to logical and scientific examination (and revision where required), but as scriptural teaching their refutation would be harmful to the credibility of Christian scripture as a reliable source of dogmatic knowledge of the divine. This is how they become entwined in questions of orthodoxy. Questioning them entails a question about whether the Bible is reliable as a guide to God and morality.
Things have to be open to question, otherwise they lack not only scholarly credibility but also demonstrable honesty. Where I’d part company from Will here is in the way dogmatic statements about dogma (!) sound so dissimilar to Jesus. Trinity and incarnation are neither of them ubiquitous among NT writings: the former is ubiquitous implicitly rather than in outright statements, and the latter is primarily tied to the mature reflections of one writer. It is difficult or impossible to have NT thought without these 2 things. But so much more is learned by studying the historical and textual context of these seminal ideas than by presenting them as unquestionable data. To repeat: our worldview and praxis as Christians is way better than the opposition, and is also true; the secular opposition is especially misguided in our present culture, which desperately needs the gospel. If we present as dogmatic thinkers rather than in-the-same-boat friends (which is actually what we are) then we lose listeners and are (IMHO) dropping below a proper level of both scholarship and honesty – honesty in particular being crucial to a Christian. If I say certain things are not even up for discussion, then I am employing the secularists’ well-known dodge.
Michael Green’s interview on the web, The Making of a Christian Leader, brings a welcome breath of truth in his funny account of his dialogue with the OICCU president. The president mentioned the infallibility of Scripture. MG said ‘What do you mean by that?’. The president explained what he meant. MG said ‘What you have described is not infallibility, and what’s more, you know it.’. The appeal is (a) to be honest and truthful and (b) also to be honest and truthful with oneself.
Without truth, truthfulness and honesty, there is no point to anything. That means that honest investigation is always a good and necessary thing. One of the things Christianity is (not the main one!) is a refuge from the mendacity of the world. I mean – just think what an awful thing it would be (or is) to find the same mendacity in the church.
If we are truth seekers, then we are on the same page as nonChristians. (Unless they are irredeemably postmodern, but even then their worldview can be easily refuted in a couple of steps.)
If however, we cheat by saying that there are certain nonnegotiables you have to believe before seeking evidence – that is not obviously true and also creates an enlightened/unenlightened situation.
The great thing about the gospel is that it is *true* – not in any private sense but in the normal, public sense of accurately representing reality.
I read in the Church Times that, in 2017, membership of the faith workers’ arm of Unite! had risen by 16 per cent.
Certainly, unions operate through collective bargaining, but I’d be surprised if any supporter of labour rights expressed the belief (echoing Penelope’s) that it was immoral for disenfranchised workers to withhold labour (through industrial action) because to do so would achieve “a victory through threats and blackmail”.
Therefore, it cannot be immoral for conservative evangelicals, who are being disenfranchised without due synodical process, to resort similarly to collective bargaining by withholding Parish Share.
The goal is not to coerce orthodoxy, but to sustain the normative and fair due process which the Church leadership is abandoning.
And it’s really up to the “good old C of E”, which sits on a nest egg of over £8 billion in assets to decide whether it will continue to provide resources (e.g. salary and housing for its stipendiary clergy) or to punish the livelihoods of priests whose scandalised parishioners are refusing to be further exploited and ridden over roughshod.
Due synodical process is about being fair on all sides. To paraphrase Luther: “Here we stand, we can do no other. May God help us”
Don I agree with your summary of how the process of theological testing and development happens in the church – as it has throughout history. That is exactly the process we are part of now.
Just one further comment. I believe I understand conservative views well on this issue. As an evangelical I could not have held an including position over the last 30 years without being regularly reminded or challenged by them. And that is as it should be. But I ask you to notice that although I strongly disagree with your position I respect it. And you will never find me caricaturing, sneering or insulting your beliefs on threads like this.
Ian rightly draws attention to the issues in the use of the affirmation of baptism vows. I have been reflecting on this and seeing how such a use is a travesty and subversive of Gospel truth. The door has been opened as a result of many lacking understanding in the significance of the symbolism in the sacrament of baptism. For many it has become little more than a naming ritual, so using if to mark the new name of a ‘transitioned’ person (please forgive me if that that is not the PC term) might make sense.
But baptism reflects a much deeper and significant change than that. Ian relates the symbolism of death and rising again. It enacts the change from being in the dominion of darkness to being in the kingdom of the beloved Son. It is a reflection of new birth. This language of new life might resonate with the experience of those transitioning. However, it is of an entirely different character.
As I understand it, those seeking to transition see a conflict between themselves as they are internally, and their physical make-up plus how that external appearance causes others to interact with them. Again, forgive me if this is too simplistic. Therefore, the transition is an uncovering of who they really are in nature.
By contrast, the narrative of baptism is about the death of the old self and the creation of a new self. Although there will be a physical transformation at the resurrection, in our present world this is an internal transformation. It is what is inside that needs to change. Hearts of stone need changing into hearts of flesh. That is why baptism is predicated on repentance – metanoia, a change of mind. Repentance is much more that being sorry for sins of commission and omission, it is understanding our need to turn from our inherent sinfulness. Part of that sinfulness, “as Saint John saith,” is that we deceive ourselves. Our view of our own self is faulty. Our interpretation of our own story is unreliable.
That someone might take a new name at baptism – a new Christian name – is a consequence of the new life conferred on them from being in Christ. The baptised person is a different person from what they were. Yes, the change is not instant, but proceeds by the renewal of the mind, not alteration of the body and external appearance.
Baptism is a fundamental sacrament reflecting our sinfulness and salvation. Gender transition is, at best, utterly different. Therefore, I must agree with those who see the bishops’ guidelines as profoundly mistaken.
In the presence of the wise, in my ignorance, am I missing something?
Why would anyone who was a Christian or infant-baptised before transition require a separate baptism -type service afterwards? Why any type of service at all? Is it baptism x2 or 1.5?
Why would anyone who became a Christian after transitioning require a separate trans- baptismal- type service rather than an adult baptism.
David Wilson has fleshed-out this out.
And what happens if someone de-transitions, self -repudiates the transition? Another service?
Perhaps they could ‘adapt’ the funeral service?
The reason they are so keen to rush this one through is that it is something that presupposes a wholly different worldview accommodated to the prevailing culture – and it is that worldview that they are aiming to bring into a dominant position.
Anything compatible with Christianity would not elicit nearly the same enthusiasm, industry or motivation.
Oddly the two links to the C of E website seem to be missing from this thread. In case that is so I give them here:
As with other news stories on the C of E website these two pages are (sadly) unattributed and unsigned. I can see no reason to think this is “House of Bishops Guidance”, it seems to be just “Church of England Guidance.” But Ian you start your article with a reference to “House of Bishops’ guidance”, can you point us to your reason for being sure that’s what it is? And if so, what distinct processes are followed in producing “House of Bishops Guidance” compared with the processes for “Church of England Guidance”?
I missed that https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/guidance-gender-transition-services-published (11 Dec 2018) includes “approved by the House of Bishops…” and “The Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, Chair of the House of Bishops Delegation Committee, which oversaw work to produce the guidance said…” But I am still unclear – is Bishop Julian Chair for this particular piece of guidance, or Chair for all guidance papers? And I find nothing – in despite of Tina Beardsley’s assertion – to indicate that “Guidance” is compulsory, either for this issue or for any other issue.
Unlike the documents this month, the January 2018 document was signed – by William Nye, Secretary to the House of Bishops. Did the Bishops vote before so resolving? Are individual Bishops allowed to disagree? – there don’t seem to be any rules about that.
The note from the Legal Office which supplemented the BRGS Report (the one of which Synod refused to take note) endorses the position that commended services are not compulsory:
”Canon B5.2 and 5.3 together provide incumbents and priests in charge with a limited authority to compose or adopt services that have not been authorized. It is by virtue of this provision that they are able to adopt services which, although unauthorised, have been “commended by the House of Bishops of the General Synod for use by the minister in exercise of his or her discretion under Canon B 5 of the Canons of the Church of England”. A great deal of the material published as Common Worship is in this category .”
I’m convinced that the bishops believed that, unlike same-sex marriage, re-purposing the Affirmatiom of Baptism liturgy to affirm transgender identities met overriding condition imposed by Canon B5.3 that a form of service must not be contrary to, or indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.
However, as I’ve explained in an earlier comment, the reference to ‘male’ and ‘female’ in the guidance on the use of baptismal liturgy for affirming and celebrating a person’s gender transition obscures the important binary sexual dichotomy which is maintained by Canon B30 and the BCP wedding liturgy (the latter referring to “male and female” five times).”
I have also maintained that ”it’s quite pertinent to question whether the guidance sufficiently indicates that a married man or woman, who has transitioned, still does not belong to the same sex as his/her spouse.
If the bishops maintain that this guidance on unconditionally affirming transgender identities via Affirmation of Baptism is not indicative of a departure from the binary sexual dichotomy (‘one man and one woman’) which essential to the doctrine of marriage as expressed through liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, then they have a duty either to clarify their rationale, or to allow the guidance to face a legal challenge in the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Removed.
1 Who has locus standi before the Court?
2 Surely the Bishops aren’t gatekeepers to the Court , where they would be, in effect, a party (a defenders of a cause)?. Surely they are not required to grant leave, permission , to take the matter to the Court, where there is a clear conflict of interest, in their position as granters of leave and promoters of the cause?
I’m not an ecclesiastical lawyer, but, as I understand it, complaints concerning matters of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial are dealt with under Ecclessiatical Jurisdiction Measure (EJM) 1963.
The complaint would need to allege an offence, citing evidence from an instance in which the guidance was actually implemented by clergy.
Concerning locus standi, under EJM 1963, a complaint can be laid before the registrar of the diocese by “six or more persons of full age whose names are on the electoral roll of the parish” in which the offence is alleged to have been committed.
Clearly, it would make sense to take professional legal advice before embarking on this course of action.
