LONDON — The Church of England has published pastoral guidelines for liturgical services that would celebrate the completion of “gender transitioning” by those Anglicans who identify as transgendered.
The guidelines, titled “Pastoral Guidance for Use in Conjunction With the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the Context of Gender Transition,” were approved by the Church of England’s House of Bishops Dec. 10 and published Tuesday.
The guidance applies only to the Church of England and not to other branches of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The guidelines state that baptism is the “natural liturgical context for recognizing and celebrating [a transgendered person’s] identity in Christ and God’s love for them” and encourages ministers to accept and use “the preference of a transgender person in respect of their name and gendered (or other) pronouns” in the baptism of transgendered persons.
Baptized members of the Church of England are to be offered specially adapted rituals “to recognize liturgically a person’s gender transition,” the guidelines say.
Such liturgies would allow an individual to affirm a new gender preference while renewing baptismal promises.
The guidelines note that the Church of England “welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmations of trans people” and state that services to recognize their new identity should have a “celebratory character.”
The document offers guidance on the appropriate use of pronouns during the service, explaining that ministers “should be guided by the wishes of the candidate” with respect to acknowledging the actual sex of the person at birth.
The guidelines follow a 284-78 vote last year in the Church of England’s General Synod, calling for consideration of special liturgies that “might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.” The newly published adaptation of existing liturgies for baptism and baptismal affirmation is thought to be a compromise agreed upon among Church of England bishops divided over the creation of new liturgies particular to “gender transition.”
But Father James Bradley, a former Church of England deacon and now a Catholic priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, told CNA that the move represents a dramatic shift in Church of England teaching.
“It appears to represent not simply a further change in Anglican practice, but a fundamental shift in the Church of England’s understanding of the human person and the sacrament of baptism,” Father Bradley said.
The Church of England’s Bishop Julian Henderson of Blackburn, led the House of Bishops’ committee that developed the guidelines. “We are absolutely clear that everyone is made in the image of God and that all should find a welcome in their parish church,” Bishop Henderson said in a Dec. 11 Church of England press release.
Bishop Henderson called the new liturgical options “an opportunity, rooted in Scripture, to enable trans people who have ‘come to Christ as the way, the truth and the life,’ to mark their transition in the presence of their church family, which is the body of Christ.”
The decision has caused some controversy within the Church of England.
Andrea Williams, who is a member of the Church of England’s General Synod, told reporters that the move is a “devastating trajectory towards an outright denial of God and his word” and a “misguided attempt to be loving” that “sacrifices truth.”
The Church of England is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and its head, the archbishop of Canterbury, serves as “first among equals.” The Anglican Communion has been strained in recent years by division over moral and sexual issues.
The American Episcopal Church has approved same-sex “marriage” since 2015, while the Church of England called for a discussion for liturgies and blessings to recognize same-sex unions last year. Some member churches, especially those in Africa, have resisted these moves, holding to more traditional Christian teachings.
A spokesman for the Church of England told CNA that the new guidelines were “just a consultation on guidance for use of liturgy in Church of England services” and so “not something with a wider Anglican Communion involvement.”
The announcement from the Church of England could make future ecumenical efforts between it and the Catholic Church more difficult.
Pope Francis has been outspoken in his denunciation of so-called gender theory and the Western trend to treat basic aspects of human identity as fluid or mutable. The Pope has said that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.”
Addressing transgenderism in his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis said that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created.”
Pope Francis has also spoken out against so-called reassignment surgeries and techniques. In a 2017 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Life, he said that such “biomedical technology” “risks dismantling the source of energy that fuels the alliance between men and women and renders them fertile.”
Chad Pecknold, associate professor of theology at The Catholic University of America and a fellow at the Institute of Human Ecology, told CNA that the decision by the Church of England has caused a moment of sadness for some Christians concerned with ecumenical unity.
“As a Catholic who cares about ecumenical friendships with our separated brethren, I can only see this decision as deeply tragic for the cause of Christian unity and a profound betrayal of a common Christian witness,” Pecknold said.
Pecknold told CNA that recognizing and celebrating so-called gender transitions went against basic Christian teachings on human nature and sacramental grace.
“The Church teaches that the human person bears God’s image, as soul and body, a union of the material and spiritual, made for friendship with one another and God,” Pecknold said.
“It is true that the Fall destroyed our original harmony with God, weakened our will and disordered our desires, but the Church also teaches that the goodness of our created nature remains intact even in our fallen state.”
The Catholic Church has learned these essential human truths by reason as well as by revelation, Pecknold told CNA, but also through the struggle to overcome ancient heresies.
“From the earliest times, Catholic Christians have rejected Gnostic, Manichean and Albigensian attempts to pit the body and soul against one another. Today we see that transgendered activists have revived gnostic dualism, pitting biological sex against gender identity.”
While many communities have struggled to find a balance between welcoming people suffering from “gender dysphoria” or other crises of personal identity while still affirming common truths and values, Pecknold told CNA that the adaptation of liturgy, especially the liturgy of baptism, to celebrate a change of gender was especially problematic.
“In baptism, which is the first sacrament, God sanctifies his beloved creature, which he made ‘very good.’ Only God has the power to change and heal our nature as such, and only God can give us a new name,” Pecknold said.
“The Church is not in the business of blessing identities, but of healing nature.”