Monday, November 26, 2012

Pastoral Fallout: a Trans Perspective on Women Bishops

Rev. Dr. Christina Beardsley

The Reverend Dr. Christina Beardsley is an ordained priest in the Church of England, is a board member of Changing Attitude (which works for full LGBT inclusion in the Anglican Communion), and has served for a number of years as a hospital chaplain.  In the piece below she reflects on last week's vote by the General Synod of the Church of England which fell just shy of allowing women to become bishops there.  As she notes, because the various members of the Anglican Communion have somewhat different governing structures, women already are bishops in other parts of the Communion (e.g. Australia, the United States and, most recently, South Africa).  Her comments on the church's relation to equality legislation also reflect the fact that the Church of England is a state church. As we reflect with Tina, may we stand in solidarity with all in the Church of England who are struggling, who are angry, who are in pain.


“Well, and which way did you vote?” The lady who asked me was sitting with an elderly friend in the High Dependency Unit of the hospital where I work. It was her first remark to me as I introduced myself as a hospital chaplain, the day after the General Synod’s recent vote on women bishops.

People are angry at the outcome – and rightly so. I explained that I hadn’t had a vote – not at the Synod anyway, but that as a member of a deanery synod I had voted in the clergy elections: ‘and it was passed in the House of Clergy’ I said encouragingly. She seemed to calm down then, knowing that I was ‘on side’. I think that it has probably shocked many women to see television clips of women arguing against the consecration of women as bishops. This lady clearly needed to check me out.

It wasn’t the place or the occasion though to talk about me, or my credentials as a supporter of women’s ordination, which go back a long way. I was there in my role as a chaplain and we quickly moved on to the needs of her friend.

Prior to transition I was a member of Priests for the Ordination of Women, and, of course, the ordination of women in the Church of England enabled me to remain a priest when I transitioned. Most of my working life, though, has been about pastoral care. It’s only in the last six years I’ve become an activist for LGB&T inclusion, and now that I have it’s probably too late to stand for General Synod, even if I wanted to (and I might not be elected anyway).

In any case I’ve felt very ambivalent about the General Synod since 1987, and the personal morality debate initiated by the Revd Tony Higton, which basically set the scene for the marginalisation of LGB&T people in the Church of England.

That catastrophe, combined with the painfully slow progress of the legislation on the ordination of women to the priesthood from the late 1970s onwards, means that I’ve never felt wholly confident in the processes and ethos of the General Synod. Perhaps I should have taken time to observe it at close quarters, but each time the Synod is in session I’m either working or elsewhere. Back in July, when the General Synod was meant to have voted on women bishops in York, I was at General Convention in Indianapolis, networking with the TransEpsicopal delegation.

What a contrast between General Convention 2012, where the three transgender inclusive resolutions were passed overwhelmingly by the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, and the defeat, last week, of the women bishops’ legislation in the House of Laity of the General Synod!

Tina Beardsley in the Speaker's Corner at General Convention 2012 
On the other hand, the failure of the laity to meet the required two-thirds majority by just six votes was not a complete surprise. It had been evident for some time that this could happen. The legislation had been drafted, redrafted and amended several times, and it’s claimed that there was an orchestrated campaign in the last election to the House of Laity by those opposed to women bishops. If that’s true, it shows just how political the Synod has become, and how the moderate middle need to be more politically aware in future.

In many ways this was not so much a vote about women bishops but about the creation of a measure that could accommodate those – Conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics – who, for different reasons, would be unable to accept the ministry of a woman bishop. From the General Synod vote, and the voting by the dioceses (42 out of 44 in favour), it would seem that those opposed to women bishops are a minority; but the Church of England tries hard to hold on to its conservative minorities. I find that slightly uncomfortable when the Church of England seems to treat other minorities as expendable, though the principle is sound and could, and should, be extended.

What has shocked people about the latest decision is that a truth that has been hard won, and is now widely experienced in society in general, the equality of men and women, cannot be embraced by the church because of its tenderness to those with conscientious objections. Such tenderness is the Christian way set out by Paul in relation to dietary regulations in Romans 14-15.1 and 1 Corinthians 8, but not when it challenged the inclusive character of the gospel (Galatians 2.11-21). Parallel jurisdiction, which some of the opponents to women bishops appear to want, would likewise compromise the oversight of a woman bishop, leading to a two-tier episcopate.

This is the so-called ‘circle that cannot be squared’ which is plunging the Church of England into crisis. Since the Church of England is the Established Church of the land, the General Synod’s legal decisions are subject to scrutiny and ratification by Parliament and there is serious concern within Parliament about the Synod’s inability to progress the legislation in favour of women bishops.

There is talk of making the government’s experience in promoting equality available to the Church of England. Some MPs, and even bishops, are keen for the Church’s exemptions to equality legislation to be lifted. If this were to happen there would be a huge outcry from conservatives but it is something that I have longed for. Back in the late 1970s, when I was lamenting the Church of England’s slow progress towards enabling the ordination of women to the diaconate and the priesthood, the priest who was training me said this: ‘It was scandalous that the Church of England was granted exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act (1975).’

