The organisers of an open letter signed by 3,150 lay and ordained members of the Church of England, about the House of Bishops' recent guidance on transgender liturgy, have met with leading bishops and officials in London.
The delegation comprised Dr Ian Paul, theologian and member of Archbishops' Council, Archdeacon of Hastings Dr Edward Dowler, Church of England Evangelical Council and Fulcrum member the Rev Rachel Marszalek, and the Rev David Baker.
This is their response to the meeting in full:
This was a meeting in a positive atmosphere which combined goodwill from both sides, a cordial spirit, and yet at the same time provided space for a robust, direct and frank sharing of views. It was good that the meeting began and ended with a time of prayer. We are very grateful for the Bishops' time and felt we left with a good spirit and understanding between us all.
The group was encouraged that the bishops agreed that the press release that accompanied the guidance had been unhelpful, and that they have undertaken to remove it from the Church of England website.
Questions were raised about the procedures that had been followed in the production of the guidance, and it was illuminating to hear of some of the complexities involved, as well as to gain a clear understanding that things could have been done differently. Nevertheless, there remain questions about proper procedure that we would like to be pursued.
The delegation expressed concern that some responses to the open letter had been highly emotive in tone, and had failed to engage with the points that had actually been made. We were further concerned that parish churches served by both ordained and lay signatories of the open letter had subsequently been collated and listed as ones that 'trans people and parents of trans children might want to think twice about attending'. We were glad that the bishops shared our concern for respectful public dialogue.
It was acknowledged that part of the problem with the guidance had been a presentation issue, but the meeting provided an opportunity to explore some of the problematic wording of the guidance itself. In various places the guidance appears to be ambiguous, and capable of being understood in a way that its authors may not have intended. We expressed our concern that this may have been the result of the rushed process and inadequate theological reflection.
There was agreement that a particularly pressing set of questions, both nationally and within the Church, surround the issue of assisting or encouraging children to undergo gender identity transition. We appreciated the clarification that had been given after the initial report was published, as well as the bishops' further assurances at this meeting, that the provisions of the guidance, even in adapted form, were totally inappropriate for those under the age of eighteen.
All of those present agreed that there was much more work to be done in relation to unexplored theological and pastoral ramifications of the guidance. Particular areas of concern are its implications for children who are confused about their gender (as already noted), its understanding of sacramental theology, and its apparent lack of regard for the situation of family members of people experiencing gender dysphoria. The guidance raises but does not resolve some important questions about the nature and status of marriage itself, in particular in situations when one partner changes their gender identity and remains married to their spouse.
We hope that such work will be done in the light of Scripture and the tradition of the Church, illuminated, of course, by contemporary therapeutic and medical insights. We remain concerned, however, about what seems to us to be ill-considered use of the Bible in the guidance, as well as the apparent influence upon it of highly contested gender ideology.
In the light of our concerns, we continue to believe that the guidance should be withdrawn, until such time as the Living in Love and Faith project is able to offer more considered reflection upon these crucial issues. We understand that the bishops will convey this and other views shared in the meeting to the House of Bishops at the earliest opportunity.
We were delighted to be invited to participate further in the Living in Love and Faith project and trust that this will take concrete shape in the coming weeks. Whilst we appreciate the bishops' careful consideration of the points we have made, we also hope for action which reflects what we believe to be their gravity and seriousness, and the goodwill with which we offer them to the wider church. We remain concerned about the Church of England's systemic ability to resist the very strong cultural and ideological pressures in this area of thought.
All participants in the discussion were agreed on the importance of welcoming transgender people to our churches. The gospel invitation to repent and believe the good news of Jesus is something for all people everywhere without exception. We would also all be delighted to assist all people to reaffirm their baptismal vows as an expression of their identity in Christ and their desire to live wholly for him. We are all sinners at the foot of the cross together; we all need and delight in the grace and unconditional love of God which we know we do not merit. We pray that through our flawed and fallible endeavours, and through our inevitably partial perspectives, God may be truly glorified.