Thinking Anglicans

Bishops meet those who oppose their transgender guidance

Regular readers will recall the petition that was raised urging the bishops to “revise, postpone or withdraw” this guidance. Our previous report is here: Further opposition to the bishops’ guidance on transgender services.

Christian Today now reports: Evangelicals hold talks with Church of England bishops over transgender guidance. The organisers of that letter met with a number of bishops. Subsequently, they have issued a statement, the full text of which is included here: The Church of England’s transgender guidance should be withdrawn  and is copied below the fold.

Update: the headline on the first of those two articles has been amended to read “Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics hold talks…”

The delegation attending the meeting consisted of: Dr Ian Paul, Dr Edward Dowler, Rev Rachel Marszalek, Rev David Baker. The bishops were the bishops of Coventry, Newcastle, and Exeter.

This is their response to the meeting in full:

This was a meeting in a positive atmosphere which combined goodwill from both sides, a cordial spirit, and yet at the same time provided space for a robust, direct and frank sharing of views. It was good that the meeting began and ended with a time of prayer. We are very grateful for the Bishops’ time and felt we left with a good spirit and understanding between us all.

The group was encouraged that the bishops agreed that the press release that accompanied the guidance had been unhelpful, and that they have undertaken to remove it from the Church of England website.

Questions were raised about the procedures that had been followed in the production of the guidance, and it was illuminating to hear of some of the complexities involved, as well as to gain a clear understanding that things could have been done differently. Nevertheless, there remain questions about proper procedure that we would like to be pursued.

The delegation expressed concern that some responses to the open letter had been highly emotive in tone, and had failed to engage with the points that had actually been made. We were further concerned that parish churches served by both ordained and lay signatories of the open letter had subsequently been collated and listed as ones that ‘trans people and parents of trans children might want to think twice about attending’. We were glad that the bishops shared our concern for respectful public dialogue.

It was acknowledged that part of the problem with the guidance had been a presentation issue, but the meeting provided an opportunity to explore some of the problematic wording of the guidance itself. In various places the guidance appears to be ambiguous, and capable of being understood in a way that its authors may not have intended. We expressed our concern that this may have been the result of the rushed process and inadequate theological reflection.

There was agreement that a particularly pressing set of questions, both nationally and within the Church, surround the issue of assisting or encouraging children to undergo gender identity transition. We appreciated the clarification that had been given after the initial report was published, as well as the bishops’ further assurances at this meeting, that the provisions of the guidance, even in adapted form, were totally inappropriate for those under the age of eighteen.

All of those present agreed that there was much more work to be done in relation to unexplored theological and pastoral ramifications of the guidance. Particular areas of concern are its implications for children who are confused about their gender (as already noted), its understanding of sacramental theology, and its apparent lack of regard for the situation of family members of people experiencing gender dysphoria. The guidance raises but does not resolve some important questions about the nature and status of marriage itself, in particular in situations when one partner changes their gender identity and remains married to their spouse.

We hope that such work will be done in the light of Scripture and the tradition of the Church, illuminated, of course, by contemporary therapeutic and medical insights. We remain concerned, however, about what seems to us to be ill-considered use of the Bible in the guidance, as well as the apparent influence upon it of highly contested gender ideology

In the light of our concerns, we continue to believe that the guidance should be withdrawn, until such time as the Living in Love and Faith project is able to offer more considered reflection upon these crucial issues. We understand that the bishops will convey this and other views shared in the meeting to the House of Bishops at the earliest opportunity.

We were delighted to be invited to participate further in the Living in Love and Faith project and trust that this will take concrete shape in the coming weeks. Whilst we appreciate the bishops’ careful consideration of the points we have made, we also hope for action which reflects what we believe to be their gravity and seriousness, and the goodwill with which we offer them to the wider church. We remain concerned about the Church of England’s systemic ability to resist the very strong cultural and ideological pressures in this area of thought.

All participants in the discussion were agreed on the importance of welcoming transgender people to our churches. The gospel invitation to repent and believe the good news of Jesus is something for all people everywhere without exception. We would also all be delighted to assist all people to reaffirm their baptismal vows as an expression of their identity in Christ and their desire to live wholly for him. We are all sinners at the foot of the cross together; we all need and delight in the grace and unconditional love of God which we know we do not merit. We pray that through our flawed and fallible endeavours, and through our inevitably partial perspectives, God may be truly glorified.

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Fr Andrew
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Fr Andrew

So… Group of heterosexual cis-gender people meet other heterosexual cis-gender people to discuss trans people: that sounds right doesn’t it?

All the usual tropes as well ‘think about the children’, ‘we’re all sinners’ ‘everybody is welcome’. I struggle to find words worthy of the contempt this is due.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Contempt might be too mild a word. Odious is my suggestion.

