To be a Christian is to be woven into a community of all the baptised. I can no more go it alone in my spiritual life than I can in my ordinary secular living. There, I can pretend to be sturdily independent, but in truth my food, my housing, my transport, my comfort, my clothing, my healthcare, my information – all of it depends upon a vast network of other people to whom I am ineluctably joined. So pervasive is this that we know that the premise of “Six degrees of Separation”, that each of us can make a connection with any other human being on the planet in six human connections or fewer, is not far from the truth.
In the Christian life I am joined not simply by our common humanity, strong enough reason though that is to reflect on how I relate to those I live among, and on the people far away whose lives are affected by the choices I make. I am joined by baptism to the life of God by being incorporated into Christ. It is he who holds me in being, loves me, forgives me, blesses me, changes me and urges me on. And by that baptism I am therefore joined to the other baptised.
This not always a comfortable fact. I don’t always like other Christians, and I don’t expect them to like me. I don’t like the way some of them think or act. But that is not the point, and it doesn’t alter the fact of our most intimate and unbreakable connection in and through Jesus Christ.
It is good to remind myself of all this today, when the leadership of my church has managed to deliver my trans sisters and brothers a dreadful slap in the face by declining to act in the way that General Synod urged them to last summer. The unwillingness of a subcommittee of the House of Bishops to do more than recommending local adaptation of an existing rite reaffirming baptism suggests to me that they have not truly considered the needs of that segment of the Body of Christ.
There is no recognition of the pain, the courage, the persistent determination, the sense of being born again that is so often present in the stories of those who transition. There is no recognition of the danger and hostility that trans people still face in our society. And because of this unwillingness to recognise both spiritual courage and the risks of living as a trans person, their suggestion comes across as failing utterly to offer what a suffering part of the body has so badly needed.
The House of Bishops know their Bibles. So they will know 1 Cor 12:22-23:
“On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect“.
I think the key word here is ‘seem’. Those of us who are privileged to have trans friends know very well that there is nothing “weak” or “dishonourable” about them, but that in their journey of discipleship and discovery they are courageous and honest and true – often far more so than the cis-gendered. But those friends know too often what it is to be treated as shameful, or less than respectable, in a society that can make their lives difficult and even dangerous.
From the church they should should be given “greater honour” and “greater respect”, because they are an indispensable part of the Body. Of course the best way to find out what would signify that honour and respect to our trans siblings would have been for the members of the House of Bishops to engage with them. I don’t know why they didn’t.
I hope that for the sake of the whole body and its health they have the grace to face the anger and grief they have caused, and try again. Because we are bound to them for their good too; we, who are so often seen as problems to be managed, or issues to be debated.