The Church of England issued pastoral guidance last month instituting a new “gender transition service,” a move conservative Anglicans decried as contrary to the Bible.
The guidance, published Dec. 11 and approved by the House of Bishops, the upper house of the tricameral Church of England General Synod, laid out a model for a “celebratory” service to mark the church’s official recognition of a person as a sex different from that of his or her birth. The statement, which asserted “unconditional affirmation of trans people,” recommended the rite of publicly affirming one’s baptism as a way for people who identify as the opposite sex to “rededicate their life and identity to God.” It also instructed ministers to lay hands on and pray for the individual using his or her chosen name. The document warned that some transgender individuals will not want their former name or gender mentioned and defended the practice of taking on a new name as a historic Biblical tradition.
About 18 months ago, the General Synod passed a motion urging the church to welcome and affirm transgender individuals and calling on the House of Bishops to create liturgical materials for sex-change recognition. The newly released guidance will be incorporated into the Church of England’s official library of services, called Common Worship.
But leaders in the broader Anglican Communion say the new service is an adulteration of baptism and an affront to a Biblical understanding of sex as God-ordained and permanent.
“The sacrament of baptism is designed to signify the new identity that is given to us in union with Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection,” said Andy Lines, the missionary bishop to Europe with the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a movement of conservative Anglicans with more than 50 million members. Lines said the use of a baptism service to recognize sex change dismayed GAFCON members.
“In doing this, the House of Bishops has denied the teaching of Jesus Christ, not least by rejecting His words, ‘He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’ in favor of celebrating a self-created identity,” he said, referencing Matthew 19:4. “It is because our hearts go out to all those who struggle with their gender identity that we cannot commend this false gospel or walk with those who promote it.”
Leaders within the Church of England are also critical. At least 10 bishops and a number of priests have said they cannot perform the new service and have asked for a conscience clause, The Times of London reported.
Bishop Julian Henderson led the committee that wrote the guidance and initially came out in support of the change, claiming it was “rooted in Scripture” and commending it for wider use. He backtracked a few days later, issuing a statement co-signed by other members of the Church of England Evangelical Council distancing himself from the guidance.
The wishy-washy response has left clergy with unanswered questions, including whether they will be required to perform the service and how they should handle marriages after sex changes, since the church does not currently affirm or conduct same-sex marriages.
The Rev. Ian Paul, a member of the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council, raised other unanswered pastoral issues with The Times: “What would it say for the church to ‘celebrate’ gender-identity change to the spouse who feels betrayed, to the children who feel abandoned, to the parent who feels bereaved—and even to those who have undergone transition and now regret the decision?”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the Church of England recommends an affirmation of baptism for transgender individuals, not rebaptism.