Safeguarding, gay bishops and the Lambeth Conference.

Safeguarding is the thing that is very much on my mind at the moment. The other thing that is on my mind is the issue of gay bishops at the next Lambeth Conference. While I was fact-checking my previous blog Gay bishops, legal discrimination and the Lambeth Conference, available here, I was reminded of the exorcism incident at the 1998 Lambeth conference.

For those who are not familiar with that incident, Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma of Enugu, Nigeria attempted to exorcise the “homosexual demons” from the Reverend Richard Kirker, leader of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. [The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has now been renamed OneBodyOneFaith].  Kirker’s response to the attempted exorcism was “May God bless you, sir, and deliver you from your prejudice against homosexuality.” Information taken from the lgbtarchive.uk available here.

Further information can be found at the BBC archive here.

A full account of the exorcism incident can be found in chapter 8 of Stephen Bates’ book A Church at war: Anglicans and Homosexuality.

a church at war    Available to purchase here.

At the following Lambeth Conference in 2008, the only openly gay bishop – Gene Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire in the Episcopal church in the United States – was not invited to attend. He did visit the UK that year, he had a new book to promote called In the Eye of the Storm.

in the eye of the storm   Available to purchase here.

One of the things I found particularly moving in this book is the account that Gene Robinson and his partner Mark had to wear bulletproof vests for Robinson’s consecration as bishop because they had received death threats from other Christians.

There have been gay bishops at previous Lambeth Conferences, but they have not been open about their sexuality, but have remained in the closet. Much safer there, I am sure.

Rt Revd Mary Glasspool, is the second openly gay bishop, and so far the only lesbian bishop, in the Anglican communion. This means that for the first time, there will be openly gay bishops at the Lambeth Conference. Who is responsible for their safety? Who will make sure that they won’t be facing an exorcism on the way to breakfast or checking that they won’t have to sit through a call for repentance and giving up ‘their gay lifestyle’ at morning prayer or being told that ‘God hates them’ or they are ‘an abomination’ etc as they find a seat at a seminar?

Conferences in the UK usually start with a statement about safe space and respecting others. Will anyone make that expectation clear or will we have more of the usual ‘looking forward to some interesting debates’ anglobabble?  The bishops will be there at Justin Welby’s invitation, so he has a duty of care for them. How seriously will he take that responsibility when he has already shown himself willing to discriminate against the same bishops?

Nor should we forget that there is an openly gay bishop in the church of England. This was widely reported in 2016 when the bishop of Grantham came out in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.  This can be read here.

My memory of that was that he was in a civil partnership, but fact checking for this article, I could not find a reference that explicitly stated that. My memory may be incorrect on that point. The only references I found were similar to those in the Guardian that refer to a long term, and celibate, partner. Will the bishop of Grantham’s partner be invited to the Lambeth Conference or not? They are not married, so they do not fall foul of the Resolution I.10 ‘standard’ as outlined by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon here.

As a general question, would the civil partner of an English bishop be invited or not? It was December 2012 when the House of Bishops concluded that there was no impediment to those in a civil partnership being ordained bishop. This is set out in the updated, 2013, CHOOSING BISHOPS – THE EQUALITY ACT 2010 (REVISED) GS Misc 1044 , which can be accessed here. 

So far we are still waiting. By way of a contrast, it was decided in July 2014 that women could be ordained bishops and the first female bishop was appointed later the same year. After over six years, we are still waiting for someone in a civil partnership to be ordained bishop. There is still time before July 2020 for that to happen. Would their civil partner be invited or not?

The Lambeth Conference website does not have any information about safeguarding. It does not even state who has responsibility for safeguarding. It has a page where we can ‘meet the team’ but no way to contact them to ask.  I would like to raise safeguarding with the team putting the conference together. Knowing the history of the conference and the way that gay bishops have been treated in the past, safeguarding them needs to be on their agenda.

Gay bishops, legal discrimination and the Lambeth Conference.