‘QLHHTRY’ (‘Quite Long, Haven’t Had Time to Read Yet’) – where the whole post and most comments are concerned, so this question may be well answered above (with links?), but: What is the whole history of (liturgical) (re)affirmation of (diverse, various, especially, sacramental) vows (within the Church of England, world-wide Anglican Communion, and ecclesially more widely), and especially its ‘theological rationale’? – where can one read a lucid, detailed exposition of this (even, free online)?
You seemed alarmed by ‘gender transition services’ (in fact, these are affirmation of baptismal vows, and an affirmation can be made in the context of a person transitioning). Personally, I would have preferred to have liturgy specifically to affirm someone who is setting out on transition, but if sensitively executed, these affirmation of baptismal services can still be very helpful.
I do not agree that these transition-related services should be compulsory – I believe priests, PCCs and individual local churches should be allowed to conscientiously choose not to do this (though on the same basis, I believe priests, PCCs and individual local churches should be allowed to conscientiously choose to bless and celebrate gay and lesbian marriages… respect for conscience should work both ways).
I do not believe the bishops regard this ‘guidance’ as ‘compulsory’ – I think you’re tilting at a straw man there, Ian.
They are simply proposing that those who want to should have the conscientious right to do so. It’s guidance. I strongly believe they are right to propose that.
You question the “complete absence of theological reflection”. Firstly, it would be ludicrous to suggest that the bishops have not reflected theologically, and indeed explored for themselves the various theological issues around the creation narrative that you refer to. Secondly, the imperative of the guidance is pastoral – drawing on theology, yes, but primarily pastoral. Because love is the primary command and the case for affirming people as they embark on transition is powerful and urgent.
You are alarmist about the “real danger of hijacking language about initiation, new life and eschatology to trans ideology”. First of all, being trans is not an ‘ideology’. It’s just how a person understands themselves, and feels, and flourishes. Religions have ‘ideology’. Trans people are just people, living their lives, not as an ‘ideology’ but just as who they are. Just wanting to live ordinary life like everybody else.
Secondly, the whole point of new life is to flourish and be the whole of who you are. The lived experience of many trans people is that whereas they suffered appallingly prior to transition, wracked by gender dysphoria, after they transition so many trans people find they can finally leave the incongruency behind, and they find happiness, and they flourish. And as Christians, they can find personally that the new life they are promised in Jesus Christ is discovered in greater wholeness and aliveness, as God calls them into their greater wholeness, with accompanying psychological ease, and capacity to live more productively and joyfully. It is not hedonism. It is not even choice. It is a passage through deep water and distress, and entry into the liberation Jesus offers each individual in her vocation and relationship with God and other people.
The baptismal context of a church affirming their ‘breakthrough’, and showing solidarity with the individual, and committing as a church to walk alongside the transitioner, is entirely appropriate, and indeed very probably a conduit for grace.
There is a further reason why a church’s affirmation of someone beginning transition is deeply supportive. When a person transitions – often a hugely difficult, painful and isolating decision… they may lose friends who cut them off, they may lose family, lose their home, get forced out of their job, and not surprisingly suffer depression as a result. In this early stage of isolation they can be in grave danger of taking their lives.
Many (not all) feel desperately alone.
For a local church, at that point, to offer public and liturgical recognition and affirmation of their transition, their name, their gender, would be a HUGE thing. It would say: here you are safe, you are welcome, we love you for who you are, and as God’s community we stand by you in your isolation and vulnerability.
So I am deeply grateful that the Church of England – notwithstanding the fact that it is being lambasted by organisations like Christian Concern and people who ought to know better – is prepared to authorise and exhort priests and communities to affirm trans lives and trans identities. One day the trans person will no longer live in that ‘inbetween’ world which is gender transition. They may not even see themselves as trans any more. Just a person living their lives. But more fully able to be themselves, express themselves, feel at ease with themselves… and be more able to look outwards to others, and love, and serve God.
But at the point when they start transition: that is a desperate time and a lonely time. An affirmation of their transition at that point would be a huge gospel statement, and I wish it had happened when I transitioned 10 years ago.
I was getting abused on the street. I’d lost almost everything. But for a church to have said, ‘WE recognise and acknowledge you, and will walk alongside you through your transition’… would have been deeply vindicating and supportive. When 2 years later I underwent gender surgery, it was a group of Anglican nuns who stood by me and nursed me for 10 weeks in their convent. They were simply awesome. They just accepted me as a vulnerable woman who needed decency and love. Maybe the Church is starting to catch up with these deeply loving women, and not before time.
You seem conservative on issues like transition, and the acceptability of gay sex within marriage… correct me if I’m wrong. The tone of your article feels reductive towards trans people… we become ‘ideologies’. But actually we are people in the church, and in society: teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors, pilots, soldiers… and it feels weird to be constantly talked ‘about’, when if you only asked how we felt about this liturgy ourselves, many of us would say we welcome it deeply, and if local churches do too, really, what is your problem or issue with that?
You know very well that many conservative Christians are deeply negative (sadly some to the point of hostility) towards gay and lesbian people’s relationships if they are expressed intimately. I’d love to know your own view, to get a fairer measure of you. Do you share the conservative condemnation of gay sexuality, vilifying it theologically as sinful, and arguing that gay Christians should live in celibacy all their lives? It’s the Tim Farron question, isn’t it? People don’t like to answer it straight because it makes them seem nasty. Justin declines to answer it, and says he’s just not sure (but still presides over punitive sanctions of clergy or ordinands who have gay sex – punishing people for something he’s not even sure is wrong). So what about you, Ian? And yes, I know that sexuality and gender are different discussions, but for a conservative Christian, the root of opposition to LGBT issues is often the same: reading the Bible in a way that has frankly become a failed paradigm, disgusting and appalling ordinary decent truth-seekers who are aghast at the literalism that vilifies gay people if they intimately love their partners.
The negativity about trans lives and identities feels like more of the same. Meanwhile more and more people turn their backs on the Church but affirm LGBT people.
Susannah, thank you for commenting again and for sharing your experience.
From those I know experiencing gender dysphoria, and their families, I am aware of how distressing and challenging this is, so thank you for sharing your experience.
But within your personal narrative, you include a wide number of claims that I think are highly problematic from a Christian point of view. You misinterpret me when you think I am talking about trans people as trans ideology; I am not, and I have been very careful in this piece not to offer any criticism of trans individuals, since I know how complex and challenging this situation is. I am delighted that you found a welcome and supportive community–but it is possible to be welcoming and supportive of all sorts of people without agreeing with the philosophical and psychological claims that they make about themselves. Indeed, in dealing with any sort of mental health condition, that could in fact be disastrous.
I do not believe that the purpose of ‘new life’ in Christ is about flourishing. This term has been imported recently into discussion, from the Greek philosophical idea of eudaemonia, and is not the kind of language that scripture uses.
I am aware that many people with gender dysphoria do find some relief from their symptoms when they undergo transition, but both the research evidence and many anecdotes show that in fact many of the problems associated with gender dysphoria and not resolved in this way. So there remains a serious pastoral question as to whether transition is a wise course to take.
I am desperately concerned about what the narrative of the possibility of voluntary gender identity change is doing to our young people, especially teenage girls, who appear to feel less and less safe in today’s world, and very much less secure in their own sex identity as girls.
And there is no doubt that the idea of ‘celebrating a new gender identity’ makes a vast number of theological and philosophical assumptions. It is charitable of you to think that the bishops have considered all these in detail–but if that is the case, then these should have been documented. We are not a church which simply receives decisions from on high. In fact, the bishops have deferred their thinking on this into the LLF process, so they themselves say they have not yet done the theological thinking needed.
So, I do not ‘fear’ the things here; I have pointed out why a real concern about pastoral issues and the integrity of Christian theology leads to some massive questions that need good answers.
I am used to discussing these issues in public, and have done so often. But I have no idea who you are, as you change your website every time you post.
with every good wish
You are right to recognise that gender transition can raise complex pastoral issues for a church, tied up not only with the individuals suffering gender dysphoria, but in some cases their partners, families, children and other parishioners. That does vary, and depends on the culture of a church, and on how things have been handled in a family – the preparation, the counselling for children, the underlying love. In my opinion, it is not as simple as yes, we the church will give your transition public blessing, if for example a Christian husband finds his ‘wife’ is becoming a same-sex partner. If both partners worship at the same church, the affirmation of one could be deeply distressing (and potentially shaming) for the other. In those pastoral instances, and in Christian love, it may be gracious for the transitioner to seek blessing and affirmation in a separate church – unless the partner has also undergone a journey of grace and come to recognise that the person they love is still the person they love, albeit in changed circumstances.
I emphasise the pastoral priorities around these issues, because to me Christianity is pastoral. That should be the prevailing ‘theology’ of any church.
That does not, however, mean repudiating the great help tens of thousands of people experience through transition, and labelling it ‘ideology’. The medical services in our countries, and many other countries, respond to these real life issues in a pastoral way as well. There is overwhelming acceptance of the concept of gender transition in the UK: in the NHS, the GMC, the NMC, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and these people are driven by assessment of individuals, recognition of their condition, and genuine belief that transition in many cases provides a path to flourishing.
I do not believe church theologians should claim to be experts on geology, and equally they are not experts on medical treatments – indeed some theologians are in grave danger of abandoning objectivity by prioritising their dogma over… evolution, an ancient universe and planet, the death and fossils of creatures for millions of years before ‘The Fall’ brought death into a perfect world, the fact that there was not a worldwide flood like Noah’s and the animals could not have been retrieved in their vast diversity from… Galapagos, Australia, Antarctica, Borneo, the deepest unexplored Amazon etc etc. Theologians should listen to professional insight and expertise.
Gender dysphoria is recognised as a reality. Transition is recognised as a helpful path to flourishing for many people. That’s not ideology. That’s practical medical support and the beginnings of pastoral care. Churches then are challenged to pick up that pastoral care (as the nuns did with me) and welcome the trans individual ***for who they are*** not as someone who they think has got things wrong by transitioning.
You write: “it is possible to be welcoming and supportive of all sorts of people without agreeing with the philosophical and psychological claims that they make about themselves”.
