Update below: An evangelical response.
On Wednesday, bishops the Church of England released official guidance for churches to celebrate transgender identity with pseudo-baptismal services. This guidance, which officially became part of the church’s library of services, directly violates the biblical understanding of humanity and will drive more Christians away from the church.
“The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ,” the guidance declares. If a transgender person wishes to join the church, he or she should be baptized, and if already baptized, then the bishops recommend the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith.
In such services, the guidance stresses that the transgender person be referred to by his or her chosen name and chosen pronouns. The bishops defended this by noting that “the giving or adoption of a new name has a long history in Judeo-Christian tradition as may be evidenced from Scripture,” and listed Old Testament readings involving new names (“Sarai” to “Sarah” in Genesis 17, “Jacob” to “Israel” in Genesis 32).
Importantly, the tradition of renaming never implied that someone changed their biological sex or their gender. This entire guidance is a departure from the Bible and Christian tradition.
“Those who push a line which seeks to separate gender from biology are falling into a dualist heresy,” Matthew Firth, pastor of the Anglican churches St. Cuthbert’s and Holy Trinity, told PJ Media on Friday. “Humanity is made male and female in the image of God, as stated in Gen 1:27. There is therefore a givenness to gender which is inseparable from biology.”
Firth insisted that people “who experience gender dysphoria are to be valued, honoured and cared for just like any other human person made in God’s image. But part of this care does involve the hard journey of helping those people to live with the grain of their given gender and biology and not against it.”
The pastor noted that people who undergo transgender surgery face the same high suicide rates as those who do not, and that many who “transition” later return to their birth sex.
“Such therapy and surgery is psychologically, emotionally, and ultimately spiritually damaging,” Firth said, calling the pastoral guidance “unacceptable.”
“By its unqualified affirmation of gender transition, and by its encouragement to celebrate transition in the context of baptismal reaffirmation, it flies in the face of the gospel of creation, fall and redeemed identity in Christ,” the pastor declared. “In short, the Guidance is unbiblical, theologically inept and pastorally damaging.”
Transgender identity requires a certain approach to the nature of humanity that rejects the Bible’s message, according to the Rev. Sam Ferguson, who will become rector of the Falls Church Anglican next year. He spoke on these issues at the Anglican Church of North America’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic Synod last month, Juicy Ecumenism’s Jeffrey Walton reported.
Transgender identity requires a view of humanity where the mind is split from the body and that mind is elevated over the limitations of matter. This anthropology arguably traces back to the Gnostic heresy of the Early Church. Ferguson argued that this view is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“If we can create a sense of human identity divorced from the body, Jesus never had to take on flesh and he sure didn’t have to suffer and die for your sins,” Ferguson explained. “This is not the first time that the church has had to deal with anthropology; it is just presenting itself in a new light.”
Ferguson emphasized that “none of us has stewarded our sexuality — our maleness or femaleness — perfectly” and “because of that, we don’t approach a topic like this as though we’ve got the moral high ground. We are all people who are in need of grace.”
Sympathizing with gender dysphoria, Ferguson argued that every person experiences dysphoria (the sense that their desired identity does not match their real body or identity) to some degree, but the hope offered by transgenderism is false and it competes with the Bible’s message.
“The hope offered by the transgender movement is well-meaning, and I affirm their desire to offer people with dysphoria hope. It’s simply not good enough for making human beings whole,” he said.
The process of gender dysphoria (a man or woman sensing a desire to identify as the opposite sex and even alter their body to match that sex), leading to transition and acceptance (satisfying a deep need) works as a kind of counterfeit gospel. In Christianity, sinful human beings find their deep need to be known and accepted by God fulfilled in repenting and believing the gospel that Jesus Christ died for their sins and rose to give them hope.
The Church of England bishops intended to welcome transgender people into the church, but they have really undermined the uniqueness and value of the Christian gospel, Walton, who serves as the Anglican program director at the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), told PJ Media on Friday. This can only cost the church members.
