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Letter to the Archbishop of York on Liturgy Celebrating Gender Transition

Letter to the Archbishop of York on Liturgy Celebrating Gender Transition

By Julian Mann
December 23, 2018

Your Grace, This letter to you is respectfully to express concerns about the liturgy commended by the House of Bishops in celebration of gender transition in local churches. As a member of Church Society, I would support the concern expressed by its director, Dr Lee Gatiss, about the use of the existing rite of affirmation of baptismal faith for this purpose.

He wrote: 'The repurposing of liturgy like this is troubling. As a church whose doctrine is derived from Scripture and expressed in our liturgy, transitioning the meaning and purpose of liturgy looks like changing our fundamental doctrine by stealth'.

The theological reasons for the concerns about this liturgy have been well expressed in the various resources which Church Society has published and so there is no need to rehearse those arguments here.

But the specific issue I would like please to raise with you, if I may, relates to the potential misuse of the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy against frontline ministers who cannot in good conscience celebrate gender transitions.

Clause 2.4 of the Guidelines states quite rightly that 'clergy should always be conscious of the power dynamics involved in their pastoral care, noting both the position of trust which they hold and the power which they exercise'. Clause 12.3 also states that 'pastoral care should never seek to remove the autonomy given to the individual. In pastoral situations the other party should be allowed the freedom to make decisions that may be mistaken'.

That individuals must never be coerced or manipulated in pastoral conversations should not be in dispute. But gently inviting individuals in the light of the Holy Scriptures to think about the consequences of decisions they may be contemplating and lovingly warning them of the spiritual dangers of disobeying the Bible's teaching should not, according to the Ordinal, be viewed as wrong. The Ordinal clearly enjoins clergy 'to be messengers, watchmen, stewards of the Lord; to teach and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord's family'.

The use of already canonically authorised liturgy for the purpose of celebrating gender transitions presents a new set of circumstances under which frontline clergy minister. So, the current uncertainty over whether the sensitive expression by clergy of spiritual and moral concerns about gender transition might be treated as an abuse of pastoral power poses a threat. Doubt about this would seem to leave clergy, who believe as a matter of deep theological conviction that gender transition is not in accordance with God's good and loving will for people made in his image and who cannot in conscience affirm such transitions, vulnerable to having complaints of misconduct upheld against them under the Clergy Discipline Measure (2003).

As a parish incumbent, I ought to take my spiritual and moral accountability to my chief ministers under the infallible Word of God in the Bible very seriously. I should accept their 'godly admonition', which the Ordinal exhorts ordained presbyters to.

So, I think it is my duty to be clear with you as the senior pastor of the Province in which I minister that I would be morally bound to contest any CDM action brought against me for expressing concerns about gender transitions and not using the new liturgy. I would also be duty-bound to support any other licensed minister threatened with CDM action for following his or her biblically-informed conscience on this.

I believe I should show this letter to the Oughtibridge PCC so that they know where I stand on this issue as their servant in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This letter to you is also being forwarded to the Bishops serving Sheffield Diocese. It would be good to meet with them in the New Year, if they wanted, together with other colleagues who share these concerns.

With all Christian good wishes,

Julian Mann -- Vicar, the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, in the Diocese of Sheffield

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