Church of England Considers Official Ceremony to Commemorate Transgender Transitions
On Sunday, the General Synod of the Church of England overwhelmingly passed a resolution asking the bishops to draft a ceremony for affirming a gender transition. The author of a new book on Christianity and transgenderism condemned this move as a rejection of biblical teaching on sexuality, a surrender to idolatry, and a shameful act bringing "great disrepute" on the Church of England.
The resolution declared that "this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person's gender transition."
The resolution passed by a vote of 284 to 78, with 26 abstaining. "I hope that we can make a powerful statement to say that we believe that trans people are cherished and loved by God, who created them, and is present through all the twists and turns of their lives," Chris Newlands, the man who proposed the motion, said, according to Britain's The Guardian newspaper.
Those unfamiliar with "high church" or "liturgical" traditions like the Roman Catholic or the Church of England might not understand just how monumental this is. The synod didn't just vote to have one service for transgender people — they voted to create a set service of prayers and worship focused around transgender identity, for churches to use as frequently as members might change their gender identity.
This vote extended the imprimatur of the Church of England on transgenderism, setting up a service not quite as important as baptism or communion, but a stunning move nonetheless. It is also important to note that this decision only applies to the Anglican Church in England, not the global Anglican church, which is a separate entity.
Newlands told the synod a story about the son of two members of a big evangelical church, whom he called Nathan. At age five, Nathan "transitioned" to become Natalie, and returned to school "much happier .. and with very little fuss from staff, pupils and parents."
Newlands said he hoped the debate "will help to inform the church, and many other churches, of the challenges children with gender dysphoria face." He cited data from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which reported that while 97 children in Britain were referred to gender identity clinics in 2010, that number rose to 1,400 by 2016. He condemned hate crimes against transgender people, and emphasized the need to show Christian love to them.
But Newlands' approach isn't the only Christian position, and many would argue the exact opposite, while still encouraging a loving response. The Guardian reported that this alternate position was not expressed in the debate.
"I wholeheartedly disagree with their position," Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and author of God and the Transgender Debate, told PJ Media.
"The Church of England is bringing great disrepute on itself in using the name of Christ and the scriptures to justify a worldview and philosophy of humanity that is at odds with the Bible," Walker added.
The ERLC director argued that "the Bible defines male and female," and God's image "is mediated through the design of the body," in that man and woman must come together to have children. "In Genesis, there's an objective category of male and female. Creation does not impose these categories on itself."
"The transgender movement is fundamentally incompatible with biblical Christianity because it is a casting off of the biological categories of male and female," he added. Transgenderism "nullifies the very concept of there being objective maleness and femaleness, objective fatherliness and motherliness."
Walker actually connected the transgender movement to idolatry. For this movement, "all that matters is my freedom and my choice and my own self-definition." As a result, "We have put ourselves at the center of the universe. We're building an altar to the non-God, man. We're dethroning God from his role as an objective creator."
The ERLC director explained that a Christian's fundamental identity is in Christ, not in gender. "I don't define myself as a heterosexual, I define myself fundamentally as a man made in the image of God."
"The Church of England is forsaking the scriptures, teaching a false view of humanity and human flourishing, and they're using the pretext of secularism as a cheap marker of identity over true Christian identity," Walker concluded.
Despite his emphatic denial of transgender identity, the ERLC director insisted that Christians should understand the condition of gender dysphoria (the sense of being born in the wrong body) and reach out in love to those struggling with it.
"Gender dysphoria is rooted in the disruption of creation that we see in Romans 8," he explained. It is not a sin to have feelings of gender dysphoria, and Christians should be aware of their own sins and need to be forgiven by God.
"Everyone is equal at the foot of the cross," Walker insisted. "We don't have to treat those with sins other than ourselves as freaks or perverts or more egregious sinners than you or I."
The ERLC director called on Christians to love transgender people. The church should say, "We're going to love you if you're not a Christian, and if you're a Christian struggling with gender dysphoria, you're going to find a community who will be with you for the long haul and treat you as family."
Walker agreed with Newlands in condemning "any violence" against and any rejection of these people. "We ought to be the people that are cultivating love and patience, speaking against actions in culture that belittle or do violence."
For transgender people, just as for Christians suffering with long-term physical ailments or persistent sins for which they constantly repent, the ultimate hope is in heaven and in the resurrection of the body. "Christ in His kingdom is our ultimate hope," Walker concluded.
It is tragic that this perspective did not see the air of day before the synod's vote. But this may also reflect the Church of England's shift toward a more secular worldview. On Saturday, the synod decisively voted for a motion condemning homosexual conversion therapy.
Walker condemned the Church of England's "lack of courage and the zealous accommodation they tend to use when it comes to appeasing the cultural ethos of the West."
In light of the British authorities' full-throated endorsement of the London Pride parade last weekend, perhaps this vote should come as no surprise. But that does not make it any less remarkable, or lamentable to biblical Christians.