Transgender liturgies? Why are we even asking the question?

May 16, 2017 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

If a destructive, anti-Christian, revolutionary ideology is taking over society and even sections of the church, how should it be effectively countered? Whose responsibility is it to do so? Should Christians address the ideology itself and its dangers to society, or should they focus on its symptoms and effects, as encountered in people in churches? Is it counter productive to talk negatively about cultural trends at all, and should Christians instead seek to simply tell ‘a better story’ in a positive way? Will it be enough in terms of being salt and light in Western culture, for theologians to write books and essays for an audience of educated conservative Christians, by carefully and graciously explaining biblical truth and pointing out error?

Martin Davie has certainly carried out this latter task very well in his latest piece of work, a Latimer Monograph which goes beyond the title’s brief of merely answering the question “Should the Church of England develop liturgical materials to mark gender transition?” to address the subject of transgenderism much more comprehensively. In the book he outlines the arguments of the pro-transgender apologists, refutes them graciously but firmly and in detail, and provides a clear and up to date re-statement of the biblical doctrine of humanity as male and female, grounded in the creation narratives through to the teaching of Jesus and the promise of the new creation. He addresses the question of pastoral care in the church for people who present as transgender, stressing, of course, the need for welcome and compassion to individuals, but also not being afraid to talk about underlying problems connected with the Fall: disorder, sin, rebellion, and the need for repentance, faith and a new start in Christ.

Davie writes with his customary clarity and logic, and does not fall into the trap catching some theologians, of being so keen to be fair to opposing arguments that they end up sitting on the fence or being overly complex and nuanced. As an introduction to the topic, and as a handbook for clergy, those involved in pastoral care and interested lay people, this book has to be highly recommended.

Returning to the questions we asked at the beginning, we might say that Davie has more than fulfilled the task given to him, and it’s not his job to do more than help orthodox Christians, and particularly Anglicans, take a stand on a clear biblical position on sex and gender identity as the church begins to debate the issue alongside that of sexual relationships. ‘Transgender Liturgies’ certainly hints at philosophical and even political currents affecting wider society that oppose the orthodox Christian worldview. Davie quotes (p40-47) from online articles which suggests a sinister change in the way new sex and gender theories are being taught as facts in schools, ‘transitioning’ is being encouraged, and information about the mental health consequences are being suppressed. He gives space to the major 2016 study by Meyer and McHugh published in the New Atlantis, casting doubt on all claims of a biological basis for gender dysphoria.

Davie uses these points to strengthen his case against the arguments of those proposing changes in the Church’s teaching and liturgy. He does not explore the implications of what they mean for society as a whole, how they illustrate the power and reach of the ‘sexual revolution’ (for example he doesn’t mention that the New Atlantis study mentioned above has resulted in the authors being vilified), or what the origins and main aims of this revolution are. That may not be his brief – but where are other senior Anglican leaders carrying out this prophetic task of cultural critique?

One way of doing this, perhaps, would be to ask a different question. In addition to: ‘Should the Church develop liturgical materials to mark gender transition?’, it would be good to ask ‘why are people in the Church even asking this question?’ What changes have happened in wider society which have meant that the historic Christian position outlined by Martin Davie, though true and clearly presented, is simply dismissed and rejected by increasing numbers of people? Given the recent incidents involving politicians and LGBT ‘orthodoxy’, is it possible any more for anyone holding public office to oppose the ‘popular’ view? These questions force us to look beyond theological debates and policies within the church, to the way people are thinking in the culture, and its implications not just for the church but for the world as a whole.

So while it’s important to get clear in our minds how the church might care for transgender people from a biblical and pastoral perspective, it’s surely right to go further than this; to be concerned about the ideology of ‘gender in the mind’ and the rejection of binary male/female norms that is being promoted in the media and education, and is slipping into law. For example, what are the implications if, as is being proposed, people can be legally recognized as a different sex simply by filling in a form? How can we support those who speak out against the sex and gender revolution in public? Should we take more seriously in our intercession the dark and demonic aspects of this idolatry which is keeping people in bondage, and is part of a package of secular and neo-gnostic thought which, as it takes hold in peoples’ minds, will make the preaching of the Gospel more difficult? Can we more effectively form counter-cultural Christian communities of rebels against this new ‘empire’, drawing especially on young people, some of whom see through the lies and deceit and bullying of LGBT ideology.

Many people in our culture have either completely rejected biblical Christianity and embraced a new vision of what it means to be human, or they have attempted to synthesise this new vision with aspects of Christianity. The phenomenon of transgender and the distressing and painful experiences of ‘trans’ people are merely a symptom of a wholesale conversion to this vision, in the same way as the presence of churches and Christians and biblical principals embedded in laws and customs is a result of earlier generations being converted to whole life discipleship.

One of the features of this new vision is the determination of those who follow it to enforce it with soft and hard power: providing teacher training and books in schools, portraying heroic transgender characters in TV soap operas, and getting churches to adopt transitioning liturgies is one way; bringing the force of the law against teachers who won’t use this material, or people who refuse to bake cakes, or who deny ‘trans women’ entry to toilets, is another.

So thank you, Martin Davie, for an excellent book – please can it be followed up by “Part 2” – perhaps entitled: ‘Transgender Liturgies: what they tell us about the sexual revolution, its threat to our society and the Church in the West, and what we can do about it”?

See also

Church of England faces calls to condemn gay cure and hold transgender renaming ceremonies, by Harry Farley, Christian Today

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