“People are drawn to church communities when they offer something society does not,” Walton reasoned. “The promise of life transformation — even amidst extraordinarily challenging struggles such as gender dysphoria — proves more appealing than indiscriminate affirmation and bland appeals to generic welcome.”
By embracing transgender identity, the Church of England has not just weakened the gospel message but provided little incentive for a transgender person to join the church. If the solution for gender dysphoria is transgender identity, people can find that outside the church doors.
“Unsurprisingly, this new guidance from Church of England bishops on welcoming transgender persons is prompted by activists who don’t represent thriving parts of the denomination,” Walton added. “This is just one more instance of Church of England officials attempting to pacify activists and delivering a muddled statement.”
Indeed, the Church of England has long yielded to popular pressure on homosexuality issues, embracing rainbow “pride” flags and elevating openly homosexual church leaders. Last year, priests and parishioners posted a protest document on the doors of 5 British cathedrals, urging the church to return to the traditional doctrines on sexuality.
“It is perhaps easier to say, ‘We affirm your choices’ than it is to say, ‘We will walk alongside you as you seek to be a faithful to Christ amidst hardship and uncertainty,'” Walton explained. But this is not what people in need of a savior need to hear. “We need clear teaching that changes of gender identity will not satisfy hurting people.”
Bible-believing Christians do not reject transgender identity from a sense of superiority, but from a gratitude in knowing that Jesus Christ has saved them and can save all people, especially those who suffer with gender dysphoria.
Promoting the alternative solution of transgender identity makes the gospel less valuable to gender dysphoric seekers, and the Church of England has already lost hundreds of thousands of worshippers in the last few decades.
Update: Church of England Evangelical Council responds.
Over the weekend, the Church of England’s Evangelical Council (CEEC) issued a rebuke to the pro-transgender guidance, but that rebuke did not go far enough, according to some.
The CEEC response praised the guidance for insisting that all people “find our true identity in Christ,” that churches should give “priority to the original and authentic baptism of the individual as the sacramental beginning of the Christian life,” that “the image of God, in which we are all made, transcends gender, race, and any other characteristic,” and that those who identify as transgender should be welcomed “equally with all people” in the body of Christ.
The CEEC attacked the guidance, however, for failing to include many different perspectives on the transgender issue. The evangelicals rightly attacked the idea that the church’s approach to transgender issues should be “celebratory.”
“Many Christians who accept the legitimacy of transition in certain circumstances would understand it in terms of painful necessity, a consequence of our fallen existence, and a form of pastoral accommodation and not as a cause of celebration,” the CEEC wrote.
“In addition, many Christians view gender transition as a rejection of God’s good purposes in creation and so something that is contrary to God’s will,” the evangelicals rightly noted. “It certainly should not be celebrated by the Church, particularly in the context of submitting to Christ as Lord. This is because human beings do not bear the image of God in an asexual manner.”
“The language of ‘celebratory’ in this context therefore signals a particular evaluation of gender transition,” the CEEC response noted. “This evaluation has never been theologically justified or previously stated by the Church of England and it is not shared by many faithful Anglicans.”
The CEEC also attacked the guidance for presenting “appropriate readings” from the Bible. “The use of Scripture is a major cause of concern, particularly given the lack otherwise of any theological explanation or rationale for such a liturgical recognition.” The specific use of “naming” passages “will be seen by many as a serious abuse of Scripture.”
While the CEEC response rightly critiqued the guidance, it did not reject the guidance entirely.
Conservative Anglicans saw it as inadequate.
“I welcome the CEEC response but regard it to be inadequate,” the Rev. James Paice, vicar of St. Luke’s Wimbledon Park and trustee of the Southwark Good Stewards Trust, told PJ Media in a statement. “The Guidance from the Bishops does not need revising, it needs revoking, and I am deeply disappointed that CEEC have not called for this.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.