Facing the opposition to the Bishops' Guidance
The House of Bishops Guidance on liturgies for gender transition, published shortly before Christmas, represents a cautious and creative move in the direction of welcoming transgender people into the life and community of the church. Almost inevitably, it has caused significant opposition in the form of a website, outlining the objectors’ views, and encouraging people to sign in solidarity with them. That thousands have done so comes as no particular surprise; nevertheless it is saddening on a number of levels and must concern all those of us committed to inclusion.
Some will have signed because transgender, like sexuality before it, has become the final plumbline of orthodoxy, and in signing they will be signalling their ‘soundness’ to the elders and kingmakers of their particular church tribe. It was ever thus, but that such political manoeuvring should be at the expense of the real lives of their sisters and brothers, is a wound to the body of Christ.
Others will have signed out of a sense of concern for those personally impacted by these issues. That such concern, where is exists, is being exploited and manipulated for political ends is likewise an affront to the gospel. To express concern, yet reduce to nothing the lived experience of transpeople, is to trample on the images of the incarnate Christ amongst us. However unsettling, however challenging, however uncertain – our calling is simply to listen for the still small voice of the God who is both holy and vulnerable, revealed in the lives of our sisters and brothers. For whenever we do less than that, when we’re tempted to trade Bible texts, or engage in tit-for-tat theology, or find strength in numbers, we’re missing the point. In this particular case, we’re failing our trans brothers and sisters and contributing to a society which is still at best challenging and hostile and at worst simply not safe for trans people.
Because only then can we begin to do the kind of theology we need to do – which takes our lives as a starting place, which takes seriously the God who is at work transforming all people, which draws us to be a church characterised by who it tries to draw in, not who it tries to keep out. In short – the kind of church Jesus would recognise.
Within the context of that kind of church, based on real connection and encounter, we will be free to ask the deep questions of God and of one another to which transgender gives rise. Because we are people deeply shaped by gender, and letting go of what we’ve always known in order that we can be free to embrace a new understanding, a new creation, is a scary and unsettling business. We need to offer all of that endeavour to God, and trust that the God who has called us onto that unknown ground will not abandon us, but will come to us anew.
Our trans sisters and brothers need to know they have our support right now.
You can sign a counter-letter to the Church Times, initiated by Rev, Jo Kershaw.
You can sign up your own church to our Visible Congregations initiative– an explicit and visible message of support, welcome and acceptance for trans people.
And perhaps the most powerful thing you can do is to find the people you know who have signed the letter, and where they are open to doing so, begin to have those conversations. They may be costly and uncomfortable conversations - but they're crucial if we're to break ouf ot this repeating cycle of claim and counter-claim, and to begin to see the new thing to which God is calling each one of us.