Welcome is good, but support where one ‘loves the sinner but hates the sin’ – that ghastly phrase often applied to gay and lesbian people – can actually end up being conditional, marginalising, dismissive, and fundamentally rigid.
If you love someone, you ought to love the whole and best of who they actually are, not who you think they ought to be. To vilify someone’s tender love, and devotion, and care, and fidelity, and shared life, shared tears, shared laughter, sacrifice, and these days marital commitment… as “sin” and ‘hateful to God’ and ‘rebellion’ and ‘abomination’ and a ‘barrier to salvation’ (choose your own label)… is NOT actual welcome or acceptance. It is judgment. It feels rubbish to the individual concerned and marginalising and an insult to their dearly-loved partners.
And yet that attitude is going on in thousands of churches across our land.
Similar attitudes to people transitioning: ‘gender should be accepted, the way it was assigned to you at birth’… ‘there is only male and female, and we will tell you who you are’… as if they know better than the individual concerned how they feel inside, and know themselves inside, and identify inside… or simply because a trans person’s life is an affront to someone’s theology (which is often the real case behind Christian transphobia)… this kind of supposed ‘religious expertise’ on gender dysphoria (at odds with our medical professions) is about as much ‘expertise’ as the dogmatist who repudiates evolution (you may not). It is imposing theology that trumps what the medical experts say, and it is as marginalising and harmful (and psychological destructive) as those who vilify gay sex. It is NOT adequate welcome.
Of course, if you sincerely doubt the medical profession, it may be the best you can do, out of perceived fidelity to your version of the Bible, and God still gives you grace to love and be kind, even if you happened to be wrong.
The experience of trans Christians I know, and my own experience, is that transition spiritually liberates. I found my spiritual life exploded into openness and release when once I had initiated transition. God is at work in the transition process: I truly believe that. I don’t think God remotely cares about the whole Genesis man/woman thing, compared to desiring our flourishing as who we are and who we are becoming.
FLOURISHING. I am sorry if you don’t feel that is ‘the purpose of new life in Christ’ but I find it extraordinary, Ian. Maybe not THE purpose. The purposes of God are probably many and amazing – more amazing than we can contain in tight theologies. But for sure, Jesus said that He came that we might have life, and life in all its fullness.
And that is experienced in the transition process for many trans people (obviously understood and experienced more explicitly in the Christian sense if they are Christians).
After years and years (stretching back to childhood in many cases) of dysphoria, and distress, and hidden guilt imposed by society, and self-harm, and despair… to break through transition into this flourishing is AMAZING and opens you up to grace and psychological ease and happiness and joy.
Transition for me resulted in such ease, such normality, such ability to function, such deep inner joy, that I know first hand its potential to begin the healing, and the removal of gender as even an issue, and the freeing up to look outwards to others. In so many ways, transition can lead to flourishing.
Of course, there will always be people for whom it does not work out that way. Each individual has to stand by their own decisions, and take responsibility for their lives, and some people never do that, always play the victim, or just suffer too much from society’s cruelties. But I reject the suggestion that transition fails for most people.
And I reject any proposal that ‘flourishing’ isn’t a desire of God for our new life in Christ. It is. And that is biblical. ‘Life in all its fullness’ may also include suffering or persecution or disease, but where flourishing is attainable, then that is a deep desire of God. Our well-being matters to God. You know all this stuff.
“There remains a serious pastoral question as to whether transition is a wise course to take.” My suggestion is you leave that to the medical practitioners and the gender experts in their fields, who assess thousands of people in their careers. The process of assessment needs to be professional (not the bizarre transgender conversion ministry one guy in this country set up). It needs to be sensitive. It needs to screen for mental health problems that have nothing to do with gender. It also needs to assess the safety of the individual and their ability to cope with the real stresses of abuse on the street in transition and functioning in the dramatic initial stages. But these are not assessments for the church to take as if they were the ‘experts’.
If a person has been screened (in reality it takes years) and is willing to take responsibility for their lives and step up, and the professionals can see that transition can provide an escape from gender dysphoria… then the pastoral care that a church can offer in response is deeply tied up with affirmation, recognition, respect.
If they are willing to give it.
The guidance is optional, not compulsory. Ask any of the bishops involved and they will reassure you about that. So no-one is ordering your priest to carry out a service like this. But if a priest, a PCC, a local church community – in all good conscience – wants to support and affirm and offer this kind of service… then as a trans person I am telling you that that can be something HUGE. In the isolation that is often experienced at the outset of transition, with all the hormone changes kicking in, and with people abandoning the individual… amid the stigma and sometimes abuse and violence on the street… for a local church to affirm you… to recognise your reality and who you know yourself to be… and to commit before God to solidarity and a shared journey… that can be incredibly constructive.
You refer with genuine concern to young people/teenagers. All of us feel protective about our young people. Not all of us have much experience with trans and trans-exploring kids.
I worked as a teacher for over 25 years in schools and I care about young people immensely. They are a joy. They are also incredibly open-minded, generally, these days. LGBT issues are widely understood and accepted by young people, who I’d argue have better insights than most older adult Christians these days. But I respect you raising the issue of young people, because you are right: we need to treat them with love and care.
When I transitioned 10 years ago, I re-trained as a nurse (the greatest decision I ever made in career terms) and I’ve worked in acute care, critical care, and latterly I switched to school nursing, with responsibility for the healthcare of 1200 teenagers in a large secondary school. The best job ever. So fulfilling, and rewarding, and varied, and endearing.
I did that as a Christian, as an openly trans female, and the school ethos was fantastic. The young people completely took to me, and came to me with all their problems, and the school had created a truly inclusive culture where young gay teens could be openly gay, and had the support of peers if anyone was homophobic. And in that context, yes, 4 out of 1200 students last year came to me exploring their gender.
I say ‘exploring’ their gender, because that’s how it should be viewed initially. Young, potentially trans people need time, they need space, they need real respect. And they need a culture and ethos where it’s alright to explore… because gender incongruency for some people is a real thing, a pastoral thing.
Naturally, as someone who has transitioned myself, they see me as someone who signals possibilities… someone leading an ordinary and valuable life, and an ordinary job… someone together and friendly and kind… but I have gone out of my way never to proselytise. These young adults need careful handling. What they need is to be taken seriously, listened to, and shown respect. You don’t to that (excuse my language)
by ‘being a dick’ and misgendering them. You gender them as they ask to be gendered.
Time – space – respect… and in my experience I judge that 3 out of 4 will probably not transition, and one of them almost certainly will.
I have such a high respect for the school and the head. In the context of the ethos of the school, in some senses the kids with problems – who need the most sensitive support and protection – are the small number of kids from evangelical families, or more rigid Muslim families, whose parents have told them that gay = sin. I feel for these kids, and what I perceive as their diminished social openness to other people. But they, too, have to be respected… but cannot shape the inclusive ethos of a school.
I’m afraid, like it or not, young people are exposed to other friends who are gay or lesbian or trans. And they will find that schools expect inclusion and respect. In a sense, Ian, you must be aware that evangelical Christianity – to the extent that parts of it repudiate gay sexuality or gender transition – has lost the cultural battle in this country. I am glad it has. The paradigm it clung onto and still clings on to… biblical inerrancy… has been failing for at least a century, and it has lost the nation. More than that it puts most people off Christianity, which is an evangelistic disaster.
So many young people I meet from day to day don’t get as far as considering the amazing person of Jesus, because they switch off at the first impression they have picked up about Christianity… the loud voices of dogmatic conservative Christians… that they vilify gay people for having sexual relationships… and even question evolution… and still believe in Noah’s Ark. They are not taking this paradigm seriously. Indeed they are appalled and disgusted by it.
At school there has been more stigma to me being a Christian than to me being trans. Indeed there has been no stigma to me being trans at all.
And so, just by being, just by living ordinary lives (not “lifestyles”), trans people witness to flourishing and ordinariness, and we also witness to diversity.
Yes, I care deeply that young females manage to discern and work out whether they are actually male-gendered, or whether (for example) they are butch lesbian. Or neither of those. But you do that, not by crushing the possibility of who they may be, or by erasing that, but by giving them: time – space – respect.
And then, if over time, this thing just doesn’t go away, what they need is not religious dogmatism but what they need is experienced medical specialists in these fields. And the support and love of schools, families, friends.
Most trans kids at school just want to lead ordinary lives. They want time with their friends. They want less homework. They don’t want to be left out. They just want to get on with life, but they may happen (in some cases) to also really struggle with perceived gender expected of them. By that I don’t mean the social expression but the perception of others of who they are, and how they feel, inside. Gender is not just external expression.
Ian, you talk about ‘integrity of Christian theology’. If, as Christians, we are to have integrity, then it’s not enough to be legally bounden to a book – even the Bible. We all know that people can be legalistic to an extreme and miss the whole point of love: and Jesus flagged that up as a huge danger. Integrity of theology starts with a spiritual dynamic: the primary action of God in our lives, and our openness to God’s love, and to sharing that love. Because love is a flowing stream. It is a sharing. It is what God shares with us.
So in ‘doing’ theology (and theology should be done, it should be lived), our calling is to open more and more to the love of God, in simple daily response to meeting God in the people we encounter. It does not take a degree in theology to do that. Anyone can open themselves to love and grace. Theological integrity is about the quality of the lives we actually lead: not our doctrinal purity, not our righteousness even, because we are all pretty shit, but our willingness to let God flood the rooms of our souls with God’s love – and actually let that flood flow in our dealings with others.
Therefore… pastoral care… it’s the language of God. Flourishing… likewise. And in such things, I see the Bishop’s Guidance not as something to be talked down, but as something to be talked up. Because trans people really need affirmation in our churches. Not the spurious welcome that still condemns who they are (as in the ‘love gay people but hate their relationships’). But welcome and affirmation that commits for the season… for as long as the journey takes to get through transition… to respect, and walk alongside, and acknowledge.
Trans people are real. They are part of the Church. They are relatively few. I suppose one could say that gay and lesbian people are also relatively few. But we are God’s treasured children, we are family, we are known and loved by God, we journey on alongside our Christian friends, and in the communities where we live.
