GC2012: The Episcopal Church Goes Transgender
Michael Heidt in Indianapolis
July 9, 2012
After the House of Bishops passed resolutions D019 and D002, with the House of Deputies concurring on Monday, July 9, the Episcopal Church has become the first Christian denomination in history to officially affirm transgender sexuality and allow people who have had sex-changes, or "gender reassignment surgery," to apply to be clergy.
Both Houses of the General Convention warmly welcomed this amendment to the church's canon law, which now holds that "gender identity" and its "expression" should not exclude people from "the life of the church at any level."
As reported in Virtueonline, the famously gay Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, spoke warmly to both resolutions in earlier debate in the House of Bishops. Referring to D002, which specifically forbids the church from disbarring people from the ordination process on the basis of transgenderism, the bishop said, "We only ask ourselves to enact nondiscriminatory policies that we ask of the culture."
Robinson also addressed gender identity issues while recommending the more generalized canon, D019, "I am still learning about this...we are on a huge learning curve. Transgender is a large umbrella. Gender identity the particular identity of what I am is not a physical manifestation. Whether a person chooses it through clothing or other means... many are born into a body that is not their gender identity."
"Not all chose to have changes made in their physical bodies. Such gender identity and gender expression should not stand in way of life of governance of this church," stated the controversial prelate.
Few bishops disagreed with Robinson, with the notable exceptions in the Bishop of Albany, Bill Love, the bishop of South Carolina, Mark Lawrence, and Waldo, Bishop of Upper South Carolina. As a mark of this approval, the publicity seeking Robinson, who has championed gay rights around the world, was later given a standing ovation by the House of Bishops on Monday, July 9, after complaining that he had been unfairly singled out by critics.
Similar unanimity was seen in the House of Deputies, with the overwhelming majority of persons speaking in favor of the resolutions. Speakers were often emotional and at times personal, "When I was five I first met a member of the transgendered community. I asked, 'Mommy, why is that man wearing a dress?'... we need to not be a hypocritical church. We need to stick by that statement (The Episcopal Church Welcomes You) that the Episcopal Church welcomes everyone," said a lay deputy from Massachusetts.
One, a college student from New Jersey, declared that transgender inclusion would boost evangelism. "I'm known on campus as everyone's straight friend," she said, "if we pass this (Resolution D002) pews would fill," on campus and "across the country."
The Bible was mentioned once, by a lay deputy from the Diocese of Alabama, who apparently unaware of the irony, quoted Isaiah 56: 4-5, 4, "For this is what the Lord says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant -
to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever." Isaiah, he believed, argues in favor of transgendered persons being eligible for ordination.
A small minority spoke against the resolutions. One, Rev. Jim Lewis of South Carolina, stated that he was "confused by gender identity and expression," and would be hard pressed to explain these concepts to his congregation. "Is there anything that is out of bounds?" he asked. Canon Holt, from the Diocese of Central Florida, told the House that his diocese did "not discriminate against anyone, period," but if there were "discriminations," then "laying down the law would only harden hearts."
Deputy Fish from the Diocese of Albany also spoke against the resolutions, but these voices gained little traction in a House that was clearly in favor of including transgendered people at all levels of church life. Both resolutions passed easily.
Pansexual agenda activists, such as Rev. Susan Russel, former head of gay rights pressure group, Integrity and noted lesbian, felt vindicated. "Today the Episcopal Church 'put the T in equality' by explicitly including transgender people in the work and witness of the Episcopal Church and as candidates to the ordained ministry," wrote Russsel in a statement to episcopalcafe, "In voting to concur with the earlier actions of our bishops, the House of Deputies officially added gender identity and gender expression to the non-discrimination canons - making today a very good day to be an Episcopalian. "And it is not just a good day for transgender Episcopalians and their friends, families and allies. It is a good day for all of us who are part of a church willing to the risk to continue to draw the circle wider as we work to live out our call to make God's inclusive love known to the whole human family."
Others, who have left the Episcopal Church for orthodox Anglicanism, were less enthusiastic. The retired Bishop of Eau Claire, William Wantland, ripped into the Episcopal Church, stating to Virtueonline that "General Convention is not a Christian Body and we know this because neither it nor its members walk in Christ's footsteps."
Now that the Episcopal Church has enthusiastically embraced transgenderism, only time will tell if this rare demographic will flock to the pews in sufficient numbers to reverse what commentator has called the denomination's "death-slide into transsexual oblivion."
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