Four days after commending the Church of England’s transgender liturgy as “rooted in scripture,” a senior evangelical bishop is now calling it “highly divisive” and “flawed” and claiming that it “will be seen by many as a serious abuse of Scripture.”
In a humiliating climbdown, Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, issued a statement on Saturday stating that the “use of Scripture” in the new baptism-based transgender liturgy published under his oversight, “is a major cause of concern, particularly given the lack otherwise of any theological explanation or rationale.”
Henderson, who is president of the Church of England Evangelical Council, issued the statement on behalf of the CEEC saying that the rite for transgender initiation has “raised a number of serious questions and aroused deep concerns,” the most serious of which was the biblical texts the House of Bishops and his committee had recommended to be read at the service.
Some of these biblical texts include God changing Sarai’s name to Sarah (Genesis 17.1–7, 15–17) and God giving Jacob the new name Israel after Jacob wrestles with God at Peniel (Genesis 32.22–31). They also include New Testament texts where Jesus refers to Cephas as Peter, announcing that he will build his church on this “rock”.
“The reading of Scripture is central in Anglican liturgy. It is often a means of teaching the congregation, from the Bible, what they are doing in the liturgy. This selection of readings therefore offers episcopally commended biblical teaching. It teaches us how to interpret the experience of gender transition. Yet it has been given no theological or hermeneutical justification,” the statement reads.
The CEEC statement further accuses the new transgender rite of “declaring liturgically on behalf of God its acceptance of the claim that someone who is biologically male is in fact female or that someone who is biologically female is in fact male.”
Legally, the bishops have not clarified if clergy could be disciplined or accused of transphobia if they conscientiously object to conducting the transgender liturgy or refuse to permit it in their church.
Henderson’s statement also denounces the “innovative use” of the new liturgy as “highly divisive and theologically and pastorally questionable,” as it risks “serious concerns both within the wider Anglican Communion and ecumenically.”
However, much to the distress of conservative evangelicals, the CEEC statement stops short of a categorical rejection of a service for the initiation of transgender people. Instead, it calls for “reassuring clarifications and, where necessary, modifications from the House of Bishops in relation to the Guidance.”
Bishop Gavin Ashenden told Rebel Priest that “the Church of England has begun to morph into the world of Gilbert and Sullivan’s with Bishop Henderson coming to resemble Pooh Bah, the Chief executioner in the Mikado who at one and the same time was Chief Executioner and Chief Justice. Only Bishop Henderson has taken it further and has become, judge and victim and theological malefactor all at the same time.”
“Having created and commended the liturgy he became his own foremost critic. Denouncing himself in a style that is cross between G & S and the old Soviet Politburo in their worst period, he is at any moment expected to call for his own resignation in what had become the Church of England’s latest low drama and high farce,” Dr Ashenden remarked.
Ridiculing Henderson’s reversal a former Anglican cleric said: “So, let me get this straight. Julian Henderson didn’t realise he could veto the motion in his diocese so he just voted against it. Then having voted against it he agreed to write the guidance. Then having written the guidance and commended it, he has signed a letter that says that what he did wasn’t very good and is unhelpful and needs clarification from the bishops as to what it really means when he himself wrote it and commended it!? If he doesn’t know what it’s all about who does? The guy should be sacked for incompetence or duplicity!”
Meanwhile, some progressives are calling the liturgy “needlessly regressive” because “it talks about transgender people rather than accepting them as simply men and women.” On a pro-LGBTI Anglican website, “Kate” labelled the liturgy as “highly othering and an huge disappointment.”
Earlier, on Tuesday, Bishop Henderson had told the media that the guidance was “rooted in scripture and that he would “commend it for wider use.” Sources say Henderson was compelled to issue the statement after a number of evangelicals called for him to resign as president of the CEEC.
Henderson’s statement was co-signed by CEEC office-holders and member of the Working Group, including the Revd Hugh Palmer, Rector of All Souls Langham Place. The CEEC Basis of Faith includes “Additional Declarations” from its constitution which unconditionally acknowledges “God’s creation of humankind as male and female.”