The Bible is a bit dodgy on trans and gay issues. I say that as someone who also finds the Bible so deeply profound in so many ways. But some of it expresses culture and is confined within culture. Christians will disagree on how we understand and read the Bible. The Church of England holds very different views: there is no uniformity of view and no one position.
Doesn’t the obvious logic point to us looking past our differences, respecting that we have different views, and then loving, loving, loving one another… and praying for one another’s FLOURISHING?
We must leave that to God to understand. But what we must do is love. That is the primary command, and the essential context in which the whole of the Bible is to be read. We may respond in different ways. But love is the key ‘theological integrity’. We cannot dominate one another’s consciences.
It is therefore both expedient and urgent that we accept freedom of conscience as far as we can, right down to the local churches, and the actual lives we lead. And if a local church, a priest, a PCC believes in all good conscience that the medical experts are right, and the trans person’s transition is real, and they believe “in theological integrity” to love and accompany that person through this service and the journey beyond… then may they find God’s grace and blessing in those acts of shared love.
And if you, or your church, sincerely don’t believe in good conscience it’s right, then really, there should be no compulsion – there should be freedom of conscience for you too.
Ian, I recognise and respect that you have genuine concerns. I recognise a little alarm at the way you think things are going. I recognise your good desire to love and serve God. But I am not sure the issues on trans people are actually ‘massive’. They are mostly pastoral not ideological. But for the actual people concerned it is not all about theological constructs – it is primarily about the dynamic of simple love. Some people may see deep theological challenges. Most people don’t live at a theological level. They make their responsive lives their theologies.
I see nothing in the Love of God that suggests God is remotely alarmed at someone transitioning. God probably just wants them to be well, to live and flourish more fully. And is the mythology of Adam and Eve really that significant, that we feel bound to discount all the variable and diverse experiences of human beings, or all the diverse life forms that lived prior to humanity, and from whom we are descended, because of a myth?
When we start to insist on theology and dogma as priority to love in action, it’s a bit like when some Christians try to literalise myth: they may go searching on the slopes of Mount Ararat in a desperate desire to show that Noah was not a myth. They may even deny the existence of dinosaurs. But what they are actually doing is looking down the wrong end of a telescope. Instead of treating myth as myth, and enabling that subconscious opening up that myth can do, they make the Bible and their worldview smaller, instead of making it larger and enlarging.
Love, and the ruach, is a flowing stream and a rushing wind. Love is often spontaneous and instinctive. Love still breaks out in new ways. Revelation does not end. Love is relationship and community. Love is sacrifice. Love is tender. Love is a flowing dynamic. It’s like that flowing stream: if you try to cup a flowing stream in your hands it is no longer a flowing stream. Love is not all constructed in human constructs (Paul’s use of Eve’s first sin as the grounds for some male headship is a pretty classic example – subordination of women on the grounds of a mythical woman’s actions). Love is responsiveness to God. Love is within us because God is within us.
I regard the bishops’ Guidance as an act of love. An act of pastoral care. Let those with the heart to adopt it, adopt it.
You wrote: “It would be ludicrous to suggest that the bishops have not reflected theologically, and indeed explored for themselves the various theological issues around the creation narrative that you refer to.
I don’t doubt that the bishops have reflected theologically before publishing this guidance. However, I do see merit in Giles Fraser’s plea on the ViaMedia blog for the bishops to “show us their workings” (https://viamedia.news/2018/09/23/bishops-please-show-us-your-workings/):
“I think that many supporters of LGBTI+ inclusion are looking to LLF to make strong recommendations for change – including, for some, the opening up of church marriage to same-sex couples. And many traditionalists, including people close to the process, are looking to it to rule out any realistic change.
LLF may not do either of those things. When I think about it, I often think about exam papers – especially maths exams. I remember sitting A level papers which set difficult equations to be solved. ‘Please show your workings,’ the instructions said.
My hope is that LLF will enable the C of E to ‘show its workings’ as we move towards full inclusion. At the moment the only recent document accepted by the Church, albeit without due process, is ‘Issues’ – which is widely acknowledged to be deeply flawed and was published in 1991. LLF will, if it is as good as it could be and if it is accepted, bring recent scholarship and contemporary understandings of sexuality, gender and identity into the warp and weft of the Church of England.
So, I believe that Ian is calling attention to the absence of those theological workings from the recent guidance. In fact, it’s this dearth of theological focus on the transgender experience that is highlighted in the Sybils’ response to the Pilling Report:
“We are also convinced that there must be a greater openness to, and a wider understanding, of the extensive range of scientific and theological work that has been, and is currently being undertaken on transgender issues, as well as same-sex issues, in addition to those relied upon within the report. We believe that what is presented there is insufficient to provide a strong and reliable foundation for the proposed conversations.
There’s no evidence that the bishops’ guidance has responded to these transgender concerns.
I think I understand some of the psychological and pastoral reasons this liturgy is being proposed, but I wonder if could you briefly lay out for me the theological and Biblical rationale for having a service of Reaffirmation of baptism vows for those transitioning.
While I would personally have favoured separate liturgy in the form of an affirmation of the individual’s transition journey, I believe that reaffirming baptismal vows in the context of transition is also appropriate, helpful and a potential conduit of grace.
Of course, the ‘psychological and pastoral reasons’ for this liturgy are not separable from theological and biblical reasons. Theology is not an abstract – it operates in the context of the love of God, who is indeed concerned for the psychological and pastoral needs of people.
Ian has critiqued the bishops for allegedly failing to sufficiently reflect theologically on their guidance, but I personally feel that may be a little condescending really, because I believe all those involved in presenting this guidance will have prayed and reflected deeply on this pastoral support and its theological contexts. Bishops are not just theologians: in a deep sense that maybe does not apply to all theologians and online commentators, they have a very deep calling and vocation to act pastorally, and I see these guidance notes as very much in line with their commission and the pastoral care of people.
So, in responding to you, I’m just stressing that priority of pastoral care in the context of the love of God, which is inseparable from theology and informs theology. Theology is sort of the constructs that fallible humans put together, trying to understand and interpret faith, but pastoral care is an impulse of God’s love and without that pastoral context, theology can be arid and intellectual, and at worst rigidly dogmatic in a literalist or legalistic way.
The primary ‘theological and Biblical rationale’ for offering these services in the context of transition is: love. That is the absolute fulfilment of the law and the prophets, and the greatest commandment, and the nature and dynamic of God. If that sounds simplistic and naïve then it is supposed to, to an extent.
Theologically, there are powerful grounds for believing that God desires people’s flourishing, and if transition is part of that (and it often is, if you ask many people who have transitioned), and if that is seen – like the Red Sea process – as a passing through storm and ordeal, to break out into life like a new beginning, with a more whole identity… then that reflects (and be seen as a part of) baptism.
Baptism is not only once off and historical (though it is that too) but it is ongoing day by day, and there is no harm in reaffirming that baptism in which we are baptised with Jesus’s baptism. Dying to self, surrendering to God, and emerging with new and fuller life in Christ.
Transition is a process that can express that and support that hugely for a Christian.
I believe that there are all kinds of reasons why somebody may find it helpful to reaffirm their baptismal vows. Transition is one such reason.
With regard to what you call the ‘Biblical rationale’, you will probably be well aware that the whole issue of ‘biblical rationale’ is problematic (as it has been in all the schisms in Christian history where love has been sacrificed to rigid dogma). What do you mean by biblical rationale? Do you mean that the Bible has to be understood as literally true? Is the Genesis creation narrative (often used to repudiate trans people) literally true? And extending beyond that, are all other parts of the Bible ‘inerrant’? And if not, and like plenty of other people I believe it is not, because I believe that to treat the Bible with integrity it should be understood in its cultural contexts, as sometimes provisional, as sometimes mistaken… where should one look for this ‘biblical rationale’?
I believe that the Bible is a conduit. It is not God, or even always an accurate expression of God. And yet, I also believe God has journeyed alongside religious communities, as they tried to make sense of their world and their times, and make sense of profound encounters that they cannot adequately understand.
So what I look for is the love, and I’m sceptical when the spokesperson of invaders claims that God has ordered the slaughter of innocent children, and I’m sceptical when people claim there was an Adam and Eve who had no ancestors, and challenge human evolution, or claim that Noah really did gather all species of animals, or the Floodwaters rose higher than the highest mountains. And I’m sceptical when male authors claim that male headship is a thing ordained by God, or when deeply religious groups with cultural hostility to sexual diversity claim divine mandate for vilifying gay and lesbian people.
So in the face of these (real) problems of seeking ‘biblical rationale’ one falls back on the absolute priorities of love, and care, and flourishing, and kindness, and compassion. It seems to me that these are the touchstones of spirituality… and so in the context of reaffirming baptismal vows when a person sets out on transition: it seems deeply relevant and pastorally valid, and it is pretty easy to understand in the context of baptism, because baptism itself figures burial, ordeal, storm, abandonment to God, and then the breakthrough and coming through to new beginnings, new starts, new life, flourishing in God.
If people ‘construct’ theological opposition to the whole concept of transition, they will never recognise either theological or ‘biblical’ justification for these guidelines. But on the other hand, if we see gender diversity as part of human experience, and something that gets socially straitjacketed by society and religions, it may be that actually God longs for people to accept one another for who and where they actually are, and help them with solidarity and acceptance and recognition that diversity is fine.
My bottom line is: ask trans people themselves. If they don’t want this service, fine. If they do, then actually that can be amazing – for all the reasons I’ve set out separately in another post: because at the outset of transition people are often lonely, rejected, isolated, abused on the street, forced out of jobs, and their homes, and their families, and abandoned by friends. And for a local church to share in a service like this would potentially be a huge affirmation of the Great Baptism of Christ, and the Love of God. It would offer solidarity in abandonment. It would say to the person transitioning and often desperate: we accept you, we accept who you are in God, we accept how you feel and understand and identify yourself, and we will journey alongside you through your transition.
And Simon, that would be a huge act of grace.
with love from,
Thank you for this and for pointing out that the psychological and pastoral are inseparable from the biblical and theological.
