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Bishops of Virginia on ministry with transgender persons

Bishops of Virginia on ministry with transgender persons

The Bishops of the Diocese of Virginia have released a statement setting out eight principles that will guide the diocese and the congregations, camps, schools, and programs within it as they minister to transgender persons.

Diocese of Virginia:

Almost a year ago, Bishop Shannon called for a gathering of representatives from our Church Schools to discuss the reality of transgendered students in our schools.  At that time we were not aware of any transgender students in our schools and believed our conversations would put us a step ahead of a quickly coming change.  By the time Bishop Susan convened a gathering of 42 representatives of our six schools and our summer camps on April 27, 2016, some of our schools were already in conversation with students who are transitioning and with their parents.   We moved from the hypothetical to the concrete in a short time.

While we do not yet have an exhaustive policy about the inclusion of transgender persons in the life of our schools, congregations, camps and other institutions, your bishops have articulated eight principles that guide our continuing work:

  1. We believe that all people are created in the image of God and that all people are beloved children of God.
  2. Because that is true, we will not reject, judge, abuse, belittle or in any way dehumanize transgender persons.
  3. We will not ignore or disengage from the complex realities for transgender persons in our churches, camps, schools and other institutions.
  4. We will acknowledge how complex, challenging and sensitive these matters are.
  5. We will acknowledge how difficult providing for transgender persons in our institutions might be for the transgender persons, for those who support them and for those who disagree with our decision to be inclusive.
  6. We believe that one’s gender identity is a personal matter and that we have a responsibility to protect the privacy of transgender persons.
  7. Any decisions we make about transgender minors in our institutions must be made in concert with their parents.
  8. We must remain flexible in response to the complex ramifications of this work by remaining open to relevant stories, to emerging information and to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

As an immediate follow up to our April meeting, we have asked that a representative from each school be designated to serve on an advisory team.  This team will share in the work of creating an education program for school faculty and staff, perhaps with a segment for parents, that can be taken on the road to each school.  The education program will reflect the learnings of physicians, psychologists, educators and theologians who have experience and expertise in issues relating to transgender persons.

Thank you for your leadership and commitment to this important work, and to the journey ahead as we do the work together.

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston, Diocesan Bishop

The Rt. Rev. Susan Ellyn Goff, Bishop Suffragan

The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. “Ted” Gulick Jr., Assistant Bishop


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Eric Bonetti

Apropos John’s comments, who are we to decide how our transgender brothers and sister should be cared for? Are they not capable of telling us how we might more fully include them in the life of the church?

John Johnson

The first principle, which attempts to offer a theological rationale for the statements that follow, is deeply flawed because it reflects a distorted interpretation of the very biblical text upon which it claims to be based, namely, Gen 1:27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” All people are indeed created in God’s image. But Genesis insists– and Jesus affirms in Mark 10 and Matt 19– that God creates people as male and female. Transgender persons experience a tragic distortion of that created reality. They should be lovingly helped to come to terms with the truth of their embodied selves, rather than affirmed in their confused perception. If these bishops want to base their pastoral counsel on Scripture, they need to take seriously the full context of the materials they cite instead of citing only the bits that cohere with their politically correct ideology. They would do better to omit or revise principle one, since it illustrates the senselessness of their attempt at theological reasoning.

David Allen

Gender Identity, the Messiness of Life, & the Mercy of Jesus

When I was a young curate in Indianapolis in the early 1980s, a parishioner of mine was also a leading pediatrician at the Indiana Children’s Hospital. As I got to know him and his work, I was confronted by some significant things I hadn’t known before; things that had never occurred to me; that were out of my own experience or even my own imagination. In other words, I was just plain ignorant about some things even though I assumed at the time that I was well educated and knew just about everything there was worth knowing (ah youth!).

This pediatrician headed a panel of other doctors and medical professionals who had the awesome responsibility for discerning which gender to assign to babies brought to the Children’s Hospital. More often than probably anyone thinks, children are born with mixed genitalia, or confused genitalia, or none at all. My parishioner and his team had to weigh all the data they had in front of them and do their best through medical procedures and other measures to assign a gender to these babies. They were greatly committed to their work because they knew they were making decisions that would affect these children for the rest of their lives. Sometimes they got it right and sometimes they didn’t. And they often wouldn’t know whether or not they got it right until long after the children grew up.

Science and medicine have come a long way in the last 30 years or so, but much about human sexuality and gender identity is still unknown to us. It seems odd to many of us that someone who has the apparent biology of one gender might experience life inside their soul as the other gender. What seems even odder to me is that some other people would think that people who have this gender dilemma are doing it just for fun, or to be different, or just to flagrantly express themselves. No one would wish to bring such a dilemma on themselves knowing the external pressure and possible social ridicule they could face. The pull of gender identity in each of us is strong. Most often it’s clear and unambiguous, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s messy and confusing, like life itself sometimes is for all of us.

I’m certainly no expert on biology or medical science, but I’ve spent a life time reflecting theologically on the world around me using the teachings of Jesus and his Cross as my foundation. Often my reflection has led me to the completely obvious spiritual insight that life’s messy and not always as clear as we’d like. As St Paul says: “we see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). And Jesus, no matter with whom he interacted: the rich young man, the woman caught in adultery, the woman who washed his feet with her tears, Jairus, Simon Peter, or even Judas Iscariot – Jesus always showed mercy. And he called his followers to show mercy as well, because, well, life’s messy.

I don’t know the answers to the questions that human sexuality and gender identity pose. I do know that “Restroom Laws” try to solve a problem that does not really exist. And I do know this as well: when Jesus was faced with the messiness of this world, he responded to it with such grace that not even the grave could contain him.


The Rt. Rev. Scott Anson Benhase
10th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

Dirk Reinken

I’m not sure that’s true. If creation itself is fallen, less than whole, than that manifests itself in many ways. Who’s to say that the physical reality of the person is more true than the psycho/emotional reality of the person? People are born with physical impairments all the time, impairments that I’m fairly certain are not the reflection of being perfectly created in the image of God but of the broken reality of the current state of the world. Why is it that the interior self must be changed to match the exterior self when it could be that the reality is the other way around?


Man & Creation fell after the first male & female were created.

…my heart goes out to LGB & transgender youth and their parents. It’s a cruel world that mistreats anyone because of their struggles. I have concern for parents that are in a rush to ‘transition’ their children…as so much is going on in their bodies as they grow to maturity. But I also understand their desire to help their child. I don’t think this huge focus on LGBT is healthy for children. Children should always be protected. And when they are adults they can make adult choices.

I grew up in the 60s in the L.A. suburbs, I don’t remember any LGBT kids in grade school…but I knew a handful of LGBT students in HS. They were well liked and popular and accepted. And they certainly had more fun in than I did. Teachers were kind and respectful to them and treated them the same as everyone else. No one made a big deal about it. I feel fortunate that that was my experience, and know that was unusual.

Sarah Lewis

Good to hear such a thoughtful, pastoral, proactive message…

Stacy Shelton

Richard Weinberg, if that is the biggest problem, all is good. 🙂 This gave me heart.

Richard Weinberg

The correct term is “transgender”–not “transgendered.” That’s like saying “gayed people.” But I appreciate the bishops’ communiqué!

Gwen Fry

Thank you, Richard.

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