There’s something ever so slightly disquieting about this, but not for the reasons permeating the websites and chat-threads of Evangelical Christendom. Dr David Mackereth, who said in a Department of Work and Pensions training exercise that he would not call a (hypothetical) six-foot-tall bearded man ‘madam’, was summarily dismissed by the DWP for (future) crimes against equality. In his employment tribunal hearing, the Church of England’s guidance for welcoming transgender people was adduced as evidence against him, effectively in an attempt to prove the Dr Mackereth’s refusal to call a person by their preferred pronouns irrespective of biology was somehow un-Christian and so contrary to his own expressed religious beliefs.
Andrea Williams of Christian Concern explains:
What really upset me though, as a member of the Church of England’s General Synod, was that the people who sacked Dr Mackereth for his Christian beliefs relied on the Church of England’s position to justify their actions. I have spent a lot of time trying to tell Christians, of all denominations, that our public witness to the Truth – all aspects of it – is vital. When we are on TV, radio, or even in court we are often told that our brand of Christianity is not what lots of other Christians think. But, this week, for the first time, what the Church of England says was used as evidence against a Christian in court. For me it was another stark reminder of the damage caused by the Church of England’s abandonment of truth.
The evidence deployed against Dr Mackereth included reference to the House of Bishops Guidance for welcoming transgender people, and the Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition. I criticised these moves towards acceptance of transgenderism at the time, and Carys Moseley explained why the transgender issue is a first-order gospel issue.
What is important for Dr Mackereth’s case is that the Pastoral Guidance says that transgender people should be referred to using their chosen name and pronoun. The guidance is therefore that Christians should not tell the truth about the biological sex of a transgender person. I think that, at the very least, in a civilised and fair society all people should accept this is, at least, a freedom of conscience issue.
And Bishop Gavin Ashenden was (politely) excoriating on Anglican Unscripted:
He summarised his disquiet: “It was an appalling travesty that, so far from being defended by public Christianity in this country, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s views were used to undermine this Christian doctor’s witness about the criteria on which he based his professional and Christian judgment.” And he subsequently tweeted:
Someone then interjected that the assertion that Justin Welby “would (and could) have had no idea that his compassion might be (ab)used in a court of law to entrap another Christian” was very naive. Bishop Gavin responded: “Naive is another kindness. Perhaps he needed more theologically astute, spiritually prescient and culturally alert advisors to help him manage his compassion and naivety in a way more congruent with his office?”
We all need wise people around us, especially those who tell us things we don’t want to hear.
But on the matter of the defence against Dr Mackereth’s claim, the decision to adduce the Church of England’s pastoral guidance is rather odd. Andrea Williams explains:
A member of the tribunal, asking for a clarification on the Christian view of gender, asked Dr Mackereth about the position of the Church of England as shown in the evidence presented. Dr Mackereth had to explain that he does not agree with the position of the Church of England and that he is not a member of it.
And on this site, Dr Mackereth has explained himself further:
Why would Dr Mackereth’s former employer assume that what the Church of England believes or teaches on matters of human dignity or sexual morality is universally applicable or somehow binding on non-Anglicans? What CofE Bishops believe and teach isn’t even accepted by all communicants of the Church of England, let alone free-church dissenters.
Why, then, should the Archbishop of Canterbury have any expectation at all that the Church of England’s theological teaching or moral guidance on any matter might be used in an English court against a Calvinist, or, indeed, given its historical latitudinarianism, against a communicant of his own Church? What plain and easy theological rules offer definitive remedy in complex matters of secular law? What secular authority weighs biblically-based revelation against things that are untrue, uncertain, vain or superstitious? When since the abolition of the Test Acts did the uniformity of Anglican liturgy trump the diversity of other ecclesial rites? When did the House of Bishops’ Guidance for welcoming transgender people, and the Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition, acquire a status surpassing that of the Book of Common Prayer?
Why made Church of England guidance for welcoming transgender people a matter of common pastoral praxis or theology?
You can tear strips off Justin Welby if you wish (he is used to it), and pour scorn over the Established Church for its inadequate moral guidance (it is sometimes deserved), but in the case of Dr David Mackereth it would appear that the theological ignorance, religious illiteracy, spiritual naiveté and cultural insensitivity all lie firmly with the DWP and those who are making the case against him.
Can you imagine a lawyer in a court of law adducing Church of England doctrine or guidance on marriage and divorce, contraception or abortion against a member of the Roman Catholic Church? Can you imagine Justin Welby ever entertaining the possibility that one should, could or might?