The Sibyls: Christian Spirituality Group for Transgender People
Press release in response to the Report from the House of Bishops’ Working Group on Human Sexuality (the Pilling Report)
The Sibyls welcomes the Pilling Report as a tentative first step towards equality for transgender, lesbian, bisexual and gay members of the Church of England, and affirmation of God’s welcome to all. The prospect of a further two years of conversations, after so many years of the listening process, is a daunting prospect, but as an organisation we are committed to developing relationships and dialogue with those who disagree with us.
Our submission to the working party (which is appended to the attachment), commended the use of the carefully-managed group listening exercise, developed in the Sibyls’ ‘Gender, sexuality and spirituality’ workshop, as a template for any continuing listening process in the Church of England. This workshop, which was tested on many occasions, and in different settings, has been written up in the peer-reviewed journal, Theology & Sexuality Vol. 16:3, 2010. Uniquely, it addresses gender identity and spirituality in addition to sexuality. In our view it is not possible to isolate issues of sexuality from issues of gender and spirituality.
We are particularly disappointed, therefore, that the Pilling Report has very little to say about transgender and transsexual people, despite our written submission, and the meetings that took place between members of the working party and Christian trans people. There is real hurt that we do not appear to have been listened to on this occasion. We note that Paragraph 38 of the report’s Introduction specifically excludes transgender people from the working party’s remit. It scarcely does justice to transgender issues to remove them from the discussion of human sexuality which is now urgently needed. We are troubled too that the report confines its warm welcome and affirmation to gay and lesbian people in the Church, lay and ordained, with no mention of transgender people. We will though persevere as participants in any further conversation in the hope that our particular perspective will be eventually heard.
Again, in the Introduction paragraph 38, the report refers to important pastoral and theological issues raised by transgender people’s experience, and that some of these were outlined in Some issues in human sexuality (2003). However, since that volume was published, the Church of England has been increasingly willing to ‘accommodate’ trans people, both in terms of marriage following gender recognition (though the 2004 Act was problematic for those who were already married, and we asked the working party to look at that), and candidacy for ordination. Trans people are also much more likely to be welcomed by their local church than they were ten years ago. We feel confident that members of Sibyls, and other trans Christians, will be keen to participate energetically, prayerfully and creatively in the kind of conversations that the Pilling Report recommends.
Sibyls Committee member Christina Beardsley comments: ‘Trans people have been used to living on the margins of society and the Church but times are changing for the better. Church of England statements and practice in relation to transsexual people are more progressive than the Pilling Report suggests. Trans Christians are increasingly conscious that they bring special gifts to their faith community. The proposed listening process is an opportunity for those gifts to become a blessing to others.’
We are also convinced that there must be a greater openness to, and a wider understanding, of the extensive range of scientific and theological work that has been, and is currently being undertaken on transgender issues, as well as same-sex issues, in addition to those relied upon within the report. We believe that what is presented there is insufficient to provide a strong and reliable foundation for the proposed conversations.
The Sibyls is a UK-based confidential spirituality group for transgender people and their supporters, offering companionship along the journey, and information/advocacy to churches.
Sibyls seek to fulfil the two great commandments of Jesus to love God and to love one another. To this end we try to hold two retreats a year, in safe, friendly establishments, to provide an opportunity to meet, talk, learn, pray and seek God’s will. We also produce a regular e-newsletter and offer a listening service for members.
For further information please contact: Christina Beardsley 07904 162 312