THE House of Bishops’ guidance on marking a person’s gender transition in church was “not premature” but grounded in theological and scientific thinking, a briefing paper sent to members of the General Synod has said.
The paper was produced on behalf of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group by Susan Gilchrist and the Revd Dr Christina Beardsley, a transgender priest who recently resigned from the House of Bishops’ sexuality project Living in Love and Faith (LLF).
It responds to a debate sparked by the publication of the bishops’ guidance last December (News, 14 December 2018), which said that churches could adapt the liturgy for the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith as a way of recognising and celebrating the transition of transsexual people.
An open letter calling on the House of Bishops to “revise, postpone, or withdraw” the guidance attracted the signatures of more than 2800 laity and clergy (News, 1 February); a subsequent letter sent to the Church Times by 599 lay people and clerics, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, argued that the guidance should be welcomed, not retracted under the pressure of a “fear-mongering and ungracious response” from conservative Christians (News, 8 February).
The briefing paper addresses some of the key concerns, which include calls for a debate on the ethics of gender transition, and the argument that gender transition is a “fad”, or “disrupts” gender roles, or “what it is” to be male and female.
Citing the position of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Psychological Society, the briefing states: “The scientific consensus regards gender variant identities and behaviour as naturally expected variations of the human condition arising very early in development.
“Differentiations in the foetal brain lead to the creation of gender identities that are indelible from the moment of birth. These cannot be changed either by the individual concerned or by the predations or recruitment of others in subsequent life.”
It also defends the theological basis of the guidance: “[It] rests on the theological foundations that all are made in the image of God and of our redemption through our Lord Jesus Christ. . .
“As long ago as 2003, the Church of England’s House of Bishops agreed that Christians could validly accept transgender people’s identity, and in the intervening years some trans people have married in church or been ordained as priests. Individuals may wish to familiarise themselves with recent theological work in this subject area, but that does not mean that the Guidance is premature.
“On the contrary, the Guidance has sent a positive message to an often marginalised and misunderstood group within society.”
The Synod has been meeting in London since Wednesday morning; 30 of the member-questions that were raised on Wednesday evening focused on transgender issues.
The House of Bishops decided earlier this year that special liturgical provision on gender transition was not needed, after the General Synod requested that it consider the matter — resulting in the recent guidance (News, 26 January).