Transgender row: Presbyterian church says it will ‘hold to unchanging Biblical principles’

The blue, white and pink flag typically used by transgender campaignersThe blue, white and pink flag typically used by transgender campaigners
The blue, white and pink flag typically used by transgender campaigners
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland says it will continue to hold to “underlying Biblical principles” when asked about issues of gender identity, amid an escalating nationwide row over transgenderism.

The church made the comments to the News Letter amid renewed pressure on the government to alter the law so that anybody can declare themselves to be any gender they want, without any medical basis.

The proposed change in the law – known as “self-ID” – has been a highly sought-after objective of transgender and “non-binary” campaigners for years.

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It had looked until recently that the Conservative government was going to approve it.

But now leaked information suggests Boris Johnson’s government is shying away from the idea – prompting anger from campaigners who had hoped victory was at hand.

The changes would have applied initially only to England and Wales, but would have given strong impetus for NI to follow suit.

The issue poses a challenge to the fundamental notion of what it means to be a man or a woman, and could potentially be divisive for NI Christians (many of whom already had difficulty accepting gay marriage, with intra-denominational splits as a result).

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Signs of discord within the Church of Ireland erupted into the open last month when the News Letter exclusively revealed that an influential committee within the church had written to the government calling for “non-binary gender identities” to be recognised and protected in law.

A long-time veteran of the general synod, Dermot O’Callaghan, told the News Letter he is ready to quit the Church of Ireland altogether if it embraces such a stance as official policy, stressing that the Christian vision holds there to be two genders, male and female – not multiple ones such as womxn, neutrois, genderqueer, two-spirit, pangender, and others.

The Times broke the news a couple of days ago that the government was ditching its plans for “self-ID”,

Asked about its view on this government U-turn, a spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland told the News Letter: “Issues of gender identity are deeply complex and sensitive for those who identify as transgender, and their families.

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“As a church seeking to respond pastorally, we affirm that all human life is a gift from God, and all people are loved, valued and cherished by God.

“While along with other major cultural and moral shifts, the understanding of these issues in wider society has changed significantly in recent years, we continue to hold to the underlying Biblical principles that remain constant and underpin society as whole.”

The CoI was asked to comment, but said nothing.

The organisation Trangender NI issued a statement to the News Letter, saying: “If the leak is correct, the consultation held by the government showed a massive 70% supported the plans to improve the legislation, and it would be unjust to ignore this huge message from the public.

“TransgenderNI and other organisations here will continue to advocate for improving our gender recognition law.

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“The Republic of Ireland introduced progressive legislation based on self-declaration of gender in 2015, and we now have five years of evidence showing it doesn’t cause the sky to fall.

“This legislation merely makes daily life easier for our small community. We advocate for both governments in Belfast and London to adopt similar legislation.”

Also weighing into the issue was Mike Davidson of the Belfast-based body Core Issues Trust, which describes its mission as “challenging gender confusion”.

He said: “[Self-ID] dissociates identity and biological make-up.

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“You could identify as male even though you are genetically female, and vice-versa.

“We think that’s profoundly wrong and confusing for children and it also basically misrepresents human sexuality.

“We think it’s a fundamental distortion of reality, but also the Judeo-Christian foundations of western civilization.”


The term ”transgender” does not necessarily refer to people who have undergone a “sex change” operation – that is a popular misconception.

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Instead the term is used today to denote anyone who feels their “real gender” is different to their sex at birth.

For example, campaign group Stonewall says this: “Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer, gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman,trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.”

Some transgender people undergo hormone treatment and ultimately surgery, but they can officially get a gender recognition certificate without undergoing either.

However they do have to go through a vetting process and must pledge to live in their “new” self for the rest of their lives.

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They also have to be diagnosed as suffering from what the NHS calls “a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity”.

Many campaigners believe people should be able to change from male to female (or vice versa) with no vetting.


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