Concerns raised on Bishops’ transgender guidance
From the Revd Dr Ian Paul
Sir, — The General Synod passed a motion asking the House of Bishops to consider whether a liturgy should be drawn up to welcome transgender people; the only “demand” it made was for consideration, not for any particular action.
In January of this year, the House of Bishops confirmed that there would be no liturgy, and, technically, no liturgy has been offered. But the “guidance” issued last week (News, 14 December) is described as a “service”; the focus has shifted from affirmation of faith to affirmation of gender identity, which is a misuse of the baptism service; and scriptural passages that are suggested have, by their location in this context, been distorted from declarations of God’s saving action to declarations of fluid identity, itself a serious misreading of scripture.
Worst of all is the failure of pastoral provision for others who are also directly affected. What would it say for the Church to “celebrate” gender-identity change to the spouse who feels betrayed, to the children who feel abandoned, to the parent who feels bereaved — and even to those who have undergone transition and now regret the decision? It is not just the theological and psychological issues around gender identity which are complex, but the pastoral issues. The single sentence in the guidance is thin gruel and small comfort.
It is now seems that this guidance did not receive full consideration by the Liturgical Commission, nor any actual debate in the House of Bishops itself. There is a real danger that this makes House look duplicitous, incoherent, or incompetent, and this bodes very badly for the fuller discussions that will take place in relation to Living in Love and Faith.
Gender dysphoria is a serious and debilitating condition, and trans people do indeed need to welcomed, and invited, like all others, to hear the good news of repentance and faith in Jesus — but not in this way. If the Bishops are seeking to rebuild the needed trust and credibility, I hope that they will withdraw this inadequate, ill-thought-through, and divisive “guidance”, and integrate it into the fuller process where these issues can be properly considered.
Member of the Archbishops’ Council
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB
From the Archdeacon of Hastings
Sir, — In their Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition, the House of Bishops have clearly sought to make a compassionate and fair response to pressing pastoral need. The chief pastors and teachers in our Church might, however, have been more circumspect about appearing to lend their support to an increasingly high-profile ideological movement whose aims and methods sit uncomfortably with the Christian gospel and are now being increasingly questioned throughout Western society.
First, it is incoherent of the Church of England to place a strict ban on “gay conversion therapies” while fully supporting gender transition. We seem to have arrived at a curious situation in which treatments that purport to change sexual orientation will be strictly forbidden while those that purport to change biological sex will be encouraged and affirmed in para-sacramental rites using baptismal water and consecrated oil.
Second, there are some serious theological issues. As commentators such as The Times’s Janice Turner have cogently argued, in transgender ideology, the sense of gender in the mind trumps the biological reality of the body. We should surely be mindful that this is a pattern of thought with which the Gnostics who fought against orthodox Christianity in the early centuries of the Church would have felt entirely at ease.
Third, there is the experience of women. Feminist writers such as Germaine Greer and Heather Brunskell-Evans argue that it is impossible for somebody who has been brought up as a man truly to take on female identity: their experiences have been fundamentally different. Brunskell-Evans has written “I assert that a woman is an adult biological female. Our sex, like that of men, was not ‘assigned’ at birth, but empirically observed.” For such apparently reasonable statements, she and other similar writers have been pilloried, no-platformed, and dismissed as TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists).
Fourth, there is the welfare of children. Recent events in the Church have reminded us of the absolute importance of the physical well-being of children. With, however, the sudden upsurge in the number of children wishing to change gender, we have seen the proliferation of harmful practices such as breast-binding, as well as chemical treatments aimed at blocking puberty, and whose long-term consequences are as yet entirely unknown. Surely it would be both prudent and compassionate to treat such developments with the utmost caution.
I hope the Bishops will consider withdrawing this guidance at least until a fuller consideration of these issues may be given in the forthcoming document on Living in Love and Faith.
Beechmount, Beacon Road
Crowborough TN6 1UQ
From the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss
Sir, — For what scientific or theological reason have the House of Bishops as a whole decided to foist the transgender narrative on to the Church, accepting key aspects of trans ideology in their latest “pastoral guidance”? The ironic way in which they transition the baptism liturgy so that it becomes a celebration of changing genders rather than a solemn rite signifying death to self and new life in Christ is simply astonishing, and lacking in any cogent biblical rationale, despite the bizarre way in which Genesis 17 (where Sarai becomes Sarah) is childishly suggested as a reading.
What basis is there for their curiously timed insistence that we can now anoint with holy oil those who have undergone sex-change surgery or a legal name-change, besides splashing them with water, laying hands on their heads, and calling them by their preferred pronouns (such as ze, zim, zir, or ve, ver, vis)? And what, more ominously, will they do to those of us who refuse to play such pastorally cruel games?
Ground Floor, Centre Block
Hille Business Estate
132 St Albans Road
Watford WD24 4AE
From the Revd David Baker
Sir, — May I respectfully ask the Bishops to withdraw what the Church of England’s official website describes as “guidance for gender transition services”? My understanding was that they had given assurances that no new liturgy would be produced; however, the guidance seems to have re-cast existing liturgy in such a way that the net result is the same as if they had.
Moreover, it seems to lack adequate theological reflection, and there are serious pastoral implications that don’t seem to have been thought through at all. All of us want to welcome all people to Christ, including those struggling with painful gender issues, but this guidance will not do.
The Rectory, Gilberts Drive
East Dean BN20 0DL
Trading hours: another attempt to change law?
From the Revd Geoffrey Squire
Sir, — Information received from a manager of a branch of a large multiple superstore suggests that very soon another attempt will be made to get a change in the law to enable all retail stores to open for as long as they like (rather than the present six hours) every Sunday and all day on Christmas Day and Easter Day.