Are you sure you don’t mean that the psychological and pastoral want to envelop or redefine or render redundant the inconvenient biblical and theological? The fact that they are related we can all agree on. But it is only bias and personal preference that would make them compromise each other.
No Christopher, I am sure I don’t mean that.
But what is it that you do mean? No-one is denying that different dimensions are linked. But we would also agree that it is dishonest to use the existence of our pet or favourite dimensions to compromise other dimensions.
Your favourite dimension may be the biblical (I am not claiming that it is, this is merely an illustration). Should that compromise the other dimensions?
Or, rather, as I see it, the pastoral and the psychological are as intrinsic to our theological anthropology as theology and scripture; they are part of theology and scripture.
Sounds fine. Provided that each dimension is pursued to the fullest , then it is all to the good. I know that some people gravitate naturally to ‘people’ considerations (pastoral, psychological) and some gravitate naturally to large-scale structural considerations in order to provide the optimum context for said people’s lives. These considerations are complementary; the thought that they are mutually exclusive even to the smallest degree is not right. We ought to be comprehensive and to seek to learn in the areas where we are weakest.
Dear Susannah, thank you.
We have a different understanding of Scripture: its authority, how to read it and the conclusions to draw from it. We do agree about the centrality of love – the question is what is the most loving way to respond to God and neighbour?
I am grateful for your candour and considered response.
May I ask what you would recommend as the best books from your perspective to read further on this crucial question.
grace to you
I am grateful for your reasonable discourse and grace, and I do respect that Christians can hold different views to my own in good conscience and a desire to be faithful to a God who they love, and who even more abundantly loves them.
It dismays me, when faith gets politicised, or when groups of Christians try to dominate the consciences of others. For example, I strongly believe that if and when gay marriage is endorsed in the Church of England, no priest or PCC or local church community should be forced to practise expressions of faith that crush their conscience and version of fidelity.
In the same way, in the implementation of these guidelines, I would be opposed to the domination of conscience by requiring priests to carry out a service like this, and as far as I am aware, no bishop advocates that kind of compulsion. Equally, if a priest, PCC or local church wants to use a form of service like this… or indeed if a priest, PCC or local church wants to bless the gay marriage of members of their congregation, as an act of conscience and fidelity, they should be allowed to do so. Respect for conscience works both ways.
What matters to me is that our precious Church up and down our land, which is engaged community by community in so much good work and spiritual presence, is not riven by schism… which is a dread possibility if we insist on dominating one another, or prioritise our ‘rightness’ rather than our love for one another.
We should be praying for one another, and especially for those with different views to our own, for grace, for forgiveness, for kindness – and for flourishing. And flourishing is *exactly* what these measures for transgender people are about.
I believe our Unity is only, ever, in Jesus Christ… both eternally and day to day. Each of us can only, ever, come before God dressed in the rags of our own failings, flaws, and limitations. Unity is quite different to uniformity. And so I earnestly plead the case for Unity in Diversity… and for far more diversity and local exercise of conscience in our churches up and down the land.
Each local, living Church community has to search and grow and wrestle and relate with people, to try to find openness to the love of God, and ways of “responding to God and neighbour”. Each local church will operate with its own local contexts. We don’t deal in abstracts, but in raw community, and it is grace (not watertight and domineering theology) that guides us as we live alongside the people on our estates, our deprived families, our neighbours. But isn’t Jesus wonderful, in the way he always homed in on that question: “Who is our neighbour?”
Simon, as you can see, I have feelings and emotions. I have walked my own journey and it has involved ordeal and faith and – hugely – the faith and solidarity of others. I know what it is to be deeply vulnerable, but I also know what it is to be lavished with God’s grace and kindness. I also know up front the reality of God’s judgment, and that judgment can be a burning fire… but a burning fire of love.
We all need to try to open the doors of our souls, more and more, to God’s tender love. And just to state the obvious, my journey is nothing special. Each of us journeys with God, if we choose to, through ordeal and lostness, until God breaks through and touches our hearts, and we recognise with a gasp that God dwells at the very centre of our being.
I know you don’t need to be told all this. But I am a rather expressive person and like to be open.
On recommended books, I am afraid I cannot be much help. I am simply a nurse, and an ordinary woman whose life tries to respond to the vocation of prayer. I am helped and guided by sisters in a convent, and I base my life on the practise of contemplation, which can be deeply enriching. This opens one, through habit, into prayer and intercession. It is a huge privilege, although I am little more than a novice and beginner on the shores of the great ocean of prayer.
For me, the writings of Therese de Liseaux and Teresa de Avila have been powerful inspirations, and in particular I find the writings of Francisco de Osuna deeply helpful. His Third Spiritual Alphabet is so Spirit-led. In modern reading, I have found found Elizabeth Johnson’s ‘She Who Is’ profoundly thought-provoking.
None of which helps you if you are specifically seeking insight on trans issues. That’s because my transgender past is only one aspect of the whole of who I am. I don’t belong to any trans groups. I haven’t read any books about trans people. My friends and circle are not trans. I’m just living my life, like anyone does. I have come from a past of perilous self-harm and distress to deep happiness and a far fuller life.
There is a doctoral study of trans Christians by Chris Dowd which you can probably google, which may be helpful reading.
For myself, and where I’m at in life… about to marry the woman I love… the theological condemnation of our tender, caring, intimate love is more immediately disturbing than other things in my life. Thankfully I belong to an inclusive church where we are loved, accepted, and affirmed for who we are.
But when I look out across our land, and the unchurched multitudes, my own point of view is that Christianity has collapsed in great part because of the failure of outdated paradigms… indeed, ever since the Enlightenment, the paradigm of an over-literal reading of the Bible has been failing… and so we see England today: and millions of people put off Christianity by the loud message that gets put across: that people’s gay uncles, and lesbian daughters, and gay work colleagues, and lesbian neighbours… all decent people… are consigning themselves to Hell because of their expressions of love, and that they should live all their lives in celibacy. This is an evangelistic catastrophe. The young are appalled. People find such messages disgusting (and rightly so in my view). And then there are the even more fundamental fundamentalists who repudiate evolution, and literalise myths like Noah’s Ark (thereby subverting its amazing power as myth)… and people are just put off by this clinging on to a paradigm of the Bible that refuses to open up to real and modern truths… and becomes entrenched and beleaguered.
So I write with awareness of the differences Christians may hold, but really, the only answer is prayer and grace and love. And coming from an evangelical background, I deeply know the capacity of evangelical Christians to love, to nurture, and to live faithfully… and I implore them to reflect really deeply on episodes like this one.
You originally asked me about theology, Simon. I think it is theologically urgent that we open up to change, to revelation through science and experience, and fundamentally that we open up to love in pastoral situations.
The situations can be complex. Each one is different. But the God who said ‘Let the little children come to me’ (rather than ‘Slaughter all the children’ which I don’t believe God ever said)… is a God who sees our suffering… very real suffering in poverty in far off lands and desolation near to home… and longs to draw alongside and reach and touch… and be present.
And THAT is our Church in the land.
We must not become a pious enclave of the holy – no matter hpw theologically correct we think we may be.
And trans people DO need huge amounts of love, and welcome, and affirmation, and grace. It is not a sin to have a gender. Everyone has one. Gender is not only a social expression. It is deep in the heart of who we are, and how we feel. If it wasn’t, no-one would bother with all the hurt and costs of the transition process. Why would anyone want to choose stigma and social isolation as a free choice?
So anyway, I give thanks at this juncture, that the bishops have had the courage and compassion to intervene. To me that is theology in action. It is love in action. And none of it compels. It simply offers. It offers support, where churches and individuals come together, in sincere conscience, to help, to show solidarity, to show love.
Once again, thank you for your discourse. I actually pretty much hate these talking shops because I get drawn in myself to words, word, words. And I long once more for the deep silence of morning prayer, and the quietness before a God who is somewhere there, always gazing back at us, gazing with love, as we gaze out from our own ignorance and frailty… through the cloud of unknowing… until (sometimes) we are suddenly overwhelmed by the recognition that God is not just ‘out there’ but deep ‘within’ ourselves… and at that point, yes, I think gender gets transcended, and words fall away. And God shares with us. And then we are home… home with God and home with more of who we are in God.
Lead us, Holy One, to Your eternal household and Your good estate, and help us know your sharing in our daily lives, and your quiet eternity in the restlessness and business of our days.
Susannah, posing the whole question of whether ‘the Bible’ is ‘literally true’ has several problems with it, which I address in ch10 of ‘What Are They Teaching The Children?’.
There I isolate 18 problems with this perspective, but some of the main ones are:
‘The Bible’ cannot be generalised about. It is a multi-genre, multi-author library (ta biblia is plural).
‘Metaphorically true’ is not even a coherent concept.
Even if it were, no-one would agree about what counted as *being* ‘metaphorically true’. Which would be very convenient for those who wanted to defer the question.
I know that you’ve shared your final comment, but please see my reply above to your previous comment (published December 18, 2018 at 10:22 am).
You wrote: “Baptism is not only once off and historical (though it is that too) but it is ongoing day by day, and there is no harm in reaffirming that baptism in which we are baptised with Jesus’s baptism. Dying to self, surrendering to God, and emerging with new and fuller life in Christ.
There is no harm in re-affirming baptism. Nevertheless, the intention of the bishops’ guidance is to re-purpose this reaffirmation “into services which mark gender transition” and “that the occasion should have a celebratory character”.
So, the central issue is not whether transgender people should have access to liturgy for reaffirming of baptism (which expresses the Church’s consensus of belief), but whether that liturgy should be re-purposed to celebrate gender transition (for which the Church has no consensus of belief).
Contrary to your recommendation, re-purposing public liturgy to celebrate something on which the Church has not reached consensus cannot simply be “because at the outset of transition people are often lonely, rejected, isolated, abused on the street, forced out of jobs, and their homes, and their families, and abandoned by friends.”
Susannah Thank you so much for your two contributions on this thread. I find them very helpful and am grateful for your willingness to speak so personally and outline just what the trans journey can be like for those of us who would have no way of knowing for ourselves.
