A Response to the House of Bishops Guidance on Transgender Welcome
Gender dysphoria is an emotionally painful experience that requires understanding, support and compassion. Because it has affected a very small proportion of people, evidence from the medical and social sciences is often conflicting and of poor quality. 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. These ideas continue to be widely contested, with well intentioned and thoughtful people on all sides of the debate.
The many ordinary parents and teachers who now express concern about these new theories do not wish to cause harm to the tiny number of children afflicted by gender dysphoria; but neither do they want to harm the potentially larger numbers of children by prematurely imposing untried and untested ideas on young children. Given the many instances in the history of medicine where under-researched interventions, introduced prematurely, have caused more harm than good, our guiding principle should be ‘first do no harm’.
This is the wider medical, social and political debate into which the House of Bishops have introduced their brief ‘Guidance for gender transition services’. The document is undoubtedly well intentioned but lacks the serious theological analysis required to address the philosophical, anthropological and social issues in play in public discourse.
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. But we do not believe that the Guidance is the right way to do this, since it raises some significant issues for the Church’s belief and practice.
- The House of Bishops previously stated that no new liturgy would be offered. The title of ‘gender transition services’, the focus on the use of a person’s new name, the use of oil and water contrary to previous rubrics in Common Worship, and the description in the later explanatory note confirming that this service is to be used to ‘mark gender transition’ amount to the offering of a new liturgy, since existing wording is now being put to a new purpose.
- We are deeply concerned at what appears to be a misuse of the liturgy by which we celebrate one of the dominical sacraments, which are the founding markers of the Church itself (Articles XIX and XXV). Although reaffirmation of baptismal vows might well be appropriate at certain seasons of life, it should primarily be focussed on celebrating new life in Christ rather than a new situation or circumstance, as set out in Common Worship: Christian Initiation, and should always centre on salvation, repentance and faith rather than ‘unconditional affirmation’.
- We are similarly concerned at the inclusion of new biblical readings within the guidance and their suggestion that the changes of name for biblical characters in the light of God’s salvific action and intervention offer a legitimate parallel to the change of name associated with gender transition.
- The possibility of celebrating gender transition appears to be based on the rejection of physical differentiation between male and female (known as ‘sexual dimorphism’). This dimorphism is not only an almost universal biological reality (with the exception of a very small number who are biologically intersex) but has also been the basis of the Church’s understanding of Christian marriage, is seen as an important feature of God’s work as creator, and is a symbol of God’s covenant relationship with humanity. The guidance offers no theological reflection to justify this sort of revised narrative.
- Although the guidance presents itself as ‘pastoral’, there does not appear to have been any consideration of the enormous and often traumatic impact of gender transition by an individual on immediate friends and family, including spouse and children. On the principle of ‘not talking about us without talking to us’, there should have been careful consultation with these groups and consideration of the impact on them of such a service before issuing the guidance. In addition, there is no recognition that novel and largely untested theories about sex and gender also carry potential for harm in terms of the psychological and developmental needs of children and young adults.
- The notion of gender transition is highly contested in wider society. There is widespread concern at the idea of biological males claiming to be women when they have not shared their personal and social experience; there has been a worrying increase in rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) particularly amongst girls who appear to lack confidence in their identity as female; there are concerns about the long-term effects of ‘puberty blocking’ hormones given the poor quality of the research; and 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. The bishops’ guidance offers no recognition of the wider issues at play here.
- We are grateful for the clarification that the offering of such services is not mandatory, contrary to the public statements of those involved in formulating the guidance. However, the guidance remains a new policy statement by the House, to be incorporated into Common Worship, and if it stands will be appealed to in the future as signifying a change in liturgical and therefore doctrinal understanding, whether or not that was intended.
In the light of these significant concerns, we ask that the House of Bishops revise, postpone or withdraw this guidance until all these questions are properly addressed. We assure the House of our prayers as they consider the best way forward.
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Links for information
- Guidance page
- Clarification note
- Service of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith
- Letters to Church Times raising concerns
- CEEC statement of response (PDF)
- Statement from The Society
- Wisdom and folly: the bishops’ guidance on transgender welcome by Rev Dr Ian Paul
- ‘Transitioning a Liturgy’ by Revd Dr Lee Gatiss
- Assessment by Martin Davie