The Church of England recently held a synod to discuss, among other issues, the place of transgender individuals in the church. The synod voted in favor of a motion to “consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.” One priest implied that this liturgical celebration could be similar to a baptism so that transgender individuals could reenter the church in accordance with their post-transition identity.
Rod Dreher sums it up more bluntly:
The Anglican bishops have declared the church openly welcoming to and affirming of transgendered people, and are considering coming up with a special rite to mark their transition from one gender to the next. That’s right, the Church of England is about to consecrate sex change operations.
Now it would have been one thing for the synod to stop after the first half of the motion: “recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church.” But loving one’s neighbors because they are created in the image and likeness of God doesn’t necessarily mean affirming their lifestyle.
That, however, is not what happened.
Instead, the Church of England — not the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the primary American affiliate — expressed a sudden willingness to make sacramental something that has traditionally been contrary to Christian doctrine. In a single vote, several hundred individuals decided to muddy longstanding moral teaching.
Only after much internal rancor has the Church of England finally joined an increasing number of churches in the chorus of moral obfuscation. Yet it succumbed. The Anglican Church has long been pulled between the poles of tradition and reform. King Henry VIII was, after all, given the title “Defender of the Faith” shortly before he cut ties with the papacy. Even after separating, King Henry was loath to embrace more radical Protestant doctrines and practices, including those disseminated by Luther and Calvin.
Once ties with Rome had been sundered, however, there was little to stop a more decisive break from tradition. By the reign of Elizabeth I, the Anglican Church had adopted a moderately Protestant character.
The issue is different, but the pattern remains the same. The past few decades have seen many churches adopt a progressive outlook. The Anglican Church has slowly moved in that direction, but this vote signifies that progressivism is increasingly dominant. In other words, a church that claims apostolic succession — an unbreakable line, and bond, of authority going back to the apostles of Jesus — has shown that, in fact, it values a fluid, flexible morality.
The synod’s shameless dismissal of the church’s moral inheritance was rooted in its failure to grant a vote to what G. K. Chesterton called the “most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.” Churches are supposed to be thinking institutions, but this vote merely parrots the emotional sentiments of the zeitgeist.
The past few decades have seen many churches adopt a progressive outlook.
Granted, the age of a doctrine or moral teaching doesn’t make it true, although it should cause one to pause before forsaking it. The moral theology underlying human sexuality is, however, deeply embedded in Christian tradition and Scripture. To suddenly reject it — or even equivocate — and tacitly undermine the basic, foundational idea that male is male and female is female reveals a frightening inclination to redefine truth. And that is an oxymoronic ideal upon which to rest a church.
Progressivism, moreover, doesn’t build up Christian churches, but renders them lifeless. As Dreher has noted, “liberalizing on sexuality has done nothing to arrest decline of the liberal churches.” Nevertheless, the Anglican Church has decided to stop speaking truth to the fickle moral fancies of modern progressivism in favor of merely conforming to them.