QUESTIONS about the response of the Church to transgender people made up one quarter of all of those to be answered at this week’s meeting of the General Synod.
Most of the 32 questions (out of 120) concerned the pastoral guidance for the affirmation of baptismal faith in the context of gender transition, published by the House of Bishops in December (News, 14 December 2018).
Other questions included whether the House of Bishops intended to provide guidance on recognising de-transitioning, and philosophical enquiries (“Has the House of Bishops considered whether there are circumstances under which a typically biologically male person can be ontologically female, and vice versa?”).
Some of the questions accuse the Bishops of pre-empting the work of the Living in Love and Faith working group. A London layman, Clive Scowen, asked whether the House of Bishops would withdraw the guidance, “in view of the widespread concern expressed by many laity, clergy, and bishops from diverse parts of the Church of England”.
In written replies, bishops sought to correct descriptions of the guidance. It was “not a new liturgical rite, nor a ‘liturgy for the welcome of transgender people’,” the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Frith, wrote. “Rather, it recognises and celebrates a person’s identity in Christ.”
The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, wrote that “there has been no change to doctrine or teaching as a result of the publication of this guidance. . . The focus on the unchanging identity of a person in Jesus Christ is clear.
“It is precisely because baptism is a dominical sacrament and at the heart of the Church that a transgender person, or any other person, might wish to affirm the promises made in their baptism.”
He pointed, too, to the fact that the guidance was the response to a motion approved by the Synod (News, 14 July 2017). Bishop Broadbent wrote that “detailed guidance on pastoral care for people in every kind of circumstance” was not to be expected, but that bishops were “always willing to assist their clergy”.
He also confirmed that clergy were free to refuse to offer the rite set out in the guidance. In his question, the Rector of Sevenoaks, the Revd Angus MacLeay, expected such clergy to be “accused of transphobia”.
Six questions concerned who had been consulted in the drawing-up of the guidance, and Bishop Broadbent confirmed that, in addition to the participation of three trans women clergy, the drafting group had consulted written resources and passed the draft guidance for scrutiny to the membership of the Liturgical Commission, the Pastoral Advisory Group, and the House’s Delegation Committee.