There has been a lot of recent media coverage of the treatment of bishops who are in same sex marriages and the way that their spouses have not been invited to the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

mary glasspool
Rt Revd. Mary Glasspool, an assistant Bishop in the Episcopal diocese of New York, had this to say about the letter Archbishop Justin Welby sent to her to ‘outvite’ her spouse of 31 years, Becki Sander.

bishop kevin robertson
The Canadian suffragan bishop, Rt Revd Kevin Robertson who is the Area Bishop for York-Scarborough in the Diocese of Toronto is married to Mohan Sharma.
Bishop Kevin was interviewed by the Church Times. The interview is accessible here.

So far, two married bishops and two outvitations.

bishop thomas brown
However the Episcopal Church in the United States has very recently elected Revd Thomas Brown to be the next bishop of Maine. He is in a same sex marriage as well, being married to Revd Thomas Mousin. Assuming that his election is confirmed by the other Episcopal dioceses, he is due to be consecrated as a bishop in June this year. This will give the Anglican communion a third bishop in a same sex marriage. Should we assume that he will also be told that his husband will not be invited to the Lambeth Conference? A  report on the election can be read here.

Between now and the start of the Lambeth conference on July 22nd 2020, how many other bishops will be elected who have same-sex partners? What will the status of their partners be?

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon tried to explain in his blog that ‘I need to clarify a misunderstanding that has arisen. Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. But the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies.’ The full text of his blog can be accessed here.   The text of Resolution I.10 can be found here.

Dr Idowu-Fearon has made it clear that ‘the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.’ There are two elements to this and somehow it is only the second part that seems to provoke outvitations to legal spouses. No bishop who has been divorced and remarried has had their invitation rescinded, nor have previously married spouses been left out. Only those in same sex marriages have been treated in this way. Treating those in a same sex marriage differently from those in an opposite sex marriage is discrimination.

In previous Lambeth Conferences there has been a programme for the bishops and a separate programme for their spouses. This year, for the first time, there is a joint programme for the bishops together with their spouses. The Lambeth Conference website has a FAQ section and one of the questions is ‘Why is it a joint conference?’ Their answer is:
‘The joint conference is in recognition of the vital role spouses play across the Anglican Communion and a desire to support them in their ministry. The intention is for every spouse to develop their ministry through their participation in the conference. There is recognition that fellowship will be a key aspect for spouses.’
Full list of questions available here.

Is there a touch of irony in the phrase ‘every spouse’? Surely, if the role of the episcopal spouse is so vital, then it is defeating the purpose of the conference to exclude some of the spouses. Unless there is a subtext that the conference only sees those in opposite sex marriages as spouses and wants to make a point that marriage is only affirmed between a man and a woman.

It has been questioned whether this discriminatory treatment is legal in this country. The Lambeth Conference is a charity that is registered in the UK, charity number 1121679. This means that the Lambeth Conference is subject to UK law, specifically the 2010 Equality Act. The Equality Act allows some exemptions (Schedule 23 paragraph 2) and it looks like the Lambeth Conference comes under this, so it would be legal to discriminate. However, if this were challenged, they would have to show that excluding same sex spouses is necessary to comply with ‘the doctrine of the Organisation’ or ‘the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers’. While the religious conviction part might be true worldwide, I doubt it is the case in the UK. I think that, unfortunately, only the two bishops or their same sex spouses would have the legal standing to bring a case to test this legally.

The question of same sex marriage is not contained in any of the creeds nor is it in any of the authorised liturgies of the Church of England which means that Lambeth resolution I.10 does not have the status of doctrine. Lambeth resolutions are not mandatory and have to be adopted by each province individually. By specifically relying on Lambeth I.10, Dr Idowu-Fearon may be ruling out an exemption based on doctrine, because he is showing that the basis of the exclusion is something other than doctrine.

Lambeth I.10 is very much at the forefront of GAFCON literature. In 2008, at the first GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, they issued the Jerusalem Statement. Anyone wishing to attend subsequent GAFCON conferences has had to agree to this Statement. Section 8 of the Jerusalem Statement declares that:
8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.
Full text of the Jerusalem statement can be accessed here. 

What we appear to be seeing in the preparations for Lambeth 2020 is GAFCON inspired ideology, in line with their priorities and structured to idealise opposite sex marriage. This is not in accordance with the equality values of the English people that the Church of England is established to serve.

