So, GS2055 ‘fell’ in the House of Clergy. That document is gone and shall not determine the way ahead for the Church of England.
Many within the Church (for that, read: ‘a few geeks like me') will be wondering: What now? For we have been told that the only so-called ‘road map’ is gone.
No one quite knows what the future holds. People like me are hopeful that something richer, more radical and more celebratory shall be possible. Archbishop Justin’s words at the end of the GS2055 debate were heartening.
So far, a number of groups and individuals with whom I am in solidarity and sympathy have indicated various, possible ways forward. You can find various statements here: OneBodyOneFaith, Alan Wilson, Modern Church.
As a trans person, I want to add my own small personal coda as we move forward.
Whatever happens, wherever we go, I ask this: Please do not ignore trans and intersex voices. The habit of imagining that we don’t problematize the church’s discourse on sex has to stop.
T & I voices really, really matter…not just to be listened to with a patronising ear (as many of us have experienced), but as critical resources to break open new joyous ground for our stale discourse on (what so often seems to comes down to) who can place their 'sex bits' where and when.
I say this not from an inclusion point of view (though that’s important), but a theological/philosophical one. For while I don’t want to underestimate the inclusion dimension, the importance of T & I (among other queer voices) lies in a theological matter that I’ve consistently suggested is absent from the C of E’s thinking:
We cannot hope to come to a theologically and philosophically sophisticated set of positions on sexuality until we, the Church, arrive at a sensitive and critically-informed account of terms like ‘gender’, ‘body’, and ‘embodiment’. (These terms need to be defined, but that is not my key point today: my key point is that, if they are complicated, problematized terms, they indicate how lazy much of our thinking about ‘sexuality’ typically is.)
We need to critically interrogate our theologies of gender if we are to begin to re-reflect hopefully around theologies of 'sexuality'.
The tragic fact is that most of the thinking I’ve come across in the Episcopal discourse on sexuality – i.e. its purposes, its place in the human and divine economy – is grounded in a lamentably uncritical ‘natural’ discourse around ‘men’, ‘women’, ‘male’, ‘female’ and gendered ‘bodies’. Too readily these notions have been treated in ‘naturalistic’ ways; or even (worse), as if Biblical discourse about ‘bodies’, ‘men’, ‘women’ relates uncritically to modernist ideas about ‘two sexes’ and so on.
Uncritical assumptions around so much discourse on ‘the body’ is hamstringing our capacity to think both clearly and imaginatively about what it means to bear the Image of God and grow into Christ’s likeness in the world.
Whatever else history, philosophy and critical theory might teach us, it is that representations of the body – the divine, sainted body as well as the so-called ‘fallen’ body and so on – cannot simply be ‘read out’ from the Bible or even from Church history. The serial violence done to the bodies of those coded as ‘female’ in Church and Biblical ‘imaginaries’ is signal enough of that.
Trans people etc may seem ‘oddities’ from the perspective of those in both episcopal authority as well as many in wider society. Yet, many of us trans people (and there are more of us than you think) have channelled our wits and guts into making critical space available for reflecting again and more critically about so-called ‘gender roles’ or ‘natural bodies’.
We attempt to make space available to question the naïve and stereotyped ideas about what a man or woman is, about what ‘sexuality’ is, and what it means to be bodies consecrated to God.
Please start taking us seriously.*
*Oh, and when I say 'us' that applies to others typically excluded from the sexuality conversation: lesbians, bisexual people etc.