I have a more general comment on the baptism/re-affirming baptism issue. It is not completely obvious to me why evangelicals are questioning it in this context here. Firstly, because the present expression of evangelical tradition (in marked contrast to other times in its history) is a largely non-sacramental experience and it approaches sacraments in quite a pragmatic way. The most obviously example is how many evangelicals have been re-baptised or re-affirmed their baptism at some point – often more than once. Some choose this at important moments of commitment in their lives, or in Galilee on a Holy Land trip. But most often in my experience it is because there has been a moment when faith has suddenly come wonderfully alive – as if starting over new. They want express it somehow and cannot relate it to their baptism as children. Adult baptism is the obvious way to do it. Whatever questions I have about that as a CofE minister, it is, in practice very hard to argue against.
So why would such a tradition, approach an experience not look with understanding at the instinct of someone transitioning into new name and embodied identity – after in painful exile from their own self for so long – not wish to mark this by reaffirming their baptism?
David there are at least three reasons why many Anglicans (and not just evangelicals) have grave concerns about these proposals.
First, the bishops made clear in the Synod debate that there would be no new liturgy, and reiterated that in the debate. But what has been offered here is called ‘gender transition services’. Given that existing liturgy is now being used for a new purpose, this is certainly a new liturgical provision, and there has been no explanation for why the change here. Indeed, I suspect that since the HoB did not even discuss this together, many did not realise it. I know one bishop who could not attend the latest meeting–so did not even read the paperwork.
Secondly, although the service was flagged as being recognising gender transition in the context of reaffirmation of baptism, as it is presented it looks much more like remembering baptism in the context of affirmation of transition: the primary narrative throughout that is prioritised is the new life after gender identity change, and has all the hallmarks of Tina Beardsley’s approach. (Have you read Tina’s proposed liturgy?)
Third, the use of biblical passages involving changes of name, in the context of the emphasis of change of name for the trans person, attach the interpretation of these passages to the notion of change of sex, as if these things run in parallel.
Fourth, having been involved in a number of situations involving gender identity change, I am deeply concerned at the almost complete neglect for members of the family of the trans person, who might well not agree with the assumptions behind the notion of gender identity change. Many I know would feel deeply betrayed by a church which ‘celebrated’ something that is in wider culture now so contentious. I am particular worried about the impact on teenagers, with all the pressures and uncertainties they are feeling.
Fifth, all this should have been located within the LLF process, and this ad hoc initiative, without proper scrutiny from the Liturgical Commission, and without a single moment’s discussion in the HoB meeting, is deeply worrying. There is no doubt that, in the months and years to come, people will point to this provision as evidence that the C of E believes the claims made about sex and gender identity by trans campaigners.
Today in the news was a headline that a school in Brighton is teaching primary school children that boys also menstruate like girls to appease trans campaigners.
I would still be interested in your response to my observations about slavery on the Via Media blog.
I expressed some thoughts on the use of baptism previously. I would say that the major reason for evangelicals being (re)baptized is because of doubts about paedobaptism, and in particular because of the way it is used not as a marking of the transition from death to life, but simply as a rite of passage and naming ceremony. Very often in practice, there is no real intent in the promises and vows made by the parents and godparents. Thus if someone is rebaptized, that is normally as a result of seeing baptism as very significant, and their first baptism as having been entered into lightly and without regard to its seriousness.
Reaffirmation is not baptism, it does not mark any new transition, rather it recalls the person’s original baptism, bringing them back to the vows made previously, just as reaffirmation of marriage vows is not a new marriage.
Baptism, as a sacrament, is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” the latter being the change wrought by God in the life of the believer in being united in Christ. Baptism is about inward change, unlike gender transition which it seems to me is about external change, bringing the outside into alignment with the perceived pre-existing inner reality, and the initiative for this is the person themselves.
David Wilson Thanks for your response. I am not sure what evidence you have for claiming this is based on doubts about paedobaptism. My ministry experience suggests two things. 1. Very very few parents ask for baptism without any intent to mean it. I think parenthood really moves people. They want the best for their child and know this must include something ‘spiritual’. So I am very wary of speaking of people acting ‘without regard for seriousness’. But they are starting to consider a spiritual journey of their own at one of the most demanding times of life. I am not cynical about the desire. But I recognise that it does not easily translate into full faith for parents. So 2. We have someone come to living faith as an adult who was baptised as a baby. Their parents now show no interest in the faith. They could well assume that baptism meant nothing then either. I think that is a more common reason.
I agree someone being rebaptized is wanting to mark something very significant. But I disagree it necessarily means their first baptism was entered into lightly. I would argue it is that the promises made on their behalf as a baby are now being fulfilled.
(Sorry for delay in responding – Christmas is a busy time!)
Your comment about rebaptism related specifically to evangelicals and their attitude to baptism. Most evangelicals in England to not engage in paedobaptism, considering “believers’ baptism” the only valid kind. Even in the Anglican church, evangelicals have an ambivalent attitude to it. This is because evangelicals (both conservative and charismatic) mix across denominational boundaries and so share attitudes and understanding.
I recall my previous vicar complaining that members of the church would have their children dedicated, and it was non-members of the church who sought baptism. We hold baptisms in our main Sunday morning service (and you can always spot the family and friends because they are well-dressed and early, unlike the regular congregation!). Most parents are not church members. They promise to bring up their child in the Christian faith, but few are seen at church again. I think provides evidence of both the mistrust of paedobaptism among evangelical Anglicans, and reason for that mistrust in the lack of impact on the lives of many children.
Renewal of baptismal vows is not rebaptism, of course. It is a revisiting of the vows made at one’s first baptism, taking you back to that repentance and faith expressed therein. However, as the Church of England does not rebaptise, I do know a number of people who have undergone renewal of vows because they do not think their baptism as an infant really counted. (There is also conditional baptism. I recently witnessed two. One was of a lady in her 90’s who was adopted when young, and has no idea if she was baptised when an infant. The other was someone baptised as a teenager in a house church without any record and that might not have been done with the trinitarian formula required by the CofE).
The understanding of the importance of baptism for evangelicals is probably linked to the ‘conversionism’ arm of the Bebbington quadrilateral. The pair of repentance and being baptised are the response of the believer to the work of Christ, to the transition from being outside of Christ to being in Christ. To associate the imagery of the sacrament with something else does not seem right to me at all.
1 Having received secondary mental health services and having a mother who had ECT twice during her life and was terrified and having worked into secondary mental health services as an independent advocate for service users, I am aware of the impact of personal stories and have been privileged to have been entrusted with them, I do not seek to diminish at all, all turmoil in your life.
2 However, we seem to have a very different view of the Christian God as revealed in scripture and scripture itself, which you demean and diminish, with derogatory comments. I certainly don’t interpret it through the lens of my personal experience.
3 You speak of the love of God. Do you see it Supremely demonstrated in the reality of the necessity for:
3.1 the incarnation
3.2 the cross of Christ, God the Son, fully God, fully man
3.3 the physical resurrection and ascension of Christ
3.4 the return of Christ
4 Do you see that God’s love is only ever HOLY-LOVE, which requires all of the above?
5 It would be interesting to know whether you could subscribe, with heart and mind to the Apostles or Nicene Creed.
6 Baptism: As a convert to Christ at the age of 47, a supernatural one, I was baptised as an adult through full immersion, not knowing whether I’d been sprinkled as a child. I have reservations over infant baptism. But what baptism “achieves” or signifies is important. Why adult believers would have two adult baptisms, is more than a little beyond me as it reveals a paucity of understanding of the reality of being born again/from above, of union with Christ.
I’d say that a true exile from self, is exile from God in Christ, from our union with him, through Holy Spirit, not as David R puts it, “embodied identity.”
I will try to answer your questions, but forgive me if I don’t get drawn into deep discourse subsequently, as I am trying to balance work/life/relationships/church and you will know yourself, sometimes the internet can eat up your time. But I’ll try to answer your questions:
3.4 Yes, though I don’t know specifically what that will be like, when it will be, or even what exactly it is – I have doubts that the ‘end times’ will necessarily be anytime soon, and indeed the human race may still be here (and possibly in other star systems) for millions of years to come. What I do know, is that Jesus returns to us daily, which is what we need to immediately address, and our own ‘end times’ are really pretty soon because life on earth is so short. So the far more urgent business, which is easier to understand, is the challenge we have each day to open our hearts to the love of God, and know that God is not just coming ‘one day’ but dwells at the centre of our being, right here and right now.
4. I don’t really understand the question. I think God’s love is indeed holy (of course). What do you mean by ‘requires’? Do you mean is God’s love only expressible if you are a Christian? I really don’t know what your question means or is driving at. Holiness and judgment are real things for everyone. Though let’s face it, we’re all dressed in rags and we’re all pretty rubbish at the holiness thing. But thankfully, God is full of understanding and compassion (but still judges). God’s love is a consuming fire. It is also a tender embrace.
5. I can’t remember which is which. I always have to read from the booklet when they happen in services. But yes, I think I believe what I say – though I kind of murmur the Father bit sometimes, because God is totally as much as Mother as a Father – but I tend to let that go. God loves us like a Parent. So yes, from recollection, I don’t recall any issues I have with the Creeds.
6. Everything about God and God’s love speaks of baptism. Baptism is a deep spiritual reality and, I believe, a sacrament. I do not think we are just ‘sprinkled’ as a child. I believe we are baptised as a child. I believe that baptism is real and efficacious. Baptism is primarily the intervention of God, before we even have conscious faith of our own. Then through life, that same grace may help us grow in reception of everything that baptism offers and contains. There is no question of having ‘two baptisms’ which is why I did not seek a second, adult baptism when I came to know God in a personal way. There is one baptism. (Of course, I respect that Christians have sincere different views on this.)
I’m grateful and appreciate that you understand the value of personal narratives and experiences, and your Christian care for people’s turmoil. I’m happy to say, for myself, 10 years after transition, that I have very little turmoil in my life (except in prayer for people in terrible poverty and deprivation). My life is deeply happy, and gender is no longer an issue or something huge and difficult in my life. All that’s in the past. Transition did that for me. After years and years of distress over gender, and self-harm, all that horrible stuff just stopped, and in its place… psychological ease, fuller life, greater functionality, deeper spiritual experience. The whole point of transition is to address the reality of gender dysphoria and resolve it – and that was my experience.
