Workshop: Ethical and Religious Issues
Rev. David Horton
Minister, Church of England. GEMS Associate.
OUTLINE OF THE WORKSHOP.
About 25 people attended this group. After a short silence and prayer the session quickly moved into discussing why God seemed helpful to many present, while sadly contact with organised religion was often difficult. Many had found individual ministers and believers caring and supportive, but still felt that the churches and other such groups were fearful and rigid. One participant in particular had suffered greatly from one lone individual who used his position to hurt and to dictate to others. It was suggested that there were two approaches to religion: open and welcoming (although holding to `truth'), and authoritarian and defensive, where the religion became a prop for a person's own insecurity.
There were one or two technical questions. In response to one, David outlined the position of any minister performing wedding ceremonies as a de facto registrar of marriages, and as such completely bound by the law of the land.
It was noted how difficult it was to balance principles to help with individual problems. The question of telling children and building new relationships with them was just one such situation where there were many different ideas, as to whether, and when this should happen.
Unfortunately, at this point time ran out. A handout had been distributed, and this is also reproduced here.
A) No supporter of a particular way of thinking can be impartial, or even knowledgable, of other viewpoints. This is particularly true in terms of moral and religious thinking. By definition most systems that are concerned with absolute truth (however defined) exclude those who disagree with them. As an ordained Christian minister I believe that the Christian Faith is true in a way that other faiths are not, and that where Christianity differs from other belief systems it is to be preferred. As a further warning of my bias, please note that I am neither an expert nor a specialist in gender issues.
B) Religious experience is very wide spread: a sense of love and awe, the feeling of a creator, or the idea of something beyond us are all found widely. The experience in itself however is usually lacking in content from which to build a basis for behaviour. Those whose gender approach is different from most are not different in this area. The central moral resource of the Christian faith is the Bible and as such guidance is based on the wealth of rules, stories, and examples which it contains, particularly through the records of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. This is however subject to a history of interpretation. Hence the guidance by the Bishops of the Church of England in `Issues in Human Sexuality' is that the relevance of the teaching or example is crucial to the weight that can be given to it.
C) The two quoted passages in Deuteronomy of gender relevance fail badly in this area. The prohibition on cross-dressing, as well as being hard to assess in terms of modern dress fashions, and directed firstly against women, is also to be seen as a reaction to fertility practices which we would reject (Chapter 22 verse 5). The exclusion of the castrated man from the assembly of God's people (23 v.1) is based on the view of the male genital as the source of human life, and as a crucial element in the primacy of the male. As the Bishops note, this does not of itself make such a person unacceptable to God (Isaiah 56, vs 4,5) even well before the time of Christ. (Compare Acts 8 vs26-)
D) The Christian Faith has a central theme that God loves us, so much so that he was prepared to share our daily existence, suffer on our behalf on the cross, and rise to new life to prove that any barrier is now removed. The most famous verse in the New Testament is perhaps John, Chapter 3, verse 16: "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not be lost but have eternal life." In a similar way in the Old Testament most of us are familiar with the 23rd. Psalm, even if only in the context of singing it to `Crimond' at funerals. "The Lord is my Shepherd" is a picture of love and care. And in the Lord's prayer we begin "Our Father. ." using a word which equally well translates as `Daddy'. Thus God is not neutral, impartial or hostile, as some religions, and many events seem to say. He is actually on our side.
E) The other side of that acceptance, however, is that God also makes demands upon us, with implied penalties. "Forgive others, if you want to be forgiven" is Jesus' own commentary on the Lord's Prayer. God sent his Son to save the world, so that it should not be lost. This has an ominous ring in terms of our world today. And even the Good Shepherd is not above using rod and staff to direct the erring sheep!
What are those demands? In simple terms I believe that they are that moral behaviour should spring from within to bring a healthy balance to personal needs and group requirements. Jesus expressed them in his summary of the Law of Moses: "You shall love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself".
F) The implications for those not at ease with themselves are twofold: we are accepted by God as we are, but we also have the duty to live up to that love by becoming more whole ourselves, and by helping others to become more whole as well. This of course implies that those who do not (or cannot) conform must still have a concern for others, even if their needs are not so apparent. The Christian picture of God is that he is actively concerned with the welfare of everyone, whether outwardly needy or not, whether this need is physical, spiritual, psychological, or cultural, and whether or not that person responds.
G) The Bible also claims that we are created in God's image. In context I take this to mean both creativity and responsibility, and not physical shape! When we fail to use our God-given gifts and circumstances well, we incur guilt. This is to be distinguished from guilt feelings which may be the result of social conditioning, and which may be untrue. The result of guilt is that we are isolated from both God and others, a problem that has its primary solution through the death of Christ on our behalf. If the barrier between us and God is destroyed then there is the chance to receive God's help within to break down the barriers with others. This implies that we will turn from known wrong, whether in our interior thinking, our own behaviour or our effect on others. Failure to do this shortcircuits forgiveness and keeps the barriers of conscience up. God's demand is for personal honesty, and that we accept responsibility for who we are and who we should be becoming.
H) This kind of openness and forward looking approach is particularly hard for someone who is suffering, and yet I believe that it offers the best hope for the wholeness, health and holiness which we all need to function in this world, and the next. (My thinking in this area has been influenced by contacts with those who have been through the `near death experience' and in particular the life review, as well as by people who have had a dramatic and lasting religious conversion.)
