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Women, gays and trans all bishop bashed

Women, gays and trans all bishop bashed

Equalities and the Church of England. Right now it doesn’t seem as though they mix terribly well.

The General Synod’s House of Laity (one of the church’s governing bodies) voted against proposals for allowing women to be bishops on Tuesday (20 November). All around are cries about equalities legislation and forcing the church to comply.

One effect is to reserve 26 seats in the House of Lords for male bishops, seats that women can never occupy in the UK parliament. Naturally this is also raising questions about disestablishment – separating the church from the British state – a discussion that has been ongoing for at least 300 years.

In June this year, a report commissioned by the bishops of the Church of England wholeheartedly rejected the government’s proposals for equal marriage. This response also came in for much condemnation, and certainly the views in the pews don’t seem as rigid as the bishops’ paper would indicate. There are religious groups (and Anglican priests) who wish to conduct same-sex marriages.

My own response to the UK government suggested that, rather than saying no-one could conduct same-sex marriages in religious premises, priests who didn’t want to conduct same-sex marriages could opt out, in the same way as they can currently opt out of marrying divorcees or trans people. Forcing a blanket ban appears to be an equal and opposite breach of the Human Rights Convention, which supports freedom of expression of religion.

The claim from those supporting the continued ties between church and state is that the Church of England is still required to give moral guidance to the country. Yet look closely at the roots of the legislation that the church can opt out of. It’s moral legislation. It beggars belief how a church can claim that its (male-only) seats in the House of Lords are required to give moral guidance into legislation yet be able to legally opt out of the moral positions society as a whole has now adopted and is prepared to enforce in courts of law.

We all know the paroxysms the Church of England has been throwing itself into for years regarding homosexuality. In the midst of all this grief, it’s easy to miss that the church is also conflicted regarding trans people.

Once again the church leadership (in its widest sense) appears very swift to judge while slow to listen – although I think this is more a charge that can be laid at the door of evangelicals. This does mask some of the complexity, as some evangelical congregations can be very accepting while some liberal churches can close their doors very firmly to trans people. People who claim the core of humanity is something deep within us, yet refuse admittance to people based on their body, are surely deeply conflicted.

Trans people are often intensely vulnerable, as this week’s International Transgender Day of Remembrance sought to bring into focus. The impact of a group who claim to speak love and acceptance then slam the door in the face of trans people, often at a vulnerable stage in a disclosure process, cannot be underestimated. Many trans people continue to have a faith – something that I simply couldn’t maintain in the face of seemingly unremitting rejection.

That’s not to say that no Anglican churches welcome trans people. Some do. But to have to walk into one of the state’s churches when you’re not sure what kind of welcome you will get takes incredible courage. Many don’t bother.

Rejection is the impression that the Church of England Synod reinforced this week.