A MOVEMENT to allow transgender Christians to be ordained and married is under way in the world’s churches, and is “highly likely to continue”, a new paper published this week suggested.
While a “growing number of Liberal Protestant denominations” are changing their policies, the advocacy of transgender groups and the reassessment of medical evidence may also produce a shift in conservative circles, the report’s author, the Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge, the Revd Duncan Dormor, writes.
His survey “Transgenderism and the Christian Church: An overview”, published in a new book, The Legal Status of Transsexual and Transgender Persons, concludes that, over the past 20 years, there has been “a very significant increase in the number of liberal and mainstream Protestant denominations which welcome transsexual and transgender Christians as congregational members and affirm their ministry as leaders and teachers”.
It also notes, however, that the “overwhelming majority” of the world’s Christians belong to Churches that are “officially unsympathetic to the claims of transgender people”. Transgender people are regarded as “sad and misguided individuals who suffer from a psychological or psychiatric condition that has been misdiagnosed and mistreated”, or as “notorious sinners”.
Although a “warm welcome” is possible in some congregations, marriage and ordination are generally “not viable options”. He includes the Southern Baptist Convention and the Vatican in this “conservative” group. Such teaching goes “against a growing medical consensus”, he argues. “In response to the careful and committed advocacy of groups representing transgender Christians, or a reassessment of the medical evidence, attitudes to transsexuality in particular could be reframed within some conservative Christian traditions.”
At the other end of the spectrum, in a “radical” grouping, he includes the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the first to ordain a transgender minister, Sky Anderson, in 1979.
The Church of England is included in Mr Dormor’s third group, defined as “moderate”. It does not have a clear theological position or a consistent policy, he writes, and the experience of priests who have transitioned has been “mixed”: six of the eight remain in priestly ministry. Their experience has been “largely determined by the response of their bishops”.
On Wednesday, Mr Dormor said that the biggest catalyst for change had been pastoral situations. Bishops who have met priests who have transitioned, for example, “recognise them as faithful ministers”. Encounters can mean that those who are sceptical “go ‘Hang on, I can see this is right for this person. It is a real thing!.”
He acknowledges that transgenderism is “a rare, complex, and genuinely perplexing problem”, and “particularly challenging to religious traditions that vest differences between the sexes with great theological significance”.
He said: “We need to start with the fact that we are made in the image of God and are all fragile human beings, and we need to give each other and ourselves more time, and pay attention and listen to people’s experiences.”