POSSIBLE AREAS OF MORAL CONSIDERATION FOR DISCUSSION:
PASTORAL SUPPORT FROM THE CHURCHES.
The average picture of a Church of England vicar, based on East Enders, Coronation Street, and the occasional funeral or baptism is of a well meaning twit! If he puts six candles on the communion table and calls it an altar he will be regarded with great suspicion and probably considered a bit `peculiar'. On the other hand if he wears a dog collar twice the size of a Colgate ring of confidence, he is probably subject to strange ideas, and may well be hard and uncaring to boot. Other ministers have similar stereotypes.
Given this, will a TS or TV go to a minister for help? The answer is maybe, for two very strong reasons. Firstly, for 90% or more of the population of England he will be living within a mile or two. He is there, on the spot. Secondly, he is free! But if he is approached will he be of any help? Here I am afraid the answer is less likely to be yes. A few months ago I carried out a straw poll on the subject with my local ministers' get-together of about ten ministers of different denominations. Only one knew something about the subject and had read of the `Brain Sex' approach. I think it is significant that this minister was a woman. In my experience they are more competent and care more. The other ministers knew little or nothing and varied in attitude from outright hostility to neutrality. I handed out Beaumont Trust leaflets, sure in the knowledge that if a TV or TS came to them they would know what to do: send them to see me!
I don't think this is unnatural. In my parish I have had thirty armed police descend to arrest a murder suspect; I have driven around trying to get a wife into a refuge, only to fail and have her go back to another beating. She is not alone. I have someone who has repeatedly attempted suicide: his business has failed and his mortgage is twice the reduced value of his home. And so on. Gender problems just do not loom large for most ministers in their pattern of daily pastoral care. Having said that, I believe that many of my colleagues will seriously try to listen, understand and help, but they often lack information. One reason for my attendance here is to obtain and transmit useful help in a format that they will accept, and in that I have had support from my own diocesan church authorities. Some, of course, will not waver in their rejection however much information is available.
What about ordinary churchgoers? Here again I must counsel caution. Ministers are encouraged to be caring, and with the average church they need lots of help! There are often seriously sub-human people in church, who cannot reach out and help others. There are also first rate people - saints by any standard. And why not, we are meant to be in church to become better! There is a TV living full time in my parish, and several of the church members happily talk to her. She is a variation on the village freak! But from my experience a church congregation will be very unusual if it can cope with anyone too different. Individuals vary, and there may well be help if you look carefully. But being `read' in a church service is particularly upsetting - for both sides! In most churches the modern service of Holy Communion now has a strong communal element - the Peace - when they will be expected to greet their neighbour, and possibly half the attending congregation as well, as evidence that they recognise Christ's work in each other. This is a confrontation which is less likely in a `traditional' church service, and much more likely in a Pentecostal, charismatic or Afro-Caribbean congregation. These are also most likely to believe in a `deliverance' approach to anything considered antisocial.
OUTLINE SUMMARY OF "ISSUES IN HUMAN SEXUALITY"
(ISBN 0 7151 3735 X, Church House Publishing £2.50 12/1991)
This is a recent publication aimed specifically at the issue of homosexuality, and most particularly the issue of homosexual clergy. In order to address these topics, however, it does provide an overview of much recent thinking in the churches about sexual morality as a whole. It is therefore unlikely that any direct statement on gender by the Church of England and many similar churches would depart from the approach taken by this booklet.
The Introduction sets out the anguish of spirit being felt by many and sets the problem of homosexuality in terms of the interpretation of scripture and tradition, and of their authority in matters of morals. It outlines recent work on the subject of homosexuality, and indicates that this study will also consider human sexuality in general.
In the next chapter the focus is on Scripture and Sexuality. It outlines the interaction between the biblical text, the `salvation history' which has been constructed from that text, and the cultural experience of the reader and community. It explores this interplay in terms of particular themes, and the development in the Bible from the earlier periods of polygamy to arrive at a final conclusion that either chastity or lifelong faithfulness between one man and one woman best express our common sexuality and the needs of the individual.
Chapter three looks at the Christian vision for sexuality, in which `an incom parable union can be built on a physical foundation.' It deduces that the greater the intimacy, the greater the commitment that is appropriate, and the greater the price that this demands in hard work. It sees that kind of committed union as the most secure for nurturing children and strengthening the couple and the community. The single person is not less worthy than the coupled. But friendship is best achieved for such without a sexual dimension.
To ignore these principles that have been established over centuries is to court social and personal hurt. Sex then becomes a tool of power and abuse. Since human sexuality is fragile, damage can be done at an early stage. This can be seen in transexuality and transvestism. When the natural instincts are directed well, however, they become a vehicle for personal development, and personhood rather than sexuality is what survives this life.
Chapters four and five go on to apply the principles to homosexual orientation. Relevant points for gender dysphoric people include:
a) Causation is still not determined, and diversity is wide.
b) Our common humanity is of more importance than our differences.
c) Public attitudes exclude the different. This tends to pull them into sub-cultures, which makes for other problems as well.
d) Some forms of real and fantasy sexuality are less in line with our created nature. The ability to procreate is one test of this. So too are the complementary differences between men and women.
e) Casual or exploitative sex, and bisex ual practice are always threatening to committed relationships and hence are unsatisfactory.
f) To seek out and persecute those who don't conform is wrong, but a higher and more traditional standard is required of clergy and others entrusted with moral responsibilities towards others.
Citation: Horton, D., (1992), Workshop: Ethical and Religious Issues, GENDYS II, The Second International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
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