That will mean that their employees, among the most poorly paid and exploited of all employees in the EU, could have no break at all over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and at Easter with no enhanced level of payment required.
All people of good will should join together to stop this happening.
Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Devon EX32 7NR
Austin Farrer: calendar candidate, 50 years on
From Canon William Price
Sir, — Dr Austin Farrer died on 29 December 1968, almost 50 years ago. The Rt Revd Lord Williams, in his book Christ the Heart of Creation, describes Farrer as “the subtlest and most eloquent Anglican thinker of the last century”. He was also a man who undoubtedly walked with God.
It was my good fortune to be an undergraduate and postgraduate member of Keble College, Oxford, during Farrer’s time as Warden. I regularly attended the daily eucharist at 8 a.m. in the side chapel of the college chapel, and I shall always deeply treasure the memory of the Warden at the altar. After mass, he remained in chapel in silent prayer for a very long time each day. He prepared members of the college for confirmation, and he was confessor to some.
I remember Farrer in my prayers daily, and on 29 December this year I shall especially remember him with gratitude and affection. I hope that the dwindling number of people who knew him, and also those others whose Christian faith has been strengthened by his writings, and especially by his incomparable sermons, many published, will also give thanks for his life on that day.
I greatly hope also that his name might be included, sooner rather than later, for commemoration in the Common Worship calendar on 29 December. I suspect that I might not be the only person to feel that Austin Farrer means more to many on that day than does Thomas Becket.
57 Kynaston Drive, Wem
Shropshire SY4 5DE
Leadership on Brexit
From Professor Richard Bauckham
Sir, — It is good to hear that our bishops have called for national reconciliation. I hope that they will go on to be more specific and warn against the danger to reconciliation that a second referendum poses. It would entail months of acrid debate. It would exacerbate the painful rift in our society to an extent that would make it hard to heal for decades to come. It would further undermine trust in our politicians among many who already have little faith in them.
Recently, Sir Nicholas Soames MP, a Remainer, spoke with great feeling about the “catastrophe” that a second referendum would be for our social cohesion and political life. Our bishops have a responsibility to do the same.
11 Archway Court
Cambridge CB2 9LW
From Mr Richard W. Symonds
Sir, — In the dark days of 1941, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, held a conference in Malvern (“Brexit or not, the UK has changed irrevocably”, Comment, 14 December). He believed that it was critical “to consider how far the Christian faith, and principles based upon it, afford guidance for action . . . [and] to think out actual political programmes . . . which . . . give effects to these fundamental principles”.
The Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, in his book The Church and Humanity, 1939-1946, wrote: “The Church . . . ought to declare both in peace-time and war-time, that there are certain basic principles which can and should be the standards of both international and social order, and conduct.”
In 1940, the philosopher C. E. M. Joad stated in the Spectator article “The Principles of Peace”: “There are certain principles which form the heritage of our Western civilisation, principles which are derived partly from ancient Greece, partly from Christianity.”
Temple, Bell, and Joad made those principles very clear at that time of great peril. We need to do the same.
RICHARD W. SYMONDS
2 Lychgate Cottages
Ifield Street, Ifield Village
Crawley, West Sussex
From Professor Peter Davies
Sir, — The Rowntree report that you (Leader comment, 7 December) and Professor Chris Baker (Comment, 14 December) quote selectively concludes that poverty has significantly declined in the past 20 years owing to three principal causes, of which two are increasing home ownership and fuller employment.
As these have been successful planks of Conservative policy for the past forty years, it is perhaps not surprising that you give them no mention.
May we hope, Sir, for a more balanced approach to your reporting and opinion for 2019?
PETER DAVIES (Reader)
11 Croft Drive West, Caldy
Wirral CH48 2JQ
From the Revd Colin Gibson
Sir, — The reason that Christianity cannot “incorporate Islam”, as Dr Graeme Smith naïvely hopes (Comment, 14 December), is that Islam is an explicitly post-Christian religion. As such, it has a theology that denounces key elements of Christianity: God does not have a Son; Jesus is not God’s full revelation; Jesus did not die on the cross; Christians have falsified their scriptures, and so on.
Christian care and concern for Muslims must arise, not in spite of our Christian identity, but by expressing it in the way that Jesus commanded — through loving our neighbour.
55 Welley Road
Wraysbury TW19 5ER
Vandalised figure of the Blessed Virgin: a story
From Mr Tim Stanley
Sir, — I sympathise with All Saints’, Ipswich, whose figure of the Virgin Mary was decapitated (News, 14 December), as a statue of Our Lady at All Saints’, Clifton, in Bristol, suffered an even worse fate.
The statue, which survived the destruction of the original Victorian building by enemy action in December 1940, was rescued by Clifton College boys after the Blitz and became a feature of the present rebuilt church.
About 25 years ago, the statue was found in pieces. There were theories about what caused it, but no one really knew.
A young curate at the time, Fr Bill Brunner, told me later that all the pieces were in a cardboard box in the parish office. Although the then Vicar, the late Fr Peter Cobb, had told Bill to throw them out, he could not bring himself to do so.
I suggested that, instead, he should contact the Principal of the West of England College of Art — now part of the University of the West of England — and invite his students to piece together the fragments as a practical lesson in art restoration.
They did, and the statue was returned to its place beside the organ.
I hope that the Revd Daniel Morrison can locate a similar organisation in Suffolk which is well-placed to restore, professionally and without charge, the statue in his church.
2 Grange Court Road
Bristol BS9 4DP