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Why won't the Church of England House of Bishops admit its transgender liturgy guidance is incoherent and complicit with blasphemy?

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On Wednesday 20th February, Bishop Pete Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden, answered a range of questions from the General Synod of the Church of England on the highly controversial transgender liturgy guidance published last year by the House of Bishops. Carys Moseley looks at the most serious questions put to him and assesses his answer on behalf of the Bishops. You can view a video of the proceedings here.

A pastoral church doesn’t tell people how to respond to pastoral requests

Sarah Finch, a well-known lay member of the Synod, asked the first question:

“Since the subject of gender dysphoria is very complex, and since it is likely to be lay people that come into contact with people with gender dysphoria, would the House of Bishops consider commissioning expert materials that would help these lay people?”

This would seem to be an eminently reasonable question. It is the sort of question that is asked by someone who realises that gender dysphoria involves several different problems – psychiatric disorder, psychological and social problems and a spiritual aspect, not to mention a desire for legal advice. Each of these by themselves would pose a considerable challenge to lay people who do not necessarily have the resources to learn properly about the issues.

Bishop Pete told her “I think there are two different answers to that”, the first of which was essentially ‘no’, and the second was that the Living in Love and Faith resources were suited to the task. Emphasising his original ‘No’, he made the following extraordinary statement:

“It isn’t our habit, because we are a pastoral church, to tell people in explicit detail how to respond to pastoral requests.”

Make of this what you will, but the reality of the matter is that it is one thing to refrain from giving church members overly detailed instructions as if they were children who could not make situational judgments. It is quite another to deliberately withhold the possibility of even consulting experts on what has mostly been treated as a serious psychiatric condition, not to mention a subject of grave public concern. This is a fundamentally irresponsible answer by the Bishop.

Has the House of Bishops capitulated to gnostic dualism?

Rev. Angus MacLeay asked Question 59, based on the House of Bishops document on transsexualism found in the book Some Issues in Human Sexuality, published back in 2003. He cited words to the effect that the document warned back then that the Church was at risk of capitulating to gnostic dualism if it were to affirm transgender self-identification.

Bishop Pete’s answer was to say that he did not accept that the House of Bishops is capitulating to gnostic dualism, without explaining why. He simply affirmed his own belief in the tripartite anthropology of body, soul and spirit as being grounded in the New Testament, without elaborating further. Again, this is quite an extraordinary way to answer the question. For there is no explanation of how a particular belief about what the Bible says about human beings provides a warrant for giving thanks to God for a person’s gender reassignment, as implied by the use of this liturgy to celebrate it. The question is why the Bishop would have responded in this manner.

Question 61 asked by Rev. Andrew Cornes took a different, more specialised topic, but one which is closely linked to the bigger spiritual picture. He asked with what theological rationale are we denying people help to change sexual orientation but accept people’s right to change gender, i.e. sexual biology.

Bishop Pete’s answer was twofold. First, he did not accept the parallel made, again without explaining why. (Is he beyond explaining any of his answers? Isn’t the Church of England supposed to use reasoning in its theological method?) Second, he stated that the Church is dealing with a situation of people coming along who are already declared as ‘trans’.The use of the term ‘trans’ was very telling here, as it is a fashionable term invented by transgender campaigners. Removing ‘gender’ from ‘transgender’ does leave open the possibility of ‘transitioning’ to a completely different realm of reality altogether!

Are there any sources to support transgender liturgy?

Asking Question 76, Clive Scowen noted that the guidance on transgender liturgy is premised on accepting that men can become women and women can become men. His question was:

“Where do those notions find support in Scripture, the Catholic creeds, the ecumenical creeds, the Book of Common Prayer or the historic formularies of the Church of England?”

No sensible answer was given to this question because, in reality, there isn’t one.

Is this a new liturgy or not, and is it celebrating gender transition?

Susie Leafe noted that the guidance sent to churches said it was both ‘experience of personal renewal and commitment’ and also about transitioning. Leafe asked whether the liturgy was about one or the other. Bishop Broadbent’s answer was to argue that ‘nothing at all has changed from the liturgy which we espouse’.

Rev. Mark Lucas then pressed the Bishop on his answer to Question 77 where he says the liturgy is not to mark the transition. In response the Bishop said the following:

“The liturgy deals with a diversity of pastoral circumstances, where life-changing things have happened to them and they have experienced the love of Christ in a new way may want to do so. This service is one I use for a whole heap of different sorts of people. One of those contexts and possibilities is someone who has transitioned and who wishes to give thanks to their new identity. That’s the context in which I believe the service should be used.”

So finally, Bishop Pete had to admit that the liturgy was intended to be used to give thanks for and celebrate gender transition – in other words, to thank God for this as if it were willed by God! He even said he believed the service should be used for this.

Where in Scripture and the history of Christian theology has anybody said that some people are born in the wrong body and should modify their bodies to look like the opposite sex? For this is to imply that God made an error in creating people as biologically male or female. This very notion is blasphemous. Is the House of Bishops still not aware of this fundamental spiritual problem?