Transforming Theology Conference

Transforming Theology Conference 16th November 2018

This excellent conference took place at Cambridge University, School of Divinity. It looked at some questions and experiences of theology in the lives of trans people.
The conference had been scheduled to be part of Transgender Awareness Week.
I apologise in advance if I make any mistakes in the use of pronouns or if I misdescribe anyone. All mistakes are unintentional.
Alex Clare-Young, one of the organisers of the conference, gave the first talk. Clare-Young, like many of the participants, was training for ministry, in the United Reform Church. This has not been an easy experience, partly because the church was not keen for him to talk about his experience of being a trans masculine person.
He explained the state of trans theology so far had been concerned with critical – apologetic – pastoral theology and what this meant. The next stage will be to take it through to anthropological – theological – practical by examining more deeply what it means to be trans in the context of the whole person.
He read a powerful poem by Lee Mokobe who is a South African slam poet. A TED Talk video of this is available to watch at:  TED Talk
The transcript of the poem taken from the talk can be found at:TED Talk transcript
The next speaker was Ph.d student Kenneth Wilkinson-Roberts who talked about the Church of England’s Regional Shared Conversations that they had taken part in. [For the record, I also took part in this].
A key feature of the Shared Regional Conversations was the idea of ‘good disagreement’. It was an exercise in trying to talk and understand others, but without trying to change people’s opinions. Wilkinson-Roberts showed that this was a direct opposite of Reconciliation. They described Lederech’s conflict transformation theory and the stages it takes as well as Butler’s ideas of performative theory.
In order for the current disagreements to be resolved, it will be necessary to allow for a process of mourning as people let go of long held beliefs and reconstruct their world view. However, the current good disagreement strategy tends to lead to people and communities solidifying their views instead of being willing to let them go. This is where peace theories can suggest ways forward to resolve the challenges and tensions which trans people experience.
In all of this it is necessary to recognise the effect of power dynamics and the challenge of partial recognition for trans people, which can lead to a culture of ignorability.
The next two speakers were both ordained clergy, one a curate in a village outside Cambridge and the other a curate in the Church of Wales.
Rev Diana Johnson spoke of her experiences in her curacy. In particular, the experience that the ecumenical partnership that had existed in the village had come to an end because the Baptist church in the village had not recognised her ordination.
She also spoke of the use of language, such as the use of the word ‘uncomfortable’, where different people can use the same word and mean different things. For some, it may be an expression of unfamiliarity and ignorance that can be addressed by education and dialogue. It could also be an expression of discrimination. Discernment of the difference was not always easy.
Rev Dylan Parry-Jones spoke of Liberation theology and Welshness. Being Welsh gave him an experience of reclaiming an identity that was an insult – ‘welsh’ was originally a Germanic word meaning ‘foreigner’, but which is now a proud identity. This is a similar way in which the word queer has been reclaimed. Reclaiming an identity like that can provide a way to be at the margins with integrity.
The keynote address was given by playwright Jo Clifford. Bad theology kills people was a powerful message. She talked of two of her plays, Gospel according to Jesus Queen of Heaven and God’s new frock and performed some extracts from these. This was theology that challenged people to see things in a new way and not accept conventional ideas. She made the point that ‘every time and culture has known us’.

An excellent conference. There was only one downside for me – the building. I had expected that Cambridge School of Divinity would be one of those magnificent old buildings, steeped in history. Instead it was a modern metal and glass place, it may be very comfortable and fit for purpose, but hardly historical.

Cambridge school of divinity


This is a bad news – good news story.

First, the bad news.  Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog called Erased Again in which I complained about the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith website.

Specifically, I complained about the Wider Participation page.  A significant number of individuals and churches had been nominated to talk to the LLF project and they had published the criteria used to select the ones who would be met face-to-face.  However there were significant gaps in the criteria.

Now the good news.  Their web page has been updated with new criteria and these are so much better.  Those of us who did not fit into any category, now have criteria that allow our voices to be heard.  Well done.

The new criteria can be found at wider participation

The updated webpage explicitly states that [the person asked to make the final selection] was asked to ensure the selection included as much diversity as possible in relation to sexuality, gender identity and relationship status.

There is more good news.  This change happened because there is a mechanism for people to contact those working on Living in Love and Faith.  Many people contacted them and said how the categories excluded them and those voices who would be missing from the process.  Dr Eeva John and her staff at LLF have listened to what we were saying and they have made changes that reflect that listening.  Dr John – thank you very much.  By the standards of the Church of England, this is a lightning fast response.

