The Church of England is considering a proposal to rebaptize transgenders in ceremonies celebrating their new identities and to "introduce" them to God with their new names.
Rev. Chris Newlands, vicar of Lancaster Priory, has introduced a motion for the church's General Synod to debate the issue. Newlands, who is in a civil union with another man, has stirred controversy before over the church's stance on sexual issues, claiming in 2012 that there was a glass ceiling for openly gay clergy.
"That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person's gender transition," the proposal reads.
Newlands conceived of the notion when conversing with a transgender church member who was born female but now identifies as male. The church member told Newlands that she wanted to be rebaptized, despite the church's teachings of one water baptism being sufficient for life, since, as the vicar recalls, she was baptized as a female, under her birth name.
"We created a service, which was an affirmation of baptismal vows where we could introduce him to God with his new name and his new identity," Newlands told The Guardian. And now, he wants to make this ceremony part of official church doctrine through his proposal.
Executive Secretary of the Anglican Mainstream Andrew Symes realizes the gravity of the proposal, and doesn't think it will pass without a fight.
"The Christian faith has always taught that people are created male and female," he told The Guardian. "We speak for the conservative traditional point of view. We are aware there are a number of people who want to change from one gender to another and that's a new thing for the church to deal with. It would be something that would go against the teachings of the church up till now. It would be something that would cause controversy."
"To recognise all people is something the church should be doing but to have a service of blessing for someone to change their gender is a new idea," he added. "It's not been discussed before in the Church of England. It would need a lot of discussion and debate by theologians and I would need to know whether there are other agendas by the people bringing it. I would be very surprised if the diocese has passed the motion without a lot of discussion and debate."
Though unthinkable just a few years ago, the proposal may not have as slim a chance of passing as Symes believes. After all, the very fact that this was offered by an openly gay vicar in the church shows how much Anglican church doctrine has shifted with regard to LGBT issues in recent years.
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