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Picture of the cover of Transgender Liturgies

Transgender liturgies

Posted by Edward Keene, 12 Jul 2018

Ed Keene reviews Martin Davie's Latimer Trust volume on the issue of proposed transgender liturgies.

TRANSGENDER LITURGIES: Should the Church of England Develop Liturgical Materials to Mark Gender Transition?
Martin Davie
London: Latimer Trust, 2017 111pp £5.99pb ISBN: 9781906327491

In July 2017 the General Synod passed a motion calling for the House of Bishops to consider preparing liturgical materials to mark a person’s gender transition. Although this Latimer Briefing was written in anticipation of this specific event (and indeed to persuade Synod not to pass said motion), it remains extremely useful reading in the aftermath, not least in the absence of a fully developed literature on Christian responses to transgenderism and transsexuality.

The transgender phenomenon is still relatively new to the field of post-modern identity and sexuality debates, one professional quoted in this book identifying an exponential growth of gender dysphoria cases since 2000. To some extent, transgenderism, and its wackier cousin, transspeciesism, have opened rifts in the revisionist camp, with more “traditional” feminists objecting to the threat to women’s privacy that it constitutes and other wings of the movement criticising the disrepute into which such permutations of alternative identity, by loose association, bring them.

Davie reassures readers that transgenderism is nothing new; merely another manifestation of the age-old human rebelliousness which sets itself as God in opposition to the creator’s design and calling. The difference today is merely the medical science now available to give form to this aspect of rebellion, allowing those who assume a new “gender identity” (transgendered persons) to match this novelty with a new sexual identity (transsexuals). Even with all the macabre apparatus of hormone therapy and surgical intervention, however, transsexuals will always remain at core the sex they were born into, however much they may be enabled to appear outwardly to have switched. Genetics and chromosomes cannot be re-wired. Perhaps the most heart-rending pages of this book, therefore, are the accounts Davie relays of those who have undergone costly transitioning procedures only to come to terms, sometimes years later, with the reality that they are only counterfeit “women” or “men,” impostors in a form not truly their own.

This said, the sheer number of extended quotations, some continuing across multiple pages, makes parts of this book a difficult read. The authorial voice is often lost among the forest of others that crowd in. Davie clearly wants to give a fair hearing to opponents as well as to allies, but having an introductory chapter dedicated to the writings of three opponents and three appendices relaying additional third-party material is not enough; much of the rest of the book is also given over to a dizzying array of writers. There is no doubt Davie is well versed in the breadth of opinion and authority in this new field of debate and if the reader is looking for a digest of such views then they need look no further. What the book is not is a thoroughly digested and reformatted perspective. Such a volume may be forthcoming from the same author, and is to be encouraged as a much-needed contribution to this area.

Particularly helpful aspects of Davie’s book include a few pages on those born ‘intersex’ (often the thin end of wedge used by revisionists to justify transsexualism), points on eunuchs in the Bible, a section on the gendered-ness of God himself, and another on caring pastorally for those who have undergone, or are planning on beginning, transitioning: “The first priority is not to address the issue of their sexual identity [but] to address the fact that they have a fallen nature and so a fatal disease called sin.” This is a good corrective to those of us who may be tempted to treat transsexuals with any different framework than that which we apply to all sinners in need of salvation. Aspects that are however missing from the book include a consideration of the extent to which Christians can and should adopt the terminology of the revisionists (and whether such adoption constitutes a sort of tacit approval), the extent of role that transsexuals can take on in church life (this is only very briefly considered), and (more prosaically) an index. Such elements may well be features of a weightier volume taken from first principles, rather than from the reactive circumstances of this, nonetheless commendable, piece.

This review was first published in Churchman, our theological journal. Subscribe to Churchman or purchase individual issues.

Ed Keene is an ordinand at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford

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