Interestingly they don’t articulate any concrete theological objections. Their concern seems to be that this might normalise gender transition – those remarks about the impact on children are telling – and reduce the stigmatisation of gender transition.

joanne mcgrace
Guest
joanne mcgrace

Well said Fr Andrew.
My transdaughter has been told she is welcome in our previous church, that we’re all sinners saved by grace. But they’re definitely superior and harsh, they won’t even call her by her new name and they’ve excommunicated me for supporting her!

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

I don’t have a gender ideology. I just have a gender.

Ann Reddecliffe
Guest

Following the third link on this article, to the full text of the response, shows that there are 3 more paragraphs than listed above. Should these be added to the text above? The paragraphs are: In the light of our concerns, we continue to believe that the guidance should be withdrawn, until such time as the Living in Love and Faith project is able to offer more considered reflection upon these crucial issues. We understand that the bishops will convey this and other views shared in the meeting to the House of Bishops at the earliest opportunity. We were delighted… Read more »

Iain Baxter
Guest
Iain Baxter

Again, the smallest advocacy of some freedom of movement pastorally is opposed by those who know best about how all the church must operate. Nobody was being forced to do anything, but the guidance was still “inappropriate” especially for those “under 18” who may be the ones who need it most.

Of course, this is a spinned report of the meeting from one side.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

What seems to have been missed in the Church’s reflections on matters of gender and sexuality, is the fact that Christ died for ALL humanity, not only the patriarchal male of the species. “God made them male and female” – some more male or female than others, as well as eunuchs. The Lord’s instruction in all cases? – “Love one another as I have loved you”.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

That’s tilting at a windmill, Ron. Every evangelical I know (and I know a lot of them) believes firmly that Christ died for all of humanity, not just the patriarchal male of the species. And while Jesus gave us a great commandment, he apparently resisted the temptation to spell out for us exactly how to apply it.

I could give you a long list of the weaknesses of the traditional evangelical (and Anglo-Catholic) responses to LGBTQ folks. But these two aren’t on that list.

Cassandra
Guest
Cassandra

Any ideas whether the bishops’ side of the meeting will make a statement?

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

I suppose that now even evangelicals have the self-awareness to realise that spittle-flecked hatred of gay people is no longer the crowd-pleaser it once was, they need to find another marginalised, vulnerable group to hate in order to make themselves feel strong. Sartre said that the appeal of anti-Semitism was that it meant that even a nobody could feel like a member of the elite (ie, not a Jew); white cis straight evangelical bishops presumably now feel the same. You would have thought that christian organisations would have looked across the water and thought, “you know what? being seen as… Read more »

Andrew Lightbown
Guest

‘We were further concerned that parish churches served by both ordained and lay signatories of the open letter had subsequently been collated and listed as ones that ‘trans people and parents of trans children might want to think twice about attending’. We were glad that the bishops shared our concern for respectful public dialogue. But surely any such concerns may be entirely legitimate? Churches should be upfront and transparent about their stances and pastoral practices, so that potential and actual congregants can make informed choices. We get people joining us because we are members of Inclusive Church, whilst others who… Read more »

FrDavidH
Guest
FrDavidH

I am fearful for the mental health of evangelicals who are totally obsessed with sex. Perhaps the bishops would meet me to discuss this. Although I’m not medically qualified, this doesn’t preclude bishops and bible-believers discussing matters about which they know nothing.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Only evangelicals?

Nick
Guest
Nick

I’m a regular reader of this website, and it – rather boringly – also seems pretty obsessed by sex.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

The sense of entitlement is very strong.
Meanwhile, where is the headline, “LGBT people hold talks with bishops about same-sex marriage”?

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

There’s a wonderful and tangentially relevant article on the (Irish) Association of Catholic Priests website – a marvellous organization – concerning institutional constipation. https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2019/05/when-the-sky-didnt-fall-in-on-the-catholic-church/ Trouble is, intestinal stasis is not always amenable to laxatives (as seems to be the case in the CoE) so the condition of complete and persistent blockage eventually results in something like the “wafer thin mint” scenario from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”. And there are so many examples at present: this issue, treatment of victims/survivors, ministers who refuse to baptize children, ministers who maintain that they alone have a hotline to the Divine will… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

All petitions express a mix of outright disagreement, anxiety, confusion and a genuine need for more information. Any group is entitled to ask to meet Bishops to seek clarification or express concerns on current issues. There is more than one viewpoint among evangelicals. This discussion is about identity not sex. I actually think it is progress that these conservatives have engaged directly in this way. Respect to the three bishops for taking time to meet with them. The absence of any trans-person in the room is very poor process on all sides. It contradicts the principle these conservatives asserted in… Read more »