What is being proposed is NOT a second baptism – if I wanted to be picky I’d wonder if *you* had a second baptism, but I do understand why quite a lot of Christians seek it. It is a public re-commitment to all that a baptism means, a re-affirmation, and (at a point of significant life change) a commitment by the local church as well. A solidarity. An affirmation. A commitment to journey together in Christ. To continue to journey.
It is NOT a second baptism.
I’m left wondering why you wanted my views on all those tenets of Christian faith. Did you wonder if my liberal views would mean I did not believe in those things?
But then again, I don’t want to initiate a further discussion if possible. My offline life is demanding my attention.
“The only long-term follow-up study of people who have under-gone sex reassignment surgery suggests that it is not the simple solution we are led to believe. This study found substantially higher rates of overall mortality, suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalisations in sex-reassigned transsexual individuals compared to a healthy control population.”
Transgender Trend taking the evidence of
From a friend:
And what will the liturgical provision, for Jonny, who having been anointed with water and / or oil becomes Jenny if Jenny then ‘repents’ and decides to transition back to ‘her’ original birth gender? Presumably a service of un-affirmation of the affirmation for the re-affirmation of the baptism of Jonny! Credo quia absurdum…
James This might be funny if we were not discussing the pastoral needs of one of the most acutely vulnerable minorities in our society.
For sure; but it also raises some central questions about we think we are actually engaging with here, and these are questions which the bishops have neglected and which some trans campaigners tell us we are not allowed to explore.
The testimony of a number of trans people themselves tells us that ‘celebrating transition’ might not in fact be an adequate pastoral response, and the way that this ‘guidance’ overlays Christian salvific ontology onto gender transition compounds the problem here.
We really deserve better pastoral and theological thinking from our bishops.
Ian – If ‘we really deserve better’ and expect it of others there are times others rightly expect and deserve better of us. That’s all.
David, I sincerely appreciate your calm decency and grace. I guess I have for years. I believe that the pastoral care at the heart of the bishop’s Guidance should be ‘talked up’ not ‘talked down’.
Ian raises some fair points of pastoral concern: about trans people’s families, and about young people trying to work out who they are.
At the same time, many trans people are in desperate situations up and down the land. I assure you that abuse on the street is real. So is discrimination in employment. And discrimination in housing. Above all, transitioning can throw an individual into a potential death spiral of isolation and initial swinging hormones and stigma and poverty and marginalisation.
I am so appreciative of your recognition, and the Bishop’s recognition, of how acute the situation is for many trans people at the outset of their journey of transition.
This is a pastoral care issue that local churches that are willing should get behind with compassion and affirmation.
That does not mean neglecting a partner, or children. But it does mean recognising that this situation is viscerally real, and is professionally recognised as real by medical specialists, and cries out for church solidarity and support.
It could make a HUGE difference for an individual concerned, to know there is at least one safe space, where they are understood, affirmed in their gender, loved, cared about, journeyed with.
I cannot for the life of me see why local churches should not be encouraged (as the bishops have encouraged them) to follow their consciences on these matters. If a priest, PCC and local church want to be inclusive and want to affirm the trans person – albeit with due respect and pastoral concern if there is a partner who might be shamed through it – then surely those churches that want to express that recognition and solidarity in sincere conscience and the compassion of God… with all the commitment it may involve… should be able to do so.
Realistically, no priest can be compelled against their own conscience to do this, but many priests may want to use this service.
Personally, and having transitioned myself, I believe the baptismal context can be an appropriate one. Transition is very much a baptismal kind of process… passing through ordeal and deep waters, known sometimes only to God (a God who is there)… and emerging into a new country in a new identity and a new beginning.
Yes there is only one baptism (and I strongly believe in infant baptism myself) but I do see how a reaffirmation of baptismal grace and vows could be appropriate.
Spiritual baptism, after all, occurs day to day, if we truly believe in Jesus’s baptism which he said he had to undergo (by which he meant his death and resurrection). And he told his disciples that they too would be baptised with that same baptism… which on a daily basis means death to self, and trust in God, and the life of the spirit as we open up to God and other people.
We can reaffirm that baptism many times, by the lives we live. Indeed it is our spiritual calling. And if it is pastorally helpful to reaffirm that in the very baptismal-like process of transition, and I can see from personal experience how relevant and helpful it could be, then I simply see this as an act of church commitment and pastoral care and compassionate love.
To, as you say, an incredibly vulnerable and marginalised and often stigmatised and abused part of our society.
Anyway, thank you. I do value your thoughtfulness, and as you know, I’ve read many previous comments you have made. One day maybe we may even meet. Though that may or may not happen.
Grace of God be with you: God within who knows and loves and understands you.
David, I entirely agree, and I am not sure where you think I have failed on this. I don’t know about your experience, but some of mine is pretty close to home.
Susannah, you say ‘Ian raises some fair points of pastoral concern: about trans people’s families, and about young people trying to work out who they are.’ Thank you for acknowledging that. You go on to comment:
‘At the same time, many trans people are in desperate situations up and down the land. I assure you that abuse on the street is real. So is discrimination in employment. And discrimination in housing. Above all, transitioning can throw an individual into a potential death spiral of isolation and initial swinging hormones and stigma and poverty and marginalisation.’
This is why many people feel that transition is in fact not the right response pastoral to the experience of gender dysphoria, and that the mainline ‘trans ideology’ that gender dysphoria is a sign that someone is ‘born in the wrong body’ is incorrect.
Perhaps the bigger mistake in this whole discussion is to talk about trans people, who are in fact a subset of those suffering from gender dysphoria.
But you then go on to say: ‘It could make a HUGE difference for an individual concerned, to know there is at least one safe space, where they are understood, affirmed in their gender, loved, cared about, journeyed with.’
What you are doing there is conflating support and acceptance of a person with agreement on the diagnosis (‘affirmed in their gender’) which in turn depends on accepting a theological and philosophical view of sex and gender–one which is highly contested more widely as well as within the church.
As long as you see those two things cemented together, then, yes, you will struggle to understand the response of many. But that is the nub of the issue here.
Susannah It would be a pleasure to meet up. My website has my contact …
Ian You chose to respond to my response to what James wrote (and in doing so could be read there as defending his remarks?). But my comments were not directed at you at all.
Ian, in response to your comment, quoting mine:
Me, speaking from experience: “Many trans people are in desperate situations up and down the land. I assure you that abuse on the street is real. So is discrimination in employment. And discrimination in housing. Above all, transitioning can throw an individual into a potential death spiral of isolation and initial swinging hormones and stigma and poverty and marginalisation.”
You: “This is why many people feel that transition is in fact not the right response pastoral to the experience of gender dysphoria”
Then the problem doesn’t get solved. If trans people are so desperate with gender dysphoria that they are willing to face all those negatives, and if churches are willing to offer them badly needed support in that, then isn’t that fantastic?
The bulk of the problems faced by trans people are societal hostility to difference, and prejudice, and discrimination. The physical resolution of their dysphoria itself involves a few hormones and some relatively straightforward surgery. And so many trans people find that helpful. The real problem in their daily life is other people who just can’t accept their difference and otherness from the norm. Although actually, most trans people are perfectly normal in the way they live and work.
Your argument that because they will suffer from these societal pressures, they shouldn’t transition (and resolve their dysphoria, and get on with life) is a bit like if there is a town with lots of racists in it, and saying to black people “It is best not to buy a property in our street because we don’t really approve of you, so you won’t be happy.” In the racist illustration, none of the problem lies with the racial minority. The problem is the people who are prejudiced.
In a similar way, society’s prejudices – and indeed the prejudices of some Christians – are what lead to isolation, job loss, difficulty getting housing, abuse on the street. To argue: therefore a trans person shouldn’t transition, is really protecting a privileged status quo at the expense of the person being oppressed.
It’s like saying to a black person, we don’t approve of you moving into our street, but we’ll help you find a place to live somewhere else.
If I had taken your advice 10 years ago, well first, I don’t think I’d still be alive. Secondly, if I was still alive, I would still be wracked by dysphoria – it doesn’t bear thinking about. Thirdly, I would have missed out on all the other side waiting beyond transition: the psychological ease, the end of dysphoria, the physical happiness (I love my body), the coming alive, the ability to be so fully myself, the escape from self-destructive pain, the new awakening of spirituality, its deepening, the awesome solidarity I’ve been privileged with from nuns and priests and other Christians. And I would have missed out on all the happiness I have today. I would still be back there, or else dead. It was that bad, and the conflict and psychology were that dangerous to my person.
Transition ended my dysphoria. Gender isn’t even an issue for me 10 years on. I mostly don’t even notice it (except in debates like these) because my gender existence is finally right and I am at psychological ease.
Why would someone theologically NOT want that outcome for someone like me (and there are many like me)? Unless it was to protect their own privileged status quo, their dogma, their religious rules?
And sure, if your priest decided transition was wrong, it’s pretty simple: they don’t have to hold these services.
But if other Christians – PCCs, priests, local church communities – ‘get’ transition and what it’s about, and want to affirm someone… indeed see it as a pastoral imperative… then what is that to you? You can’t dominate them even if you wanted to, or the bishops, but we can all recognise the consciences of one another.
Personally I think you’re out of step: with the NHS, the GMC, the NMC, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Law, the vast majority of MPs, the Education system, the military, the police, and countless corporations who recognise that people are just people, and gender (whatever gender) makes no difference to ability. People SEE that transition is positive and helpful for many people, and solves a solvable problem, and sets people free.
That has been my experience.