In order to be able to be registered as a charity, it is necessary to show that the organisation has ‘public benefit’. I checked out the Lambeth Conference’s statement of public benefit with the charity commission website. The third and final paragraph of the public benefit statement says:
‘Most people are likely to become disciples of Jesus if Christians live a Christ like life amongst them, share the good news of Jesus, demonstrate God’s love and prayerfully expect the Spirit’s power to transform individuals, communities and whole nations.’

I fail to see how the exclusion of same sex spouses is living a Christ like life and I seriously doubt this will encourage anyone in this country to become a disciple of Jesus.
I would like to know how those organising the 2020 Lambeth Conference will live up to their own public benefit statement.

Peace be with you – and the Living in Love and Faith process.

Last November, I went to the Transforming Theology conference at Cambridge University, organised by Alex Clare-Young, who has been named as a new member of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) Co-ordinating group.
One of the speakers, Ph.D. student Kenneth Wilkinson-Roberts, gave a talk on peace studies and applied this to the Church of England’s Shared Regional Conversation process and its strategy of good disagreement. I was very taken with the ideas at the time and I am starting to see some of this approach in the LLF process.
Good disagreement polarises the debate, it encourages a move to more extreme positions, because there is a commitment that ‘both sides of the debate must be heard’. One effect of this is that anyone who wants their voice to be heard must be at either end of the debate and so the more moderate voices do not get heard. Another big effect of good disagreement is that it makes people solidify their views, by emphasising the differences between people’s positions and does not allow for the development of a range of more nuanced views.
At last week’s General Synod presentation on LLF, it was announced that the new approach would move away from good disagreement and would now be ‘appreciative disagreement’ which does allow for more nuanced views and emphasises understanding other points of view.
One positive effect of a peace studies approach is that it brings the discussion towards the centre and away from the silos at the extremes. If this marginalises some of the toxic views that are currently being expressed, then I welcome this. Some extreme opinions are being given a platform that is totally undeserved by the number of people holding those extreme views.
I hope that this move towards the centre will help those with power in the Church of England to realise that the current anti-gay and anti-trans positions, together with a legacy of institutional racism and misogyny have created a toxic brand that the people of England do not want from their national church.
One fear is that after LLF is complete, that it will be like so many reports in the past which have not made any lasting changes. I doubt that LLF will solve all the problems the church has with human sexuality, but if they can permanently change the nature of the debate, then it is something I really welcome.
Dr Eeva John, as the enabling officer of LLF, has the hardest job in the Church of England. Eeva John, may peace be with you.

LGBTIQ+, Intersectionality and Islam conference

 

IMG_2284

Conference report LGBTIQ+ Intersectionality and Islam conference 2019 Saturday February 2019
I have just used first names for the speakers, following the practice on the Hadiyah website. I am happy to add surnames, but I am not sure what level of openness each speaker is comfortable with. I am not Muslim and if I have made any mistakes in my understanding of what was said, I am happy to correct these mistakes.

This excellent conference took place at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. This was a really positive event and showed the level of thought that the organisers had put into the details that really matter. For example, all the toilets in this section of the building had been taken over for the conference and all had posters on them that they were gender neutral and contained individual stalls. The hospital prayer space was desegregated for the event, as prayers were held there during the conference.
There were about 200 people attending the conference and tickets had been snapped up very quickly. The organisers had attracted a wide range of people, from Muslims to Christian clergy. There was good provision for those who were trans or non-binary and name labels had pronouns on them. There was good intersex visibility as well. It is these things that make a conference a really affirming experience, even before you get to the talks.
The conference hashtag is #QueerIslam2019

The format of the day was an opening introduction to the conference and then we split into workshops. Parallel workshops were offered. I can only comment on those which I attended.
The first one I attended was Life as an LGBTQI+ Muslim in the UK, with Drew from the organisation Hidayah.  He is doing an ongoing survey and gave us a brief outline of results so far and compared these to results from Stonewall, showing the percentage of people who are open in their faith community about their sexual orientation or gender identity. These percentages are worryingly low. One significant factor is that they believe that their mosques would not be welcoming. This seemed a particular problem in respect of trans people.
Theologically being intersex or trans is not a problem in Islam. However, Islam and UK society are conflating ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity, in a way that is not helpful. There is a fear about bringing shame or dishonour to their families. This means that those who do come out do not always get the support that they would want. There is a need for more role models for LGBTQI+ Muslims, there are very few.
One significant issue is safety in places of worship, this needs to be addressed. When it is not safe, then it leads to people living a double life and exposes them to increased risk of racism or islamophobia. There is a need for inclusive mosques and for more work to be done on safety.

