Faith, Science and Sexuality Conference part 3

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Professor Peter Hegerty from the department of Psychology at Surry University spoke about intersex people.

A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here.

Prof Hegerty’s talk was preceded by a talk from intersex activist Sara Gillingham describing her experiences of being born intersex and some of the ways that this had impacted her life.
In the Bible, when Adam is first described, the Hebrew can be understood in more than one way. It is unclear if Adam is male or both male and female. Intersex may have been present from the Creation.
Prof Hegerty is involved with the SENS project, looking at how people make sense of sex development that deviates from a binary.
When children are born with genitalia that does not fit many people’s binary expectations, they are often subjected to medical or even surgical intervention. It is necessary to distinguish between interventions that are medically necessary and ones that are carried out for cosmetic purposes, such as hypospadias, (where the urethra has not grown through the entire length of the penis).
The occurrence of intersex bodies is a naturally occurring phenomena. However, the attitudes of clinicians affects decisions that are made about any interventions. Presentation of information can also affect attitudes, depending on whether the information is presented medically or socially. One thing is clear, that there should be more psychological help available for those with intersex in the family.

Dr James Barrett’s talk was preceded by a talk from Revd Dr Tina Beardsley who is a member of the co-ordinating group for the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project. A pdf of her talk can be downloaded here.

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Dr James Barrett, lead clinician at a Gender Identity Clinic, titled his talk on trans people as ‘A Boring Talk’. A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here

Dr Barrett stressed that he worked with Adult trans people and not children.
He talked about the myth of detransitioning. It does happen, but is statistically tiny. In a study at the Nottingham Gender Identity Clinic between May 2016 and May 2017 a randomised study of 303 patients showed one patient detransitioning. They subsequently retransitioned successfully.
A longer study over 15 years showed that the rate of detransition was 1%. Of this 1%, 4 out of 5 retransitioned successfully. Of those who detransitioned and did not retransition, only 20% expressed regret. This is a similar rate for those who regret laser eye surgery. [Note – this gives on overall detransition rate of 0.2% and a regret rate of 0.04%]. The cause of detransitioning was almost always due to unsupportive family situations. He joked that some people would benefit from a ‘familyectomy’ – removal of their family.
In respect of children, there is an increasing number of referrals from those in middle adolescence. However, pre-pubertal referrals are not showing the same increase.
Dr Barrett addressed the issue of counselling. He is often told by activists that people should be offered counselling. However, the purpose of counselling is unclear. Counselling to reduce immediate distress is different from counselling to ‘cure’. Attempts to cure are not effective and can be harmful.
In the Question and Answer session, Dr Barrett made some further points of note. Only about a third of trans men have phalloplasty, which surgically creates a penis. Much of the research done of transitioning focuses on surgery, because it is easier to study. Social transitioning is harder to measure and therefore has been studied less. There is less information from research on FTM trans people and their transitions. The rates of FTM and MTF are about the same now but in the past there were more MTF, however it is possible that the numbers from the past understate the true numbers of FTM because they found it easier to pass. Prof King noted that among the very young, below age 14, there were more FTM.

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The final speaker of the day was Professor Robert Song, professor of theological ethics at Durham University.
I would like to recommend Prof Song’s book Covenant and Calling, which covers the material from his talk in more depth. It is available to buy here.
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A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here.

Science cannot dictate our ethics. Science can tell us about the causes of homosexuality or transgenderism and how different cultures have treated gender and sexual minorities. It cannot tell you how to deal with different bathrooms or how to respond to blessing or ordaining those in sexually active relationships or whether a surgical response to intersex is ever right.
What does ‘natural ‘mean? In relation to sexuality and gender a mainstream, traditional answer is that natural is the sexual binary of male and female and heterosexual sex and marriage. So, what is unnatural is anything which crosses the boundaries of these, including those who don’t fit into the sexual binary, either in terms of gender identity or in terms of non-standard genitalia and those whose sexual desire and behaviour doesn’t fit into heterosexual sex/marriage.
Those who are deemed to be unnatural are those statistical outliers, the socially unacceptable and those who do not fit the binary male and female ordering towards reproduction.
Those who don’t fit in with the dominant social norms suffer the psychological effects of shame and rejection as social norms are enforced.
We can see this in the Old Testament purity laws that did not allow any mixing of different kinds. For example, lepers were unclean because of their patchy skin.
In the New Testament, there is a different focus, those who were unclean and excluded are now counted as clean. Excluded groups, like the gentiles, are now included. In the story of the Good Shepherd, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and goes looking for the one, he does not stay with the 99, but seeks the one that is not there. LGBT people are more than 1% and the holiness of a God of Love means that everyone of us is loved and has a place and they are exactly the people that the Good Shepherd will search for.
The purity ethic is still active in the church, making belonging conditional. Those who are seen to be most sinful are made to feel most excluded. Science cannot address people’s attitudes, but it can address the basis of those attitudes. Science can show that sexual orientation is not chosen and cannot be changed.
Appealing to inclusion is not enough. We need to address the way that the male and female binary is orientated towards  reproduction. What happens to procreation in Christ? Procreation is no longer essential for our identity in Christ. We share in the blood of Christ and Christians reproduce through baptism. Marriage, for the purpose of reproduction is fundamentally reconfigured in Christ. So, if reproduction is no longer an essential part of marriage, then it is reasonable to ask why marriage has to be heterosexual and even if gender matters at all? What might matter in marriage is a commitment to faithfulness, permanence and fruitfulness.

