Anglican minister: Church leaders at odds with God over transgender service

A transgender demonstration in Scotland. The issue has come to increasing prominence in recent years, and the Church of England has now given guidance to its ministers on a celebratory service marking  parishoners' new 'gender identity'
A transgender demonstration in Scotland. The issue has come to increasing prominence in recent years, and the Church of England has now given guidance to its ministers on a celebratory service marking parishoners' new 'gender identity'

A Co Antrim minister has said guidance about transgenderism issued to clergy by Anglican leaders is tantamount to “an outright denial of God”.

Tim Anderson, rector of St Elizabeth’s Church of Ireland in Dundonald, east Belfast, made the remarks after around 1,000 active Church of England (CoE) clergy vented their objections to the leadership’s stance in an open letter.

The guidance from the CoE to its clergy focuses largely on a service aimed at affirming the faith of people who have already been baptised, but who now want to be recognised as being the other gender.

It recommends using the existing rite of the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith, but using the person’s new name.

The open letter of objection, published this month and aimed at the House of Bishops (basically the highest section of the CoE’s General Synod), raises scientific and religious objections and demands the church leadership “postpone or withdraw this guidance until all these questions are properly addressed” (see below).

Raised in Donaghadee, Rev Anderson later moved to England and was ordained in the CoE, before moving back to Northern Ireland in 2001.

He is chairman of the roughly 200-member Irish wing of GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference), which advocates traditionalist policies. However he emphasised he was speaking in a personal capacity, not on GAFCON’s behalf.

The guidance “changes the nature and the historic understanding of Christian baptism”, he told the News Letter.

“The Lord himself teaches in Matthew 19:4 that ‘he who created them from the beginning made them male and female’,” he said. “The bishops’ choice therefore of a baptismal liturgy to mark and celebrate the transition of transgender people is confusing and counters the teaching of Jesus.

“With regard to the Church of Ireland, I expect there would be a very significant number who would be aghast if similar guidance were to be given. It would be an outright denial of God and his word.

“The church must care deeply for those who experience gender dysphoria and extend to them the compassion of Christ. However, linking baptism with gender transition destroys the radical nature of the gospel and the church’s mission to our world.”

A spokesman for Church of Ireland headquarters said although they are both part of the Anglican communion, the Church of Ireland and CoE are independent. And since this matter applies just to CoE clergy, it would not comment.

Meanwhile Rev Dr Jo Kershaw, an associate priest in the Diocese of Leeds, has penned an open letter in support of the transgender guidance.

She said: “Although trans and genderqueer people are a small minority, they have always been part of the life of the church, even though the church has not always been – and, sadly, still is not always – a welcoming place.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury has denied the CoE’s transgender guidance is “a change of doctrine”, and has said it is “not binding” on clergy. The CoE also said it is giving “serious consideration” to the objections raised.

‘UNPRECEDENTED’ UPROAR:

The scale of dissent within the Church of England on the issue of the transgender guidance has been dubbed “unprecedented”.

Rev Ian Paul, a member of the Archbishop’s Council, was quoted making the remark in The Times, further describing the uproar as “the voice of the Anglican core”.

The row began in December when the Church of England published its pastoral guidance on affirming faith of transgender people.

It says the church “encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ”.

It adds: “If a transgender person is not already baptized, then baptism itself would be the natural liturgical context for recognizing and celebrating their identity in Christ and God’s love for them.”

However “where such a person has already been baptized, the House of Bishops commends the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith as the central feature of any service”.

It says clergy should find out what pronouns and name the person wants them to use.

It also says such services should be “celebratory”.

The subsequent letter of objection was signed by around 960 licenced CoE clergy as of late last week – though more are signing all the time.

It was also signed by about 170 CoE ‘clergy with permission to officiate’ (usually ordained clergy who have no parish or are retired), 170 ‘readers and ordinands’ (lay people who take some services, and clergy-in-training, respectively), and roughly 1,300 other lay people.

It says gender dysphoria (defined by the NHS as a condition caused by “a mismatch” between “biological sex and gender identity”) is often based on “poor quality” or “conflicting” evidence.

It adds that the whole idea of “celebrating gender transition” appears to be based on rejection of the “almost universal biological reality” that men and women are physically different, something which is “seen as an important feature of God’s work as creator”.

It also says no consideration is shown of the “often traumatic impact of gender transition by an individual on immediate friends and family, including spouse and children”.

It adds Christians should “always centre on salvation, repentance and faith rather than ‘unconditional affirmation’”.

‘A COE ISSUE – BUT RELEVANT EVERYWHERE’:

Meanwhile Canon Ian Ellis, who edited the Church of Ireland Gazette for 16 years and is the presently based in Newcastle, Co Down, said: “The current discussion of guidance for gender transition services is a CoE matter. Of course, the issue of ministry to people in this situation is relevant everywhere, but clearly the CoE guidance has encountered very serious objections...

“Linking such services, as has been commended by the English bishops, to the existing rite for the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith is understandably controversial.

“The open letter to the bishops, with over 2,000 signatories, recognizes the sensitivity of the issue and the need for understanding, support and compassion in ministry in these particular circumstances. It also raises important issues.

“I welcome the indication that the bishops will be giving the letter their serious consideration.”