Bernard Randall
Guest
Bernard Randall

So “cis-gender” people shouldn’t talk about trans people. And which people decided to use the term “cis-gender.” Which “cis-gender” people were asked? I wasn’t. It’s offensive. Please don’t talk about people in terms to which they haven’t agreed. I don’t have a gender ideology. I just have a sex. And here, I take it is the point of the original petition: we all have a “gender ideology;” the Church has not done the theological work required to find any kind of settled consensus, or even to agree the terms on which to talk; this service and the guidance with it… Read more »

Philippa Whittaker
Guest
Philippa Whittaker

I am a trans Anglican. We are all sinners – but the implication that trans* people should repent of how God has made them is wrong.

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

I have a confession. I signed the letter. I regret having done so, on the whole. The reason I signed is that I worried, still do, that the bishops’ laudable sentiments could be interpreted as tacit approval of genital mutilation. In adults, whatever floats your boat. But in children? Ye Gods, no. This is a matter of concern in some communities. Either there is much work to be done, or there is none and all restraints are off. I have done penance, but I remain uneasy. I dare say that this pits me against 99.99% of TA readers, but I… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

Stanley, I have deepest respect for your openness and honesty. And for your concern. It is absolutely right that we should be careful and protective towards our young people. Of course, care and protection work both ways. No, young people should not undergo genital surgery when they are still children. But equally, where children have profound gender dysphoria, and are in harmful psychological distress, then I believe we should care for them in their deep discomfort as well. I think you would agree. The policy in the UK is to delay gender surgery until a young adult is 18. So… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Susannah, Savi, thank you. I knew roughly what the law said. My concern was/is not about FACT but about PERCEPTION. A superficial and hurried reading by, say, members of other faith groups (relevant to this town) might, erroneously, lead to their thinking that CoE was soft on genital mutilation. I’m not perfect and I make decisions I regret, as in this case, but nevertheless I hope my heart is in the right place for all involved. I’m on public record as saying that whenever there is a conflict between biology and theology, the theology needs to be changed or ditched.… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

I think the letter managed to create a fair deal of confusion, to which the delegation’s account (and bishops’ failure to rebut this) has contributed. It was made clear that the guidance covers transgender adults (https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/statement-pastoral-guidance-use-conjunction-affirmation-baptismal-faith). Also in the UK, gender confirmation surgery is not provided to children – public policy is to help young people explore their feelings and alternative possibilities while professionals keep an open mind. Even in adults, the NHS will generally go to some lengths to check that the pros and cons of any medical intervention have been carefully considered. What is more, no priest is… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

Thank you Savi – as usual, the voice of sanity, facts, and reason.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

When the Church talks about welcoming young families do we have the same emphasis on how we are all sinners at the foot of the Cross?

If not then the language is judgementalism dressed up as compassion with the thinnest veneer of inclusivity. The subtext of which is that by recognising that we are sinners we get to call you Sinners. Though of course your sin is not one that we are prone to. Therefore you are still 2nd class citizens and your welcome is on our terms.

Christopher
Guest
Christopher

When did Edward Dowler become an “evangelical”. He trained at Westcott, served in distinctly non-evangelical parishes and was then on the staff of St.Stephen’s House???

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

I’m afraid I find Ian Paul’s initiative potentially damaging and feel it is driven by ideological hostility to any opening of doctrine towards affirming transition as potentially God-blessed. We see a similar outlook in conservative Anglicans who seek to impose a single position on human sexual orientation and a drive for uniformity imposed on what is actually a Church of many and diverse conscientious beliefs on these matters. What the Oxford bishops did was offer guidance, not to impose a uniformity, but to pastorally guide and support those churches that believed trans people should be affirmed along their transition journey… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

My plea would be for signatories of Ian’s letter, and this delegation to the Bishops, to listen harder to the actual views and experiences of the majority of trans people, and whether they would find a service of affirmation helpful at the commencement of transition. Starting transition is an incredibly vulnerable time for a trans person. They face abuse on the street. They are still racked by the dysphoria arising from incongruent genitalia (and will probably have to live in that no-man’s land for 3 years prior to surgery). They face rejection from family and ‘ghosting’ by friends. They also… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

At the point of isolation and public hostility and many interfaces of loss and stigma, it would have been HUGE for my church to have affirmed me, and promised to journey with me through transition, and accept my gender, my name, my integrity. Or, if there were other family members impacted at a local church (and that is a proper pastoral consideration), to have found another church that would do that. I almost lost my life. My transition was 10 years ago. I hardly need to think about it now. I am just living my ordinary life, my more productive… Read more »