You’re still describing as an ideology what people like myself simply experience as a lived existence. We are not a theory or an ideology. It is not ideology to feel acutely that your body is – in certain aspects – incongruent with your feelings, sense of self, and internal identity. That’s not an ideology or a campaign. It’s just lived experience. I HATED that I had gender dysphoria. It wasn’t a choice. But it was possible to resolve the incongruency, and it worked. It’s not that the whole of my body was wrong, but all my life – even as a 6 year old child – my brain felt feminine and I furtively dressed in women’s clothes, feeling guilt, feeling shame, and with no knowledge whatsoever that there was even such a thing as someone transgender. I didn’t even know when I was first referred to gender clinic in 1993 (there was no internet then). Now you can talk all the theology you want at me, but that’s how it was.
From puberty onwards, the incongruency grew very bad. It was a tweed-wearing bluff female GP who set me right, when trembling and embarrassed I opened up to her (because it was messing up my life so much). I dreaded the meeting. But she just said, ‘Oh it sounds like you may be suffering from gender dysphoria, I will refer you for help.’ 1993. I was told about gender surgery and that I was a case for that. I still resisted what I needed to do to solve the problem… because of my mother and because it all seemed so hard and scary. But in those 17 years my life descended into a private hell of psychological distress at my body and terrible self-harm. Then finally, the year that my mother died, I took the step of returning to my GP and to Gender Clinic, and followed through the process. I received some fantastic psycho-therapeutic counselling, and was helped to see that I was not (in Christian terms, bearing in mind that I came from an evangelical background) “sinning” and that having a gender was alright, and being transgender was alright, and accompanying that my own faith deepened, and I journeyed with God. And God has been hugely faithful to me.
The term “in the wrong body” is too absolutist for me. I always loved sport, and most of my body was fine – but the genitals were… so ‘wrong’ for who I knew myself to be and how I felt. And testosterone didn’t help. I hated its effects, and body hair, and so… it was pretty simple… there was a resolvable problem.
Was I in the ‘wrong body’? God gave me a body at birth, but now the whole of my body honours me, and gives me ease, and reflects how I think and feel. There was a mismatch between my brain and my body, that’s the best way I can put it, and God gave me that too. And with professionals we sorted it.
The change of hormones was an overwhelming joy and alrightness. My body hair disappeared. My skin got softer. My sweet soft boobs began to grow and swell. The hormones did all that. The masculine press-and-drive of testosterone was gone (and yes I know some women have some testosterone too, but they also have oestrogen). All my self-harming stopped within two weeks of the hormones kicking in. It just stopped. Looking back, it just seems sad and weird. That was the gender dysphoria. That was my past.
And then, two years later, I had the gender surgery (and as I mentioned, a convent of amazing nuns nursed me and looked after me and affirmed me for 10 weeks after that). And to reyrn to that phrase: was I in the ‘wrong body’? No, I had an incongruency between my brain and the way it worked, and the hormones and genitals that didn’t speak to me of who I was, or how I wanted to live.
Surgery confirmed everything. It wasn’t a failure (obviously no procedure is 100% fullproof but mine was). It was just perfect. Over all the years since then, and looking back, the idea of having male genitals just seems bizarre and weird to me. It would be stupid. Because it isn’t me. I am SO happy with my vagina, my clitoris, the hormones that lock on to my oestrogen receptors, and work harmoniously with my brain.
I have transitioned and it was a massive healing. And God journeyed with me, notwithstanding the first few months were an ordeal. But that is PRECISELY why church affirmation and a service like the one being proposed would have been so immense: because those first months of transition are usually the most vulnerable and exposed.
It’s kind of embarrassing to go through all this, and I don’t really like doing it, but I feel I ought to offer a counter-narrative, and actually express what it’s like as a transgender person, and why the NHS, the GMC, the NMC, the Law, the Psychs overwhelmingly endorse gender transition. Because in very many cases, it works. Not all. But then, in life, all of us have to take responsibility for decisions we take. The great thing is the Bishops are saying, if someone transitions, then acknowledge that, recognise it’s not weird or way out, but endorsed by most of the professional experts, and if you ‘get’ what gender transition is about… affirm the individual as who they are… how they feel inside (and they ought to know better than you)… and the journey (difficult at the outset) that they are setting out upon.
The Bishops are proposing affirmation of trans people’s journeys, if a priest and church wants to do that.
My life carries on. It is obscure and normal and happy. I don’t have a transgender “lifestyle” or “ideology”. I just live my life as a woman. It’s comfortable and it’s normal. I get up, I wash, I work, I shop, I meet up with friends, I cook supper, I go to church, I phone my brothers. All normal life like anyone else. And I’m free of the dysphoria. Why would anyone begrudge that?
Not only free but FLOURISHING. My life is so happy. I have a wonderful fiancée who loves the whole of who I am, and knows all about my past, but just accepts me. She makes my life full of laughter. She really cares about me with such fidelity and I care for her. And early next year we’re getting married. Before God and in the presence of God’s people.
And at the same time my journey with God goes on. I belong to a Fellowship of sisters, and thought of becoming a nun, and was invited to join a convent, but my vocation seems to be simple prayer and out in the world. But I have the privilege of leading a life of prayer, and that means everything to me. Contemplation is the heart of my life.
I get no sense at all that my gender impacts on my prayer life or my work or my relationships, except in a positive way. It’s just life. And of course, I can be as lazy and sometimes selfish as anyone else. But I do know this. It scares me to think what would have happened if I hadn’t transitioned. I would have been so much more incomplete. I would have still been broken, and I don’t think I would have survived.
I was blessed by support – and true affirmation – from some wonderful Christians, at the time I needed that support and love the most. Christians who ‘got’ that I’m female, and didn’t make a drama about it, and just accepted me for who I am. And were there for me.
I commend the Bishop’s guidance and their instincts of pastoral care.
with good wishes,
(this is my final comment)
I respect this sharing of your lived experience. However, this cannot serve as a rationale for the Church’s unqualified liturgical affirmation of gender transition by turning a blind eye towards the the dangers of the transition process. The known risks include the previously cited effect of puberty blockers on bone mineralisation and the reality of strikingly high post-transition mortality and suicide rates.
David I don’t think Susannah is offering a rationale or urging unqualified affirmation. She herself admits to some misgivings about the process and content. But without hearing actual stories like hers, so generously and vulnerably shared, it is very hard for us to respond with anything like the sensitivity and informed understanding that is needed here.
That’s fine as long as we also hear the stories of other trans people whose ‘lived experience’ echoes the post-transition evidence from the peer-reviewed and more rigorously sampled and controlled 2011 Swedish study…clearly irrefutable evidence which answered Jonathan Tallon’s comment.
“Walking with God through pain and suffering” by Tim Keller is a significant contribution to any discussion a very westernised view of human flourishing, or even modern ideas of Christian “flourishing”.
Here is a link to a site with 20 quotes from the book:
https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/20-quotes-from-walking-with-god-through-pain-and-suffering Well worth a look.
Here is one quote: “The problem is that contemporary people think life is all about finding happiness. We decide what conditions will make us happy and then we work to bring those conditions about.”
It is best to have an understanding before any suffering happens. This is perhaps key:
“Keller explains in this final section how we can can properly orient ourselves toward God in the midst of our suffering so that we walk as Jesus walked in His great suffering. The best time to read a book on suffering is before you are in the midst of the furnace.
Search domain http://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/159...https://www.amazon.com/Walking-God-through-Pain-Suffering/dp/159…”
As is expected of Keller, it has many reference, covering philosophy, God, humanity, scripture. and personal stories.
To whet the appetite here are a few more:
“Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.” (58)
“But resurrection is not just consolation — it is restoration. We get it all back — the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life — but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength.” (59)
“Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.” (77)
“The most rapturous delights you have ever had — in the beauty of a landscape, or in the pleasure of food, or in the fulfillment of a loving embrace — are like dewdrops compared to the bottomless ocean of joy that it will be to see God face-to-face (1 John 3:1–3). That is what we are in for, nothing less. And according to the Bible, that glorious beauty, and our enjoyment of it, has been immeasurably enhanced by Christ’s redemption of us from evil and death.” (117–8)
“The best people often have terrible lives. Job is one example, and Jesus — the ultimate ‘Job,’ the only truly, fully innocent sufferer — is another.” (133)
Tim Keller: “Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.” Tweet Share on Facebook
“Christianity offers not merely a consolation but a restoration — not just of the life we had but of the life we always wanted but never achieved. And because the joy will be even greater for all that evil, this means the final defeat of all those forces that would have destroyed the purpose of God in creation, namely, to live with his people in glory and delight forever.” (159)
“It fits to glorify God — it not only fits reality, because God is infinitely and supremely praiseworthy, but it fits us as nothing else does. All the beauty we have looked for in art or faces or places — and all the love we have looked for in the arms of other people — is only fully present in God himself. And so in every action by which we treat him as glorious as he is, whether through prayer, singing, trusting, obeying, or hoping, we are at once giving God his due and fulfilling our own design.” (168
I am assuming your comments here are aimed at Susannah’s story? That you think she, and presumably those like her – in her long harrowing journey towards personal wholeness and healing has simply been pursuing her own happiness? And that this is wrong?
Generally – do you think, on the basis of what you quote of Keller’s words, that it is never right to treat someone struggling with acute physical, emotional or mental distress and pain? Instead they should be told it can be bearable because ‘God is for you and with you’. And if ‘suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story’ why did Jesus heal people so often? Why does the church have a ministry to heal? Or are you really saying that certain people and certain kinds of pain must be endured – while others are allowed to be treated?
Geoff…. I’m with David at least in part.
Surely ““Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.”” needs more qualification? I’d say that healing is, ultimately, at the heart of the gospel. Of course it still begs lots of questions.
Susannas story is bravely shared. It’s how to keep tenderness in the picture whilst still being allowed to ask significant question we all need to keep in mind. For myself I’m struggling with the transition to female whilst seeking marriage to a woman.
What is the history of theological reflection upon the interrelations of baptism, baptismal names, and any formal ‘changing’ of such baptismal names, and the possibilities of registering any such formal ‘change’? Does anyone have any recommendations for (online) resources?
How would ‘re-naming’ details of the liturgical activities being here discussed relate to results of such reflection (or ecclesial legislation, etc.)?
Walt Heyer, Trans Life Survivors (published Oct 2018) interviews 30 regretters.