Church of England faces backlash over services for trans people The Times 26.01.19

The original article is here.

The Church of England is facing a backlash from more than 1,600 senior clergy, parish priests and church wardens against its plans for baptismal services for people to mark their gender transition.

They have signed an open letter urging the House of Bishops to “revise, postpone or withdraw” guidance for the new liturgy that they say is “well intentioned” but “lacks… serious theological analysis”.

The scale of the backlash was described as “unprecedented” by the Rev Ian Paul, a member of the Archbishops’ Council. The letter was made public prematurely, and the number of signatories is likely to rise significantly ahead of its intended release date at the start of General Synod, which begins on February 20. Paul said: “They include parish priests, area deans, church wardens. This is the voice of the Anglican core.”

The letter insists that the signatories welcome everyone and that “gender dysphoria is an emotionally painful experience that requires understanding, support and compassion”. But it goes on to say: “We do not believe that the guidance is the right way to do this, since it raises some significant issues for the church’s belief and practice.

“The many ordinary parents and teachers who now express concern about these new theories do not wish to cause harm to the tiny number of children afflicted by gender dysphoria; but neither do they want to harm the potentially larger numbers of children by prematurely imposing untried and untested ideas on young children. Given the many instances in the history of medicine where under-researched interventions, introduced prematurely, have caused more harm than good, our guiding principle should be ‘first do no harm’.”

They maintain that the House of Bishops has gone back on its assurance that no new liturgy would be offered by creating the title “gender transition services”, and using holy oil and water. The letter states that reaffirmation of baptismal vows should be focused on celebrating new life in Christ rather than new [personal] circumstances.

The signatories are also concerned at the inclusion of new biblical readings with the suggestion that “the changes of name for biblical characters in the light of God’s salvific action and intervention offer a legitimate parallel to the change of name associated with gender transition”.

They criticise the House of Bishops for rejecting “physical differentiation between male and female” without theological justification and fails to consider “the enormous and often traumatic impact of gender transition by an individual on immediate friends and family, including spouse and children”. The bishops are also accused of failing to acknowledge that the notion of gender transition is “highly contested in wider society”.

Among the signatories are Graham Dow, an assistant Bishop of Chester, Edward Dowler, Archdeacon of Hastings and Adrian Youings, the Archdeacon of Bath.

Last month the Sunday Times disclosed that 10 serving Church of England bishops had urged it to rethink its plans for baptismal services and that a boycott was under way from priests who refuse to go along with the “misuse” of baptismal services that they say should be about affirming faith and not gender identity.

The House of Bishops issued pastoral guidance for the new services in December. It allows the use of baptismal water and consecrated oil in a “celebratory” occasion in which the minister can name the transgender person for the first time by their chosen name.

The Church of England said in a statement: “The bishops will give the letter their serious consideration, especially in the context of the preparation of a major new set of teaching and learning resources on identity, relationships, marriage and sexuality, ‘Living in Love and Faith’, which will be published next year.

“Transgender matters will be covered in those resources and the pastoral guidance does not pre-empt the work of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ process. The guidance is not a restatement or a new statement on matters relating to gender, nor does it change the Church of England’s teaching.”

@nicholashellen