Next, I went to Martin’s talk on Being Intersex: gender and sex diversity affirmation in Islam. Those who are intersex have sex characteristics that do not fit the binary. They make up 1.7% of the population. It is a biological sex, not a gender identity. 52% of those who are intersex identify as heterosexual, but there is a spectrum of orientations.
Those who are intersex, including the speaker, are subjected to genital surgery as children, this surgery is carried out by the NHS. This form of genital mutilation is illegal under the Malta Declaration, but the UK has not signed this. Traditionally Islam is affirming of intersex.
Islam recognises four genders: male, female, intersex (khuntha) and transgender / gender queer (mukhannath). When praying in a mosque, many mosques separate people on gender lines. An intersex person can pray behind the men and in front of the women. They can also be imams for other intersex people and women.
Those who are Mukhannath, with male bodies, who present as female or gender queer are not proscribed against. They were welcomed into the home of the Prophet, according to Sura 24.31. Mukhannaths were the ‘guardians of sacred boundaries’, so they guarded sacred haram in Madina and Mecca.
Transgenderism in Islam is theologically unproblematic. In his book Tahrir al-wasila, Ayatollah Khomeini stated ‘if someone is confident of his / her belonging to the opposite sex, surgery does not transform him / her to the opposite sex, it rather reveals his / her true sex that has so far been hidden.’
However, there may be social problems and unsupportive families to contend with.

Next, in A journey of intersectionalities, Faz talked to us about his experiences as a trans Shia Muslim man. This was a lot of intersectionality to experience.
He knew he was trans from an early age and early memories of this focused around the length of his hair, which he wanted short, contrary to his family who wanted a more traditional girl like presentation.
Coming out to his family and social groups was fraught. There is always danger in these situations because of the danger of rejection and family status. Eventually his family reached the point where he could present as male, except on formal family occasions, such as weddings, but eventually he stopped having to go to these events.
He also shared some of his experiences of the working environment, where being a person of colour was a bigger source of discrimination.

Lunch was superb. Buffet style and lots of vegetarian and vegan options as well as halal food.

After lunch Quisar’s talk was Don’t read the comments: Queer Muslim self-care in a digital age. Major piece of advice – turn off the comments or at least do not read them.
Online discussions for QTPOC can focus on issues of colonisation. Colonised bodies are discussions by people who do not have the same bodies. Colonised minds, don’t fight on other people’s terms. Colonised spirit is how Islam is thought about and propagated by colonial forces.
A colonised mind is when we respond to the attacks of others and allow others to set the agenda. Some people on the internet start a discussion with an inflammatory statement and then encourage a debate in the comments, simply to try to show how ‘big’ their intellectual muscle it. Don’t respond to the provocation. Instead find your own community for support and discussion.
If you are asked to do something ‘get paid and add tax.’

Colonialism also featured at the start of Hafsa’s talk on Choosing Identities. Colonialism is an undercurrent which encourages those with intersectional identities to ‘ditch Islam’ as the primary identity. This colonialism ‘cultures’ people to act in a certain way.
There are also societal pressures, wanting queer Muslims to make a choice between serving God and finding love. This choice is horrible. Hafsa then used research from the Ozanne Foundation’s Faith and Sexuality survey to give some of the statistics about the attitudes of society and the way that LGBTQI+ people have to hide their identities and the conflict with their faith.
Forcing someone to be what they are not is damaging. We must call out bad behaviour. In particular, we must campaign to get conversion therapy banned, especially for young people. There is a huge need for safe spaces.

