The Church of England is making slow moves towards welcoming the queer Christians in its pews.
During a General Synod conference in York, England, the state church’s top leaders voted in two measures that signal a shift in the denomination’s approach towards LGBTQ Christians.
On Sunday, the church passed a motion on welcoming and affirming transgender Christians, and pledged that Bishops would consider creating special services and liturgies that would help a person mark their gender transition. The motion was approved by 284 votes to 78, with 26 abstaining.
The motion was first proposed by Rev. Chris Newlands from the Blackburn diocese, who testified during the debate about the challenges that trans people face in the U.K. and around the world.
“Across the world, trans people have been subjected to appalling violence against them. In the UK, transphobic hate crime has risen by 170 percent in the last year,” Newlands said, according to the Guardian.
“I hope that we can make a powerful statement to say that we believe that trans people are cherished and loved by God, who created them, and is present through all the twists and turns of their lives,” he added.
In another move, the General Synod voted on Saturday to condemn conversion therapy, a harmful and thoroughly discredited practice that seeks to alter a person’s sexual orientation and is often promoted by religious groups. Some Church of England churches have engaged in this form of spiritual abuse in the past, the Guardian reports.
The motion was proposed by Jayne Ozanne, a lay member from the Diocese of Oxford. During the session, Ozanne and another Church of England member described the depression, exclusion, and prejudice they faced after undergoing conversion therapy.
“This debate is actually quite simple. Do we trust our medical health professions and academics (including many sincere godly Christians) to know what they are talking about? Should we listen to the voices of those we and others have unwittingly harmed?” Ozanne asked. “Should we learn from our mistakes, and seek to protect future generations from the sort of damage that was done to me and so many others?”
The motion eventually passed 298 to 74, with 26 abstentions. The Synod called on the government to ban an “unethical” practice, stating that it “has no place in the modern world.”
Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes told the assembly that the world needs to hear the church say that LGBTQ identity is not a crime or a sin.
“We don’t need to engage people in healing therapy if they are not sick,” he said.
While the two motions were celebrated by members of the church, some accused the Church of England of moving too slowly on other issues important to queer British Christians. In response to a Synod vote in February that rejected a report affirming heteronormative teachings about marriage, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Church of England’s two most senior bishops, called for a “large-scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality.”
The process of putting the document together will involve a series of workshop and study groups, and is expected to last up to three years.
During the Synod meeting last weekend, some members accused their colleagues of misunderstanding the “urgency” of the matter.
Joyce Hill, a lay member of the Synod, told the Guardian there’s a “a lot of potential for things to be sidelined, postponed and delayed.” Meanwhile, she said, society has moved on and she hears of a “lot of impatience in the pews.”
“The church doesn’t seem to adequately address these issues in a way that can be understood by the nation,” Hill said.
Part of the delay could be due to the Church of England’s historical ties to the global Anglican Communion, which has 85 million members. For years, the Anglican Communion has been mired in debates about whether the church should conduct same-sex marriages. The clash between liberal member churches in the West and conservative churches, particularly in Africa, has at times threatened to divide the global denomination.