I have been impressed with the way that Dr John and her staff have been willing to engage with people on an individual basis.  It must have taken up a lot of time to answer so many e-mails personally.  This commitment by the LLF team gives me a lot more confidence in the process than I had before.  They are willing to listen to us and engage with what we have to say, that is something that we have never had before.  It is now up to us to engage in constructive dialogue to ensure that there is the best possible outcome for Living in Love and Faith in 2020.

To get in touch with the LLF team, go to their main webpage at Living in Love and Faith  and go to the bottom of the page for the Get in Touch section.

Erased again

The Church of England is engaged in a process to produce a new teaching document, called Living in Love and Faith (LLF). The strap line for this is Christian Teaching and Learning about Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage.  I really like that fact that there is a website for the LLF process, it is much more transparent and approachable than any of the previous Church of England reports have been. That is the good part.

As part of this process, there is a wider participation strand, where various organisations and bishops were asked to nominate individuals and churches for the LLF team to meet. There were a large number of churches and individuals nominated, so they have just published the criteria to choose which 20 churches and 40 individuals will take part. Unfortunately, after working on this project for over a year, I am disappointed in what has emerged. They really don’t get it.

The criteria have no bisexuals, bi erasure is one of the current hot topics in LGBTQI inclusion at the moment, bi visibility day has never been so prominent. One of the things that some of us were hoping for from the new teaching document was an in-depth theology of bisexuality and a joined-up pastoral approach.

There are no lesbians in the criteria, only the word ‘gay’. While some of us may use that word occasionally as a convenient shorthand to cover men and women, it is not appropriate in a document like this, where it comes across as another form of patriarchy. It would be more inclusive to say ‘gay or lesbian’ than ‘male / female gay’.

The criteria do not understand the reality of younger people in this country. There is no non-binary category and this is one of the identities that is growing rapidly among the younger generations of our society. In the same way, some would reject the term bisexual in favour of the identity pansexual, which gets beyond the gender binary. Why is there no mention of queer or fluid? Why are we being erased again?

The criteria take into account relationship status, but not in an equal way. Why is the word ‘married’ used for heterosexuals but not for homosexuals? Why is the word ‘celibate’ not used about single heterosexuals?

What is included in the criteria is ‘same-sex-attracted’. For those who have not come across SSA, it is based on a theology that homosexuals are ‘not God’s best’ and therefore the only way to live is to remain single and celibate. No loving relationships are allowed, only Spiritual Friendships. This is unbiblical. It is contrary to the Bible to require someone to be single for life and the Bible explains that celibacy is a gift that is only given to some. The Bible contains material showing that only those who had the gift of celibacy were to remain unmarried.

Why is there no requirement to include the experience of BAME Christians? More erasure.  The intersectional experience of those who are non-white and non-heterosexual needs to be part of the learning process.

The original criteria can be found here.

The individuals selected will need to include a balance across the following characteristics:
• Male | Female heterosexual
• Married | Single heterosexual
• Male | Female gay partnered
• Male | Female same sex attracted celibate
• Transgender Woman | Man
• Asexual
• Intersex
• Age
• Socioeconomic spectrum
• Clergy | Lay (with at least one third lay).

You can see the problems immediately. There is no parity between the criteria for heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals. Life is far more complicated than simply married / single / partnered. What about those who are divorced? Or widowed? Or separated? Or single parents? Or parents of LGBTQI+ children? Or same-sex married? All erased. Most of the people affected by this document will be lay, so will most of the experts, therefore the laity should be at least 50%. One of the problems with previous reports has been excess clericalism.

So, my suggestions for more representative criteria are:
• Male or female heterosexual, cohabiting / civil partnered / married
• Male or female heterosexual, single / separated / divorced / widowed / celibate
• Bisexual, Gay or lesbian, cohabiting / civil partnered / married
• Bisexual, Gay or lesbian, single / separated / divorced / widowed / celibate
• Trans woman or man or in the process of transitioning, cohabiting / civil partnered / married
• Trans woman or man or in the process of transitioning, single / separated / divorced / widowed / celibate
• Intersex
• Non-binary / asexual / pansexual / queer / +
• Same-sex-attracted

There should also be a balance across the following criteria:
• Ethnicity,
• Age
• Socioeconomic class (if known)
• Clergy / lay (with at least 50% being lay).

The LLF website can be found here.