transgender transgenderism LGBT equality church of england
Church of England

When did Transgenderism supplant Anglican orthodoxy as a qualification for Holy Orders?

If you believe that women may not be priests; that Holy Orders are a male preserve; that a woman may not represent Christ at the altar; that ‘woman priest’ is an ontological category error, there is no longer any place for you in the Church of England’s theological colleges to train for the priesthood. Ordinands must be, in the words of the Five Guiding Principles, “fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender.” Anglican seminaries may no longer discriminate: they must admit both sexes. There can be no cherry-picking on this ecclesiology: in order to be ordained, this diversity must be acknowledged and affirmed.

Acknowledgment and affirmation are not, however, sufficient to become a diocesan bishop: suffragan is the glass ceiling for those who hold to orthodox ecclesiology. If you believe that a woman may not ontologically be a priest, your presence in the Church of England is tolerated, but please don’t expect to flourish.

And yet…

The Diocese of Lichfield has issued an Ad Clerum declaring:

We wish to affirm that LGBT+ people can be called to roles of leadership and service in the local church. We very much hope that they, like everyone else, feel encouraged to serve on PCCs, or as churchwardens and worship leaders, for instance, and are supported in exploring vocations to licensed lay and ordained ministries. Nobody should be told that their sexual or gender identity in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church.

It is wholly right and proper for the Church to be a welcoming space for all, and work has specifically been focused on welcoming the transgendered. Whatever your sins, vices or crimes, we are a nation of transgressors and trespassers in need of repentance and renewal, and the Church of England is chaplain to all, without discrimination, for that is its spiritual vocation and statutory obligation. Yet Church leadership is quite a different matter, as the Rev’d Dr Lee Gatiss observes:

When it comes to ordained ministry or taking part in baptism or communion, very great difficulty arises where people have active sexual relationships outside marriage, especially where they see those as intrinsic to their identity. The Church of England’s position, which Church Society wholeheartedly supports, is that all sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage should be met not with unqualified affirmation or approval but with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion. In churches every week we all pray a prayer of confession, repenting of our sins and asking for forgiveness, as we seek to do what pleases God rather than ourselves, and look to him for power to change — it’s what we do.

It is a curious thing indeed that candidates for ordination should be required to assent to the Five Guiding Principles to foster diversity and inclusion, and yet not be required to model the Church’s teaching on human sexuality to foster holiness and faithfulness. Perhaps sexual behaviour is no longer a big deal. Perhaps nothing natural can possibly be sin. Perhaps sin has become relative and contextual. Dr Gatiss continues:

Transgender people deserve dignity, respect, care, and unconditional welcome in our churches as human beings created by God. Transgenderism, however, is problematic from a Christian perspective because it involves violating the biblical teaching that we should live as members of the sex that God has given to us. The general requirement that ordained people should model Christian truth in the way they live their lives makes it inappropriate for the Church to ordain someone who is going through, or who has gone through gender transition, or who identifies as gender non-binary.

You may cavil with his assertion that “we should live as members of the sex that God has given to us”, for that sex may occasionally be biologically indistinct as well as psychologically and emotionally uncertain: not everyone fits the typical definitions for male or female bodies, for the intersex exist. And if they exist biologically as hermaphrodites, they may certainly do so psychologically and emotionally as LGBT+ people. And if they live in submission to Christ and obedience to the Church’s teaching, there is no reason at all why they should not explore vocations to licensed lay and ordained ministries. But Bishop Gavin Ashenden identifies a further distortion:

The moment a Church starts talking about gay Christians it has been captured by an anti-Christian idea, some would go further and say ‘an anti-Christian spirit.’

The Gospels only know of men and women, for whom sex is an energy in marriage. There are some who don’t marry; there are some who aren’t attracted to the opposite sex. But these are actions, not categories. And like all actions they get assessed by being compared to God’s ideal – sexual intimacy in marriage alone, for the purposes of giving birth to children.

But it’s not as if we are left in the state when we first encountered Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And so begins a journey of transformation.

But the Church of England is selling out to the spirit and energy of secular, sexualised politics. It is happy to leave people in their pre-Christian categories, and in their pre-Christian captivities. There is no language of journey or transformation. This is a Church that is content for the world to be the world, and for people to remain characterised by their captivity. This is not salvation, this is stagnation.

You may demur at his binary proposition for human sexuality, but you cannot deny his observation of a fundamental biblical truth:

Once we have moved from the Old Testament (where there were indeed elements of collectivism and group identity, as for example the priests who belonged to the tribe of Levi), the Holy Spirit is category blind.

St Paul tried to make that clear when he looked at the traditional categories of antipathy and struggle.

In his world, they were summed up in Jew v Gentile, Roman v Greek, slave v free. He explained that the implications of the incarnation are that no Christian should define themselves with a collectivist adjective. You cannot be therefore a ‘white Christian’; or a ‘rich’ Christian. You can’t be a ‘straight Christian’ (and hardly anyone has wanted to call themselves that.) So nor can you be a ‘gay Christian’ or a transgendered one.

If ‘ye are all one in Christ Jesus‘ (Gal 3:28), what need all these divisive collectivist quotas? And why is formation for the priesthood conditional on the repudiation of Catholic orthodoxy, but undiscerning of the spirit of Transgenderism? And before you leap to the comment thread to curse sexual deviance or denounce misogyny and bigotry, this isn’t about whether or not you accept the ontology of women priests/bishops, or whether you embrace same-sex relations or advocate for gay marriage (and these matters of sex and gender identity are not unrelated): it is about why a genuine move of the Holy Spirit for collective LGBT+ justice and inclusion would seek to inflict upon faithful Anglicans a glaring injustice and manifest exclusion. How can you have pride in an equality which makes others unequal?

If nobody should be told that their sexual or gender identity in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church, why should anybody be told that their orthodox ecclesiology and theological identity in itself makes them unsuitable for leadership in the Church? When did Transgenderism supplant Anglican orthodoxy?