Bishops display ‘an appalling lack of leadership’

26 January 2018

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern and Member of General Synod responds to the House of Bishops’ statement on ‘Welcoming Transgender People’.

Earlier this week, the House of Bishops announced that they would not prepare liturgy to mark a person’s ‘gender transition’ for the Church of England. The bishops claimed that an existing service could be adapted to serve this purpose and announced that they would prepare guidance on how to do so.

The bishops have since released an update on ‘Welcoming Transgender People’. Far from kicking the issue into the long grass, the statement makes it clearer than ever that the Church of England has fully capitulated to the transgender ideology sweeping through our society.

The bishops emphasise point 3 of their statement by putting the following statement in bold:

“The House of Bishops welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the Church, the body of Christ, and rejoices in the diversity of that one body, into which all Christians have been baptized by one Spirit.”

Previous statements on sexuality and transgenderism have been notable for their lack of clarity – able, at a push, to be interpreted and hidden behind by all sides of the Church. But in this case, the bishops have made their position abundantly clear – that trans people, in their view, should be treated as belonging to their self-declared gender and not according to their biological sex at birth.

It is frankly staggering to read that pro-LGBT activists in the Church are disappointed by the bishops’ position.

I cannot imagine how much more clearly the bishops could have communicated that the Church is entirely at ease with uncritically accepting someone’s self-declared gender. Let me address the wording in more detail:

“The House of Bishops welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people”

Affirmation of what about trans people? The bishops aren’t explicit on the point. Are they encouraging the affirmation of trans people as human beings, with inherent dignity? No one is denying that, and if that were the only point under debate, there would be no need for controversy and division. But that is not all they are saying.

“equally with all people, within the Church, the body of Christ…into which all Christians have been baptized by one Spirit.”

The meaning becomes clearer here, as the bishops clearly have in mind the affirmation of trans people as full members of the church who are in good standing. The statement means that someone who is presenting themselves as the opposite gender to their sex at birth is in no way hindered by that in their fellowship with Christ and his body, the Church. They are to be affirmed as whatever they claim to be – their gender expression accepted and their preferred pronouns used.

“rejoices in the diversity…”

Not only is the person’s new gender identity to be accepted – it is to be rejoiced in. The bishops picture the presence of a trans person (in their assumed gender identity) within the Church as if Galatians 3:28 is a list to which we can add any categories we choose. Not just ‘Jew or Greek’, ‘slave or free’, ‘male or female’ – none of which are self-chosen identities – but ‘trans or cis’. I can only imagine what extra categories could be added to the Apostle Paul’s list in the near future.

This is not a matter of welcoming people from any and every possible background into our church services. That is essential to our mission. It is the question of how the Church relates to them once they have identified themselves as followers of Christ.

Will members of the congregation be expected to fall in line, even if they cannot do so in good conscience? What are the implications for when those people are called to exchange the peace? The position expressed by the bishops opens up a can of worms while providing no pastoral guidance or theological reflection to equip the Church to deal with them.

If the experience of trans people is a result of fallen nature (like any psychological condition may be) there are two possible responses: fight it or embrace it. The latter response is to deny reality, to compel others to join in the fiction and to rob transgender people of the opportunity to see the transforming power of Christ in their lives – as many ex-transgender Christians have testified to. If, on the other hand, the experience of trans people is a positive good, we have to ask why this information is completely missing from the Bible, and all the closest comparisons forbidden.

Point 4 in the bishops’ update also contains an emphasised passage, which refers to gender transition as a “moment of personal renewal”. Gender transition is actually a moment of personal rebellion against the way the person has been made by God. It is therefore a moment of personal rebellion against God. This should not be celebrated or marked by the church at all, let alone described as a “moment of personal renewal.”

This all springs from the assumption made at the beginning of point 4 – that someone who has undergone a gender transition actually has a new identity. Although the background note from the Secretary General on the original synod motion noted the differences within the Church on this point, the Bishops’ update uncritically accepts the reality of the trans person’s new identity.

In short, it is no longer possible to invent readings of the bishops’ position that support the orthodox position. At the very least it would take mental gymnastics to come up with a convoluted interpretation of these words that would make them compatible with any kind of scepticism about transgender ideology.

This isn’t via media between liberals and conservatives. It isn’t a fudge. It’s capitulation.

Biblically-faithful Christians should not try to read the bishops’ update as an orthodox statement. That would be to miss what these words actually communicate to those who read it – particularly those outside the Church.

But even if you could explain away the passages I’ve quoted, in practice, the House of Bishops is encouraging clergy to affirm not only the inherent dignity of transgender people as humans made in God’s image – this is unquestionable – but to affirm their self-asserted gender identity through Church of England worship services.

This alone would be neglecting the role of bishops to teach and uphold sound doctrine. Orthopraxy and orthodoxy are interconnected – what we do affects the way we think, believe and worship.

As an example, the Reverend Dr Christina Beardsley, a ‘transgender woman’, is reported as being in support of prayers referring to God as both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Not only is this completely ignoring God’s self-revelation of Himself in scripture – and most importantly in the person of Jesus Christ – but it is also ‘misgendering’ God. It seems that according to transgender advocates, ‘misgendering’ is only an offence to a person’s dignity when they are made in the image of God, and not when they actually are God. In reality, it is blasphemy.

I call upon the bishops to reconsider and revise their statement to uphold the truth of the gospel and properly to fulfil their role as guardians of the faith in our nation.

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