Andrea Williams comments on the Church of England’s response to the government consultation on changing the Gender Recognition Act and calls the church to hear God’s cry to publicly repent.
I remember very well, back in July 2017, feeling sick to my stomach as General Synod voted to ask the bishops to prepare a transgender liturgy. In fact, I left synod after that debate, lamenting the Church of England’s submission to the ways of the world. It seems the church has given up on pointing to the truth and beauty of what it really means to be made in God’s image.
And the Church of England remains unrepentant. That much is made clear in its response to the government consultation on transgender. Of course, given the events of last year, their answer doesn’t come as a surprise – a disappointment, certainly, but sadly not a surprise.
Reading through the response, I could be forgiven for thinking that the Church of England had simply drafted out an inclusion policy for LGBT people, as so many organisations and institutions seem to be doing these days. And given the Church of England’s propensity to take advice from Stonewall, a pro-LGBT pressure group, it is almost to be expected that this ‘inclusion policy’ looks to be drafted out by them. It certainly doesn’t read as a response to the consultation, let alone a biblical response; in fact, it is vague, indifferent and short, and lacks any reference to the word of God.
Their ‘reason’ for answering the consultation like this is supposedly that the church is currently “engaged in a major exercise of addressing its own pastoral practice among LGBTI+ people (including transgender people) and is conducting an extensive study to enable the church and its members to understand better, and reflect theologically upon, questions of gender, sex and sexuality (This project is entitled: Living in Love and Faith)”. Therefore, responding to the exact questions of the consultation “will inevitably mean pre-empting some of our discussions unhelpfully”.
This alone is worrying for two reasons
First, the vagueness and indifference of the Church of England’s response will no doubt be picked up and used by the government. The church’s seeming lack of objection to changing the Gender Recognition Act will mean that the government can now say – within reason – that it has the backing of the Church of England to carry out the wishes of the transgender lobby. This is disastrous. Not least because there are countless members of the Church of England who would not support the government’s changing the Gender Recognition Act. But it also signifies a huge missed opportunity for the Church of England to speak truth to the government, to get back into the business of changing hearts and making the gospel known to this nation. Instead, the Church of England decided to abandon the truth and sit on the fence, making the path clear for the transgender lobby to have their way with the people in power.
Second, the very fact that the Church of England wants to conduct “an extensive study” into the theology of transgender is ludicrous. If the Church of England doesn’t know what the Bible says about sex and gender, then we have a bigger problem. The response reads, “… given the way understandings of gender are changing rapidly, the church still has much to learn”. While it is true that the world’s ‘understanding’ of gender and sexuality seem to be changing and stepping away from truth, the Church of England’s response seems to forget that God is unchanging, His word is unchanging, and our identity in Him cannot be shaken.
Their response very closely mirrors the lack of direction the church had during the same sex ‘marriage’ debate in 2013. Back then, the bishops failed to speak out on the beauty of marriage, again hiding behind a ‘major piece of work’ and ‘questions that needed answering’. The church fails to see that any and all questions have already been answered in the Bible. This is hugely dangerous, as it means that anyone who upholds a biblical viewpoint will be labelled as bigoted, homophobic, transphobic, and the rest.
God has always been clear about gender and sexuality. Genesis 1:27 says,
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
This couldn’t be clearer. We were created in God’s image as male and female. Our true identity is in Him.
What’s more, is that the gospel brings a message of hope and transformation. Not only are we created in His image, in Him we are transformed and changed even more into His likeness. God doesn’t leave us where we are, He makes us more like Him. God wants to free people to be the person they were created to be, bringing their gender in line with their biological sex and ridding them of their confusion.
The Church of England should, of course, already know this. As Christians, we do not surrender to the ways of the world; Jesus meets us where we are, but He does not leave us there. The gospel brings a message of hope and healing. For the Church of England to lack clarity on this is not gracious and is not good. To be seen as endorsing the government’s lies is not only to miss the message of the gospel, it is also to miss out on showing the compassion of the gospel to whole audience. We sell the gospel short when we don’t call sin ‘sin’, and we act callously when we leave people where they are and encourage them to keep sinning!
In Romans 6:1-2, Paul writes:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Transgender ideology has no place in the Church, and the Church of England would do well to recognise that.
My final problem with the Church of England’s response comes in this paragraph:
“In July 2017 the General Synod of the Church of England voted unequivocally to both welcome and affirm transgender people and that is the basis for our pastoral practice. Trans people with gender recognition are already able to marry in our churches. Being transgender does not prevent someone offering themselves for ordained ministry and we have transgender clergy as well as laity.”
Having been present at General Synod in July 2017 and witness to this vote, I can say wholeheartedly that it did not go undisputed. In fact, Dr Nick Land (York) proposed a motion raising the pastoral and theological implications of a transgender liturgy, despite it then failing.
The real issue that I take heart with is the word “affirm”. Of course we welcome any and all people into the Church, and we long to see more people come to Jesus. And we ‘affirm’ people’s identity in Christ, we affirm their transformation in the gospel. But it appears that the Church has gone beyond that and is now ‘affirming’ transgender ideology, suggesting that ‘transitioning’ gender is real – that a man can become a woman, and a woman become a man.
Genesis 1:27 has already shown this to be theologically impossible – “He created them male and female” – we are either one sex or the other, and the decision over which one is not ours, given that He creates us.
Not only this, but now the church appears to be endorsing marriage for transgender people (not to mention serving in ministry as well) – all without the theological discussion that should accommodate such a decision. Because if you can’t theologically change gender, then the church is endorsing same-sex ‘marriage’ – which is categorically against Canon Law.
It appears to me that the mission of the Church of England to the nation – the mission to preach the gospel and speak the truth of Jesus Christ – has become irreparably damaged. The Church of England seems not to understand the gospel anymore. Affirming people in the truth of the gospel does not mean affirming their sin or fallen identities outside of Christ – in fact, we are to flee from anything that does not please God. Rather, affirming people in the truth of the gospel means calling them to repentance and relationship with Him. Because it is through that relationship that we find freedom, restoration, healing, forgiveness and hope.
The Church of England has the esteemed privilege of being prophet and priest to the nation’s monarch. As such, it needs to turn back to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ; it needs to start welcoming people into Church and compassionately showing them the love of Jesus. Thankfully we have a merciful and gracious God, but I truly believe he calls the Church of England to public repentance and reformation. I pray that the church would hear his cry.
But to do that, the Church of England needs to stop fearing man and start fearing God.