The final talk I went to was Ezra’s on Showing solidarity: including trans people in our mosques, meetings and minds. She explained that Allah is clear in this, that people were created different in order for us to learn tolerance, acceptance and celebration of our difference.
Iran is the country that carries out the second most gender confirmation surgeries. Thailand carries out the most. The Iranian statistics are not good news, because gay people are forced to transition, so they become ‘straight’.
When someone transitions in a mosque, you need robust equalities policies. Segregated spaces can cause problems. These segregated spaces are a problem for non-binary people too. There is a need for mosques to be inclusive and safe.
To be inclusive, if you have a meeting, do a pronoun round at the start of the meeting and get everyone to state their preferred pronouns. Then if someone is misgendered, deal with it straightaway.
Each of us can be an ally. In order to make trans people feel secure, you have to treat the concept of trans people first. Don’t wait for a trans person to arrive before you have the discussion.
Ezra used a poster to illustrate her talk and this was uploaded to twitter afterwards. I was not able to do a direct link to the post, but you can access it below.

trans haraam

Updates

I have added new material to the resources and links page.  These are about Islam and LGBTQI+.  This page can be accessed here.

I have added a new event to the upcoming events page.  This page can be accessed here.

Coming next, the report on the excellent LGBTIQ+ Intersectionality and Islam conference 2019.

Why the bishops are right.

In July 2017 the Church of England’s General Synod passed the Blackburn motion asking the House of Bishops to consider introducing new liturgy to affirm trans people in their faith after transition.  In the end, the bishops decided not to introduce new liturgy, but said that the existing liturgy for Affirmation of Baptismal faith should be used and they would issue new guidance.  The new guidance was issued in December 2018.

LGBTQFaithUK wholeheartedly supports the House of Bishops on this matter.

The pastoral guidance from the House of Bishops can be seen here.

Now, a petition has been launched online, which people can sign, to oppose the new guidance.  The text of the petition can be seen here. 

Unfortunately, the petition contains a number of factual errors, misstatements and confused thinking.

My first concern with the petition is that it is not clear who is the author of the actual content. This has been put up on a website that was created for the purpose, as evidenced by the bespoke website address. The petition contains numerous inaccuracies and instances of inflammatory language. It is not a balanced objective response to the House of Bishops guidance.

Nor does it seem to understand the nature of what ‘guidance’ means. The guidance from the House of Bishops sets out to explain how to carry out services in which people reaffirm their baptismal vows. It achieves that objective. It is a false premise to criticise it for not doing things that it was never intended to do.

In this article, I will go through the petition and show some of the flaws in their presentation.

Sentence 2 of paragraph 1 states ‘Because it has affected a very small proportion of people, evidence from the medical and social sciences is often conflicting and of poor quality.’ Trans people are a small part of the population, but this does not mean that any studies about them will necessarily be conflicting or poor quality. The population of trans people in the world is large enough for accurate, statistically significant studies. The statement chooses to ignore the world class research studies that have been done and are continuing to be done in universities and scientific establishments around the world.

The next sentence in paragraph 1 ‘Although gender dysphoria has been recognized for many decades, in recent years controversial new theories about the relationship between biological sex and the social meaning of gender have been linked to gender dysphoria’ conflates several different ideas together in ways that obscure, rather than illumine, current understandings. As society changes, the social meaning of gender will change and indeed the social meaning of many things will change because they are part of an ever-changing social context. Theories about the interplay of biological sex and the meaning of gender have been studied by academics for decades and will continue to offer fresh insights for a long time to come. What has changed is the amount of publicity and visibility that is given to gender and gender variance.

Gender dysphoria is a medical diagnosis. It will be influenced by biomedical research, rather than by research in the social sciences. The social science academic research helps us to understand gender, but does not define it for an individual.

Paragraph 2 shows a misunderstanding of the difference between medical research, social sciences and educational research. The paragraph introduces the concept of ‘harm’, but does not justify what harm is being considered. Safeguarding is of paramount importance in schools. Any intervention that was likely to cause harm would not be allowed. Even a quick search on Google Scholar will turn up a significant amount of academic literature showing studies into harm reduction for trans students in school. Research shows that the biggest risk is an unsupportive environment.

Paragraph 3 introduces the idea of political debate as well as philosophical and anthropological issues in public debate and theological analysis, but does not discuss any of them. Instead it criticises the House of Bishops guidance for being brief. Everyone writes for an audience and the House of Bishops were writing for clergy who needed advice on how to use existing liturgy, it needed to be brief to serve it’s intended purpose.

The theological rationale had already been published and did not need to form part of the published Common Worship books.  It can be accessed here.