How right he was, and how important now for us, as LGB&T people, that ALL the Church’s exemptions should be removed, not just with reference to the Sex Discrimination Act, but to all the equalities legislation the UK Government has enacted in recent years. Only when the Church of England has finally embraced the principle of equality – which, after all, lies at the heart of the gospel – can it with integrity minister to the tender consciences of those who find such strong meat too hard to swallow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Coming Full Circle: Boston Trans Day of Remembrance, 2012

Though today, November 20, marks the official Transgender Day of Remembrance, many communities observed the day on Sunday evening.  In Boston, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul hosted the event, organized by a local planning committee.  In his comments below, TransEpiscopal member Iain Stanford reports on his experience of the evening, how it brought together his worlds. 


This past Sunday afternoon the air was cool and crisp, and thelast of the leaves with their shades of orange and red still clung to thetrees, as I walked across the Boston Common to the CathedralChurch of St. Paul to help in the preparations for Boston’s annualobservance of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Joining with other membersof theCrossing community, signs were put up, linens were put out, and candles lit. This was the third year that the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts wouldhave the honor of welcoming the trans community into our cathedral.

In 1998 in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, friends, family,and allies had gathered to hold a speak-out and candlelight vigil in honor ofRita Hester, who had been brutally stabbed to death days before. This was thebeginning. Since then, TDOR has grown into an international observance toremember those in the trans community who have lost their lives due toanti-transgender violence and discrimination. Now in its fourteenth year, thenumber of deaths continues to rise. Sadly, this year’s TDOR remembered 265 people who lost their lives from November15, 2011 through November 14, 2012. Listening to the stories of loss and grief,I am always struck by the resilience and beauty of people embracing andsupporting one another. It is an evening filled with tears and aches, but alsowith laughter and joy. It is a time to see old friends and meet new ones.

As people took their seats and began to settle in for the startof the evening, I sat off to the side collecting my thoughts. Scheduled to givethe welcome with Bishop Shaw on behalf of the Cathedral, I could feel thenervous tension intensifying. Katie Ernst, the Crossing’s Minister for Mission,and liaison to the TDOR committee, came over to try to calm me. I was feelingsomething more than the usual adrenaline rush and nervous butterflies. Was itjust that this was the first time I would speak at the Cathedral? Was it thatthis was the first time I would speak to the Boston trans community? Yes andyes, but there was something more.

Two of my worlds were meeting this night. It felt a little likeinviting your friends and family to the same holiday event, where you are hopingfor more than mere toleration-- you are hoping that the two groups mightactually enjoy their time together. I am grateful that there are many who quite literally embody in ourlives both these worlds—I do not stand alone. Still, being Christian in thetrans community or being trans in the Christian community has its moments ofincongruity. The hurt to many in the trans community in the name ofinstitutional religion, particularly some Christian Churches, looms large.There is much work to be done. I am grateful that my own Episcopal Church is asupportive ally and counter voice to the hurt.

Charito Suarez, the master of ceremonies, set the tone of thenight as she sang, “Perhaps Love,” a poignant song of love and loss. She thencalled Bishop Shaw up to the microphone to speak. I was trying to listen, butmy heart was pounding.  +Tomwelcomed the trans community to the Cathedral, explaining how blessed he feltthat the trans community, had trusted him with our stories, how he had grownover the years to understand our lives and struggles more and more, and how hewas committed to being an advocate on our behalf. In particular he told thestory of young man just 14 years old who had touched his heart.

And then, it was my turn to speak: I walked up, took themicrophone, and turned around. All of a sudden, facing the people, the Cathedral had just become much bigger than the view from the seats. These weremy remarks …

* * *

Hello, my name is Iain Stanford. It is my pleasure to welcome youtoday on behalf of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, and especially on behalfof the Crossing community. We are one of several communities that call theCathedral home. We are a community that seeks to practice what we like to callradical welcome, embracing all people, communities, and the earth. 

I feel particularly blessed tonight to have two of my worlds cometogether, The Episcopal Church and the trans community. Two years ago, havingjust begun my own transition, I sat right over there, in those seats, for thefirst Trans Day of Remembrance held here at St Paul’s. I listened intently toBishop Shaw as he apologized for the way Christians – and especiallyinstitutional Churches -- had treated trans people.  As I listened to his words, my eyes filled with tears, asdid those of the people around me. It was powerful moment, and for many, ahealing one. It lingers still in my heart today. Thank you, +Tom!

Tonight that memory, combined with recent events, brings me fullcircle. It is with great joy that I can report to you the events of this pastsummer at our General Convention -- the highest governing body of The EpiscopalChurch. We changed the non-discrimination canons of The Episcopal church -- thelaws by which we govern ourselves -- to include gender identity and genderexpression.

We were able to accomplish this feat through the efforts ofTransEpiscopal members, several of whom are here tonight. But more importantly,we accomplished this through you. We could not have achieved this historic shift without the witness ofthe trans community writ large. As +Tom mentioned, he and the other bishops,and the people in the Church learned from and grew in understanding because ofthe trans community. Without your witness every day, day in and day out, TheEpiscopal Church would not have been able to turn its face. This summer itembraced us. So tonight, I want to say thank you!

And again, welcome to my home!