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‘You Changed the Name of Jacob’

Under the United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act 2004, people who undertake gender reassignment receive a new birth certificate and their legal documents change in line with their new status. Now the Church of England’s House of Bishops has been asked to look into a liturgical rite in the same spirit.

Procedures required that the Diocese of Blackburn motion moved by the Rev. Christopher Newlands obtain a two-thirds majority in a vote by Houses. It passed 30-2 (2 abstaining) among bishops, 127-28 (16 abstaining) among clergy, and 127-48 (8 abstaining) among laity.

At the end of the debate the Most Rev. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, said he wondered if anyone in the chamber could vote against a motion seeking a welcome for transgender people. He reassured those calling for more theological work that the House of Bishops would do serious reflection ahead of producing any liturgy.

This may in part have been meant as reassurance to Nick Land (Diocese of York) who offered a failed amendment calling for fuller theological reflection ahead of liturgical change.

The other issue in the debate centered on whether the church does enough to welcome transgender persons through its initiation rites.

“To go beyond this and produce a generic liturgy specifically for the welcome of transgender people could be cumbersome and complicated, and arguably insensitive,” said the Rt. Rev. Richard Frith, Bishop of Hereford.

The Rev. Sonya Doragh (Liverpool), mother of three adopted children, said there were parallels between adoption and gender reassignment, and that the church’s existing baptismal vows could serve as well as any new liturgy.

Conversion therapy condemned

The practice of conversion therapy for people attracted to the same sex is abusive and destructive and the United Kingdom’s government should ban it, General Synod said in another vote.

It endorsed a private member’s motion by Jayne Ozanne, Oxford, who said that conversion therapy had caused her two nervous breakdowns and required hospital treatment.

“In short, conversion therapy is harmful, dangerous, and just doesn’t work,” she said. “People may be able to alter their behavior, but they can never alter their innate desire.”

She won the day by a large majority in all three houses: 36-1 among bishops, 135-25 (13 abstaining) among clergy, 127-48 (13 abstaining) among laity.

Ozanne found support from the Archbishop of York. “The sooner the practice of so-called conversion therapy is banned, I can sleep at night,” Archbishop Sentamu said.

“As the world listens to us, the world needs to hear us say that LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a crime,” said the Rt. Rev. Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool.

John Martin

Related: The title of this post draws from “A Transgender Renaming Service” on the weblog of Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay & Transgender Justice.


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