At the heart of the guidance is a prioritization of the “pastoral,” which effectively cordons the ceremony off from meaningful theological reflection. This leaves the guidance grossly underdetermined, reducing priests to cheerleaders for those on their way to a new sex. The document opens, for instance, by announcing that the Church of England “welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ….” It goes on to insinuate that transitions from one sex and “identity” to another may sometimes be licit—and that affirming these transitions is always the appropriate “pastoral” response. In conducting such ceremonies priests should be “guided by the wishes of the candidate.” The church, it now seems, must give unconditional welcome to trans individuals, but those individuals are apparently free to impose conditions upon the church.
This triumph of the “pastoral” happens when the church abdicates its responsibility to respond to such moments theologically. As the document notes, the “giving or adoption of a new name has a long history” within the tradition, as at confirmations or upon taking holy orders. Yet the text does not attempt to connect such a practice to the taking of a different gender. This simple derivation from past to present circumvents the very theological thinking required to keep such a practice from sliding into a warmed-over celebration of therapeutic individualism. This is a baptism-type ceremony, to be sure, but it is the spirit of the age that is being consecrated.
Of course, developing the theological architecture necessary to provide real pastoral guidance to gender dysphoric Christians and their priests would make explicit the deep revolution that is at work in the church’s teaching about the nature of sex and the person. It would also open up the possibility that pastors and priests might have the responsibility to say “no” to requests for consecrating new names for transgender individuals.
It is ironic that such an individualistic and therapeutic atmosphere would infect the church’s understanding of baptism through a service reaffirming baptismal vows. It is in baptism, as the document notes, “where we find our true identity in Christ.” Yet any “Affirmation of Baptismal Faith” founded upon transitioning into a new sex risks conveying that the source of alienation within one’s former life was one’s physical body—introducing a latent Gnosticism into the theology of baptism.
— Matthew Anderson (@mattleeanderson) January 3, 2019