It appears to some that the Church of England has (finally?) crossed a red line, for those of us (within and without) who hold to an orthodox anthropology and theology around issues of identity. Yesterday saw some ‘pastoral guidance‘ published, strangely blending the liturgy and language around Baptism with the recognition or otherwise of trans identity.
For some, the simple fact that the official C of E website has issued this without obvious consultation, and without a nod to the wider issues around trans ideology (which, it must be said, is ultimately a pastoral conversation with significant theological ‘things’ at stake), will be a challenge.
For others, recent news around ‘resource churches’ will be enough to stop them from making a drastic and painful decision.
For myself, as someone invested personally in this conversation – and who also wants to think deeply about the way that our theological anthropology should influence our eccelsiology and ethics, let alone our worship – this does feel like a red line has been crossed. The Church of England has essentially bought into one trans* narrative. By co-opting the language of baptism it has put a wedge between identity in Christ (Which all Trinitarian Christians think is a key aspect of Baptism, whatever the age), and the identity that we construct or understand for ourselves.
My deep sadness, as ever, is that the Church of England continues to fudge the issues, rather than telling a better story, inviting human beings, made in the Image of God, into a form of life that denies human social constructs in praise of the one who both created humanity and became human in order to redeem it. A friend on Facebook (who I have met in real life, and have drunk coffee with in my home – and how I long for a day when I do not have to clarify that particular distinction!) wrote:
“the House of Bishops have jumped the gun in the absence of good theology or scientific evidence.
They have hijacked liturgy to support a nebulous post modern concept”
Here’s a screenshot of the announcement guidance, at the time of writing:
I have a number of responses to this. I also have a number of questions. Firstly, though, I am reminded and challenged to pray for the Church of England’s Bishops. They lead a fragmented church – let the reader understand – and as a plural leadership team they themselves are also fragmented on this issue. Second, I am comforted that the idea of ‘unconditional affirmation’ is ultimately a misreading of the better story, the better truth, the ultimate truth that nothing in our human identity qualifies us to ‘go to heaven’, or be with Jesus. And yet, be the power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection, we are all invited. Everyone. As a Baptist, theologically speaking, recognition of that takes place in Baptism – and it is perhaps the dissonance between that belief and the words of this pastoral guidance that I find particular difficult.
Ultimately, though, this guidance is not about that. If it were, it might encourage more things than it seeks to celebrate.
I recently blogged about what it means to be made in the Image of God. The Bible celebrates maleness and femaleness as part of that – and also makes space for those who do not easily fit into either category. To see the Church of England endorsing, and arguably celebrating, something else, is deeply saddening. It challenges the stories of those who have transitioned and then regretted it, let alone those who have transitioned back. It makes a mockery of the consistent and historic teaching of the church – that humanity is made in the image of God, male and female, and even those who do not easily fit into either category are included and valued – by suggesting that God makes mistakes, which a corporate entity needs to affirm and celebrate.
But I digress.
This could too easily become a rant.
So, please join me in praying, along with Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:7-13;
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil“
If you want to read further – and that is entirely expected – then I have a few questions:
- what does it mean to be human?
- what is sex for?
- where can Identity be found?
These are three questions that I find fascinating and important. Below are some responses to some of them that you might find helpful – whatever your perspective.
- In our local church my wife and I explored theologically questions around sex. We tried to refocus on Jesus, looked at what the Bible says, and then considered what that might mean in a range of practical situations.
- I’ve written a bibliography on this and related topics, but I’d recommend you read Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story, and Todd Wilson’s Mere Sexuality to get started.
- If, like so many, you are wrestling with the questions that the transgender conversation/identities raise, then I’d recommend Vaughan Roberts’ book as a starting point. The same publisher also published a slightly deeper book which is well worth reading.
- Ultimately, this all has to do with what we think being human means – and how we might start to answer the aforementioned three questions. For those wanting to dig deeper, I’ve been thinking about that for a while, and you can find relevant posts here.
- On the ‘Anglican’ thing, check out a recent interview I did with a ‘transdenominational’ Anglican Vicar, who I count as a friend. Ian Paul’s blog post, in my opinion, is the most helpful thing I’ve seen on this – echoing (if not actually linking to) as it does to the Church Society blog by Lee Gatiss.