Paragraph 4, which introduces the 7 bullet points, may restate some of conservative evangelical orthodoxy, but it will be read very negatively by those who are LGBTI+. ‘We, the undersigned, are unreservedly committed to welcoming everyone to our churches and communities of faith, so that all might hear and be invited to respond to the good news of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.’ It will be heard by trans people as it is by lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians as a call to repent from being the person that God made us to be and a doubting of our Christian faith. It would be good to be welcomed as brothers and sisters in Christ. The paragraph continues by saying ‘But we do not believe that the Guidance is the right way to do this,’ but it does not specify what ‘to do this’ actually means. In some respects, the two sentences are a non sequitur.

Bullet point 1 is just factually incorrect. The House of Bishops have called their guidance Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition. They have not given it ‘The title of ‘gender transition services’.

Bullet point 2 essentially just says – ‘we don’t think you should do this’. Using phrases like ‘dominical sacraments’ are redundant, when the Anglican church only recognises two sacraments, baptism and ‘the supper of our Lord’. Articles XIX and XXV refer to the types of sacraments and to their efficacy as signs of grace. A reaffirmation of baptismal vows is not a sacrament, it may be a vehicle for God’s grace and blessing but it is also a way for the church family to support and affirm their commitment.

Bullet point 3 seems to regard transition as nothing more than a change of name. It is far more than that, it is a change of direction in life and affects every aspect of a person’s life, so the parallels with the scriptures are very appropriate. These scriptures are ones that have meaning for trans people and are sources of inspiration where they are nourished by God’s word. Whoever wrote this material might find that if they took the opportunity to listen to trans people and heard the scriptures as they are understood through the lens of their experience then the writer may realise that the Bishops got this one right.

Bullet point 4 starts with factual errors. It says ‘The possibility of celebrating gender transition appears to be based on the rejection of physical differentiation between male and female (known as ‘sexual dimorphism’).’  Surely, the possibility of celebrating anything is based on the idea that what is being celebrated is a good thing. I would suggest that, considering the number of people who choose to have surgery, such as a double mastectomy or facial feminisation during their transition, that any surgical changes reinforce the physical differentiation rather than reject it.

The rest of bullet point 4 brings in intersex and marriage. It repeats the idea that people who are intersex are ‘a very small number who are biologically intersex’. The proportion of people who are intersex is 1.7%. The population of the UK in 2016 was 65.64million, which means that there were just over a million intersex people in the UK alone. That is not a small number that can be ignored just because it is theologically inconvenient. Even taking the, smaller, percentage of those who are equally male and female, such as those who have one ovary and one testes, the percentage is 0.05%, which would give over 3000 in the UK alone.

The church is obliged to marry any couple that comes to them for marriage, provided that they are one man and one woman. If one of them is a trans man or a trans woman, the law still applies and the church has to marry them. An individual priest could optout of doing the wedding, as they could for a couple where one had been divorced, but they would have to arrange for another priest to take the service. Trans actually reinforces the dominant narrative about marriage.

Bullet point 5 starts with inflammatory language. In my work I come across families where a relative is transitioning or has transitioned. The language of ‘traumatic’ etc is not used. The language is ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging.’ What they need is support. Where there is an unsupportive environment, then the situation becomes more difficult. Unsupportive church environments are a big source of harm.

It is nice to see that conservatives have embraced the idea of ‘not talking about us without talking to us’, we have been saying that for years, but they have taken no notice. I wonder how many trans people and their families they consulted before making this petition public.

Then, for some reason, the bullet point goes back to the idea of ‘novel and largely untested theories’ and ‘potential for harm … of children and young adults’. This merely repeats the ideas of paragraph 2.

Bullet point 6 starts with ‘The notion of gender transition is highly contested in wider society.’ I don’t think the notion is contested, gender transition has been happening for almost a century, at least. How it works out in practice may be under some debate, and the consequences are still being worked through.

