Transgender Liturgies: Should the Church of England develop liturgical materials to mark gender transition?

May 15, 2017 by

By Martin Davie, Latimer Trust.

In April 2015 Blackburn Diocesan Synod passed the following motion:

That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, calls on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.

The purpose of this study is to consider whether it would be right for the members of General Synod to vote in favour of this motion.

The study is in five chapters.

Chapter 1 explains in more detail what the motion proposes and the theological implications of passing it.

Chapter 2 looks at how the case for the acceptance of gender transition is made out in three representative documents, Christina Beardsley’s paper ‘The transsexual person is my neighbour,’ Chris Dowd’s chapter ‘Five things cis folk don’t know about trans folk because it isn’t on trashy TV – my right of reply’ and Justin Tanis’ book Transgendered – Theology, Ministry and Communities of Faith. Chapter 3 presents a critical analysis of what is said in these documents, explaining why it does not provide a convincing basis for accepting the idea at the heart of gender transition that someone’s true self can be separated from their biological sex.

Chapter 4 sets out an alternative Christian theological framework for approaching the issue of gender transition and for giving pastoral care for transgender people.

Chapter 5 explains why what is said in the previous chapters means that it would not be right to support the Blackburn motion.


In line with a tradition going back to the early centuries of the Church, the Church of England holds that liturgy expresses what the Church believes (as the Latin tag puts it, lex orandi, lex credendi) and therefore commending the sort of services we have looked at in this chapter would involve saying that the Church of England believes that someone who is biologically male can in fact be female and vice versa.

It might be argued in response that if the services concerned were ones that could be used, but did not have to be, this would mean that that the Church of England was recognising that some people within it believe that it is possible to be a woman with male biology and vice versa, without committing the Church of England as a whole to this position.

However, if we accept that the House of Bishops, acting on behalf of the Church of England, does not commend liturgical statements which it believes to be untrue, it follows that the commendation of such services would mean that the Church of England as a whole accepts the truth of the claim implied in them that someone can be a woman with male biology and vice versa. Some people might still dissent from it, but this would be the Church of England’s position.

In the remainder of this report we shall consider the question of whether this would be a good position for the Church of England to adopt.

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