Faith, Science and Sexuality Conference part 2

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Professor Michael King from the Division of Psychiatry at University College London Spoke about LGBT mental health.
A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here. Please note that the talk given at this conference only covered the first part of this pdf material.
If we are to discuss the mental health of people who are LGB or trans then we need some idea of who they are, but this is not easy. Survey questions have been designed in various ways and get different answers according to the design of the questions. There is also a difference between sexual identity, sexual attraction and sexual experience and this makes it problematic to identify whose mental health we are talking about. One thing is clear and that is that in the younger generations the proportion of people who would describe themselves are not 100% heterosexual is increasing. The proportion of people who describe themselves as bisexual increases for younger people. What is also increasing is the acceptance for self-identification for trans people.
In terms of mental health, it is clear that bisexuals are at higher risk of mental health problems than those who are lesbian or gay. Those who are LGB are 6 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, substance misuse, self-harm and suicide. There is less research on trans mental health, but they are 2 to 4 times more likely to experience mental disorder and self-harm. There is no difference in the rates for MTF and FTM.
Longitudinal studies have been carried out on young people. Those who identify as non-heterosexual experience more depression by the age of 10 and are more likely to self-harm at age 16 – 21 than heterosexual peers. For LBG people of all ages, their reported physical health is worse than for heterosexuals. This may be linked to their experience of healthcare. Sexual minority patients reported negative healthcare experiences 1.5 times more often that others. There is less research on transgender health experiences, but the pattern is similar.
There may be several underlying causes for the more negative social experiences. These may include experiences of gender non-conformity, which can lead to increased bullying at school. They may experience egodystonic sexual orientation, which means that you don’t like your sexual orientation. This also leads to people experiencing conversion therapy, in which efforts are made to change their unwanted sexual orientation, even though that cannot be changed.
There is little evidence for trans people being subjected to the same sort of conversion therapy, (although being forced to stay in their natal gender would be the equivalent.) Two memoranda of understandings on conversion therapy have been released and General Synod agreed a motion condemning the practice.
Although social attitudes towards LGBT people have improved, the stresses still exist. Some of these are related to the average age of coming out getting lower. In the 1970s the mean coming out age was 20, in 2000 it was 14. This means that parental reaction is crucial. Many young people do not feel that they are able to tell their parents, leading to little or no parental support.
The vast majority of LGBT people do not have mental health problems, but they do experience increased discrimination and have to make lifestyle choices on a daily basis that heterosexual peers do not have to make.

Coming next Prof Peter Hegerty on Intersex People and Dr James Barrett on Trans People.

Faith, Science and Sexuality Conference part 1

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This excellent conference was organised by the Ozanne Foundation and took place on Saturday December 8th at St John’s church in Waterloo.

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There was far too much taking place to squeeze it into one blog post, so this is part 1. All the talks were videoed and it is the intention that they will be made available for people to watch. Each talk was grounded in experience, so each academic lecture was started with someone explaining how they are personally affected by the material under discussion.
The day was hosted by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, the dean of St Paul’s Cathedral and vice-chair of the Ozanne Foundation.