  • Then follows a sentence of 95 words (the total of the whole petition is only 952 words, including the title). This massive sentence, conflates together several different ideas in one go. In taking this approach, the writer introduces contradictory theses and does not offer evidence for their claims. It appears quite confused.  Just to take a few of these ideas:
    ‘There is widespread concern at the idea of biological males claiming to be women when they have not shared their personal and social experience;’. I question the claim of ‘widespread concern’. The idea of biological males claiming to be women could take several books to unpack, but what is missing is any idea of biological women who are transitioning to male. Under some understandings, any surgery or medical intervention would confirm the sex that the person already knows themselves to be. I wonder what would be the case for ‘biological males claiming to be female’ if they did share their personal and social experience. It sounds like the personal and social experience is being seen as more important than biology.
    • The idea of ‘a worrying increase in rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD)’ is challenged at all levels. There is only one scientific paper on the subject. The quality of this research has been widely criticised, as has the methodology of using online questionnaires from three sites aimed at parents who do not support their children in their transition. We may be back in the area of evidence that is ‘conflicting and of poor quality’. There is no consensus that ROGD even exists.
    • The next concern is the one about ‘the long-term effects of ‘puberty blocking’ hormones given the poor quality of the research;’. Does the writer of this petition realise that long term effects, in medical terms, may mean a 25 year study or longer? These drugs have not been used widely enough or for long enough for these studies to happen yet. It is an area of ongoing and high calibre research.
    • It says ‘there is no scientific or medical consensus that surgical and medical interventions (‘gender transition’) effectively address the complex symptoms associated with gender dysphoria over the long term.’ What is certain is the consensus of the harm of not intervening in the short term. It has been extensively studied, in high calibre academic studies, that trans youth have a higher rate of suicide, self-harm and depression. Not intervening may mean that the young trans person does not have a long-term future at all.
  • There are long term studies showing the positive effect of interventions and support. Since the 1970s the World Professional Association for Transgender Health has published extensive guidelines on the internationally agreed Standards of Care for trans people. This is based on extensive high calibre research, showing the consensus among healthcare professionals.  The current, 7th edition, can be downloaded here.

Bullet point 7 is probably the first part that I come close to agreeing with. If it were a new liturgy, then it could be understood as a development in doctrine. However, I don’t think that a guide to how to use a liturgy is sufficient to count as a new liturgy.

I too am grateful for the clarification about the status of the guidance. I believe that the mistake happened when the Church of England communication team set up a radio interview and advised the interviewee, mistakenly as it transpired, that the Guidance was to be mandatory.

In the concluding paragraph, I think the Bishops should refer those who have signed the letter to the work of the Living in Love and Faith project, which will be published in 2020.
On a positive note, I agree wholeheartedly with the final sentence – ‘We assure the House of our prayers as they consider the best way forward.’

To learn more about this subject, LGBTQFaithUK recommends the following books, all written by ordained clergy, based on doctorate level research and with the experience of being trans themselves.

Trans-Gender: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith
By Justin Tanis
Published by Wipf and Stock
ISBN 978-1532636424

Transforming
By Austen Hartke
Published by Westminster John Knox Press
ISBN 9780664263102

Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource Paperback
by Chris Dowd, Christina Beardsley
Published by Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd
ISBN 978-0232533118

This is my body: Hearing the theology of transgender Christians Paperback
by Christina Beardsley, Michelle O’Brien
Published by Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd
ISBN 978-0232532067

Supporting our bishops

Within the LGBTQ community there is a need for affirmation of trans people of faith.  There is a particular need for them to affirm their faith, in their new identity, after they have transitioned.

The Church of England’s House of Bishops has issued  Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition.    The full text of this document is available as a pdf document here.  The Affirmation of baptismal vows is an official Church of England liturgy which has existed for many years.  It is not a new liturgy and the guidance offers advice to clergy on how they may use this liturgy when someone who is trans wants to reaffirm their faith.  It is not a baptism service.

There has been a conservative and negative response to this guidance, which is asking the Bishops to remove their guidance.  This response can be found here.  I have been unable to find out who actually wrote the letter, but there is an open invitation for people to sign it.

The best way to respond to this non affirming material is to write to your own bishop, supporting the guidance and supporting the House of Bishops.  A list of diocesan bishops and their contact details are to be found in the campaigning section of this website or a pdf version is available by following the link here.  All the information is in the public domain.

LGBTQFaithUK wholeheartedly supports the Pastoral Guidance from the House of Bishops.