Conservatives in the Church of England have expressed shock and outrage after the House of Bishops led by a senior evangelical bishop have authorised a baptismal-based liturgy for transgender transitions claiming it is “rooted in scripture”.
The document, released today, is designated “Pastoral Guidance” with a rubric stating that the rite “will be incorporated into Common Worship”, the legally authorised liturgy of the Church of England.
It is this granting of canonical status to the service of initiation for transgender people that has led traditionalists to claim that a “red line” has been crossed for the first time since the debates over homosexuality and transgenderism erupted in the church.
Evangelicals are calling upon Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, to resign from his position as President of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC). Bishop Henderson, Chair of the House of Bishops Delegation Committee, oversaw the process that produced the guidance. “We commend it for wider use,” he said in a Church of England press release.
Using words from the liturgy of Baptism in Common Worship, Henderson stated, “This new guidance provides an opportunity, rooted in scripture, to enable trans people who have ‘come to Christ as the way, the truth and the life’, to mark their transition in the presence of their Church family which is the body of Christ.”
The new service formally commends the incorporation of the existing rite for the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith into services that mark gender transition. It details how baptismal elements like water and oil can be used into the service and, crucially, makes clear that trans people should be addressed publicly by their chosen name—a sign of their new identity in Christ.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, a lay member of General Synod, said that the liturgy was continuing “the Church of England’s devastating trajectory towards an outright denial of God and his word, by undermining what it means to be baptised and to identify with him through baptism”.
Ms Williams, who serves as the Chief Executive of Christian Concern, explained why the rite was a corruption of the baptismal service. “The point of baptism is to identify a person with Jesus as they begin a life of following him. Using an affirmation of baptism to celebrate a gender transition turns this upside down by encouraging people to follow their own feelings and live in identities contrary to how God created them,” she maintained.
Dr Lisa Nolland, Convenor of the Marriage, Sex and Culture Group of Anglican Mainstream, said that “so-called trans people need proper psychological help to align with their bodies at birth”. However, the new guidance reflects a “corporate psychological madness” which “tacitly endorses and even celebrates what for many has led to genital mutilation and high risk sex hormone therapy,” she told Rebel Priest.
Meanwhile, a leading Anglican theologian who asked to remain anonymous, explained why many saw the liturgy as crossing a “red line”. “It is often said that changes in liturgy formalise or mark a change the Church of England’s doctrine. Changes in liturgy therefore have been said to be a red line for orthodox clergy and bishops,” he said.
However, some evangelicals on an Anglican social media discussion group disputed whether a “red line” had actually been crossed. In response the theologian said: “It is not yet clear what if anything Evangelicals will do if their red line is crossed; but it is fatuous to think that a meaningful liturgical change requires a rewrite of the 39 Articles or the Book of Common Prayer. Authorising a prayer for use as part of Common Worship is a formal liturgical change.”
Another leading conservative evangelical who has spoken against the liturgy is Dan Leafe, whom Chambers and Partners 2013 called “an exceptional advocate”. “A ‘church’ that rejects the Great Commission of Christ is a church that has rejected Christ himself and thus ceased to be a church within the New Testament definition,” Mr Leafe told Rebel Priest.
“What I find so remarkable is that while the worlds of academia, criminal justice, sport medicine, politics, etc. are asking important questions about the trans phenomenon, the Bishops of the Church of England refused the suggestion that they might engage in theological and pastoral reflection before taking this step,” he said, calling the rite “an understanding of baptism totally at odds with Our Lord’s last earthly words”.
Asked about the future of the Church of England he said: “My future is as an Anglican but as an Anglican in the international Gafcon movement and not in a ‘church’ which has so clearly and decisively abandoned the Christian faith.”
Responding to the new liturgy, Bishop Gavin Ashenden said: “On the surface the Church of England’s new guidelines about supporting gender transitioning appear warm and affirming of personal choice. But in reality they conceal a dark secret that progressive protagonists do all they can to hide. The scale of ‘trans regret’ is enormous and unacknowledged.”
“Under the guise of pastoral concern the C of E bishops have sanctioned the promotion of mental illness made cruelly irreversible by genital mutilation and hormonal bombardment. These are circumstances where to appear to be kind the church has in fact been cruel; and it has mixed cruelty with pastoral and theological incompetence; a tragic combination for a failing church that once knew better. ‘Suffer the little children’ has developed another and rather terrible meaning,” Dr Ashenden told Rebel Priest.
Preparations for the new liturgy were set in motion after the July 2017 General Synod of the Church of England passed a motion on welcoming transgender people. All three houses of Synod voted overwhelming in favour of the motion.
So far, there has been no comment or objection from Church Society, a major Anglican conservative evangelical group, or from Bishop Rod Thomas, the only conservative evangelical bishop in the Church of England.