LONDON — A number of Anglican leaders have decided to speak out after learning that the Church of England released new guidance this month surrounding the use of baptismal liturgy to recognize a church member’s “gender transition.”
“Affirmation of baptismal faith, like both the gospel and dying and rising with Christ in baptism, is never simply about ‘unconditional affirmation’ of anyone. It involves confession of faith and a personal decision in which there is renunciation, repentance and turning to Christ,” wrote the Church of England Evangelical Council in a recent five-page statement.
The letter was signed by 10 of its members and leadership—mostly Anglican clergy—including Julian Henderson, Hugh Palmer, George Curry, John Dunnett and Andrew Goddard.
“Since when was the gospel of ‘repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mark 1.15) reduced to ‘unconditional affirmation?'” similarly asked Ian Paul, an associate minister at Saint Nicholas Church, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and member of the Church of England General Synod.
“All the debates around sexuality become mired in impossible ambiguity because of different construals of what it means to ‘affirm’ people,” he noted. “Jesus welcomed the marginalized, and called them to repent along with everyone else (Luke 5.32), and so should we.”
As previously reported, following its approval by the House of Bishops, the Church of England published a document on Dec. 11 that provides guidance to clergy on how baptism and its corresponding liturgy can be used to recognize a church member’s transition to the opposite sex.
The document was written following consultation with three male priests who identify as women, who go by the names Tina Beardsley, Sarah Jones and Rachel Mann. It states that if a person who identifies as the opposite sex has not yet been baptized, “then baptism itself would be the natural liturgical context for recognizing and celebrating their identity in Christ and God’s love for them.”
If the individual was baptized in the past, then the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith would be employed to “recognize liturgically a person’s gender transition.”
“The affirmation therefore gives priority to the original and authentic baptism of the individual as the sacramental beginning of the Christian life, allowing someone who has undergone a serious and lasting change to re-dedicate their life and identity to Christ,” the directives claim.
The document further advises leaders to avoid stereotyping and to use the preferred pronouns and chosen name of the church member during the service.
It also provides suggestions in regard to Scripture readings for the service, such as Genesis 17, where God changes Sarai’s name of Sarah; Genesis 32, where Jacob is named Israel after wrestling with an angel; and Galatians 3:27-28, which says that for those baptized into Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The guidance also states that the person may be anointed with oil, presented with gifts such as a Bible with their chosen name, and invited to provide their “testimony,” so as to “provide both the candidate and congregation with an opportunity both to understand the person’s Christian journey and to affirm them in their identity.”
The Church of England Evangelical Council found the biblical texts recommended for use to be without “theological or hermeneutical justification,” and noted that their usage “will be seen by many as a serious abuse of Scripture.”
“[H]uman beings do not bear the image of God in an asexual manner. God created human beings to bear his image as embodied creatures who are either male or female (Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:18-24). We are called to witness to this created good as the Church and to live thankfully within this dimorphic sexual pattern,” it also noted. “This means accepting the sex into which we were born as God’s good gift to us, however problematic we may experience it to be.”
Paul said that the use of baptism to mark a person’s “gender transition” is also a dangerous concept.
“[N]ot only is this central to Christian understandings of initiation and discipleship, baptism actually enacts bodily death and bodily resurrection in the immersion in and coming up out of the water,” he explained. “We tamper with these foundational understandings at our peril, and the ambiguous language in the guidance of ‘identity’ is in real danger of hijacking language about initiation, new life and eschatology to trans ideology.”
Former bishop Michael Nazir-Ali released a statement on Friday outlining that while the Church should be kind to those who struggle with their gender, it should remember that the hallmark of belonging to God and His Church is the fruit of repentance from sin.
“The true basis for our belonging to the Body of Christ is repentance and the desire to live according to God’s purposes as revealed in the Bible and as taught by the Church,” he wrote. “The Bible teaches clearly that God has made us in His image and he has made us male and female. The social function of gender is moreover based on biological difference and cannot be divorced from it.”
“The Church should be compassionate and sensitive towards those who experience gender dysphoria, but its fundamental teaching must be based on a revealed truth and objective biology and its relation to social structure,” Nazir-Ali declared. “Superficial accommodation to culture, without adequate theological grounding, may look kind, but will lead to further confusion amongst the faithful without truly helping those with issues about their biological sex and its concomitant gender.”