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How do we understand truth and engage with reality? Last July, when General Synod reported on the Living in Love and Faith project, they started with St Augustine. Augustine understood a binary model of sex, based on his literal reading of Genesis. That was his reality. But the way that we see the world has changed in many ways and our newer perceptions of reality can challenge how we understand the Bible.
Genesis is not the only place in the Bible that explains how people are created. Psalm 139 also explains how we are created by God, but gives a more intimate and personal approach to our individual situation.
Dr Qazi Rahman, from King’s College London, talked on science and genetics. He spoke about the evidence for the biological basis of sexuality and the origins of human sexual orientation.
Behaviour has some biological basis. Genetics have a role in this and the evidence for this genetic role has come from twin studies. There is a closer correlation between identical twins that between non-identical twins.
Sexual orientation informs sexual attraction and this motivates behaviour and identity.
Gender non-conformity is strongly related to adult orientation. Those who are gay are more likely to gender non-conform as children. This is true for Eastern cultures as well as Western cultures. Gender non-conformity starts around 2 to 2 ½ years old. This is below the age where children start to recognise gender stereotypes, which is about 4 years old.
Gay brothers show shared markers on the X chromosomes. There is some evidence of shared markers on other chromosomes.
Twin studies have shown that family environment is not important. Evidence of ‘social recruitment’ is non-existent. Sexual orientation is not caused by social learning. The evidence for this is supported by the children of gay and lesbian parents, who have the same rate of homosexuality as the general population.
Sexual fluidity is not biologically based, but there is fluidity in sexual behaviour. Sexual attractions tend to stay constant, but behaviour can change. However, there is no bell-shaped curve for this, it is more J shaped with more heterosexuals than homosexuals and few in the middle. The curve is sharper for men, than for women, due to fewer men identifying as bisexual than women.
Biology authenticates gay people and should debunk some of the stigmatised ideas.

Click here to watch the video of this talk, which is now available on You Tube.

Coming next Prof Michael King on Mental Health.

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Greater equality in the Church of England – some goals.

As the Living in Love and Faith document progresses, it is important that specific goals are articulated and that we communicate what we are asking for.  This is what I think.  I have broken it down in to three sections, depending on whether a rule change would be needed.  A pdf version of this can be downloaded from the link at the bottom of the page.

Stating the current position.
There are situations where the current rules are being ignored or applied in discriminatory ways. Therefore some things need to be explicitly articulated so that they have authority through the House of Bishops and General Synod.
1. LLF should issue a statement that it is not, and never has been, the official Church of England position that being homosexual is a sin. Nor is it the position of any major Christian denomination.
2. There should be a further statement that being bisexual, trans, queer, non-binary or any other gender or sexual minority identity is not a sin.
3. It should be restated that those who are in civil partnerships can be ordained to the diaconate, priesthood and episcopacy. There should be an explicit statement that this also applies to all lay ministries, including reader ministry.

Changes which are possible within the current rules.
4. At a Bishop’s Advisory Panel, potential ordinands should not have to be assessed by selectors who will not recommend LGBT+ people on principle. All selectors should be asked to state, as a matter of record, whether they would be willing to recommend LGBT+ candidates for ordination. Either the candidate or the selector would be moved to a different panel, if necessary. This prevents the waste of time, money and resources that the rejection of a suitable candidate would cause.
5. Each diocese should appoint someone to be responsible for LGBT+ matters within the diocese. This person should have an automatic place on the Bishop’s Council and be a member of the Diocesan Synod.
6. Services of blessing should be allowed for those in a civil partnership or civil marriage. Authorised liturgy should be provided. No priest or church should be forced to do this, if they have theological objections. The default position should be that all churches and clergy would do so. Those who do not want to, would have to opt out. The opt out needing a majority of the PCC and to be reviewed at a specified time. Any church or clergy who opts out must make alternative provision. It is the responsibility of the Diocese to ensure that this alternative provision is in place.

Changes which require a change in the rules.
7. A policy that allows those who are in civil marriages to be ordained to the diaconate, priesthood and episcopacy. There should be an explicit statement that this also applies to all lay ministries, including reader ministry. Those clergy currently in civil marriages should be able to minister with a full licence. This can be achieved in several ways, as set out in the legal advice in GS2055. In the shorter term, 13d can be achieved quickly through LLF. 13b would be a better long-term goal, but would take time to achieve and would have a cost.
8. The expectation that partnered clergy should be celibate should be explicitly repudiated. This marks a change from the position of Issues in Human Sexuality. This should be done on the stated reason that ‘it is unbiblical to expect lifelong imposed celibacy from those who are not called to it.’
9. A longer-term goal should be for the quadruple lock to be removed, so that the Church of England, as the established church, is able to offer marriage services to all the people of England. No priest or church should be forced to do this, if they have theological objections. The default position should be that all churches and clergy are licensed to do this and would do so. Those who do not want to, would have to opt out. The opt out needing a majority of the PCC and to be reviewed at a specified time. Any church or clergy who opts out must make alternative provision for any one who would otherwise have a right to marry there. It is the responsibility of the Diocese to ensure that this alternative provision is in place. This is a goal that would best be pursued through parliament, rather than expecting General Synod to ask parliament to make the change.

A pdf version of this document can be downloaded here

 

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.

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Listening

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.

https://www.churchofengland.org/LLF

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.