Are Trans Non-Binary Clergy The Church’s Future?
What’s going on at Virginia Theological Seminary, one of the country’s largest Episcopal seminaries? Well, there’s this advice on how to start with gender-inclusive children’s ministry:
Gender, like so many other aspects of human identity, exists on a spectrum. I’m a non-binary trans Episcopal clergy person, and thankfully, at this stage in my life, I’m not often told I need to do things like “sit boy-girl-boy-girl crisscross applesauce around the rug so class can get started.” Where would I go? The middle? Outside the circle entirely?
I’m old enough and secure enough in who I am to joke about this, but many of the children who we are blessed to have as a part of the Body of Christ, are not yet. Children who are questioning their own gender, or who already identify as something other than the sex they were assigned at birth, may have to smoosh an important part of themselves down into a little box and outwardly identify as someone they’re not or often (sadly) face ridicule and bullying for being brave enough to live their truths.
The author, Rowan Larson (they/them), goes on to explain how “the gender binary hurts all of us,” and then offers six ideas for starting “a more inclusive children’s ministry”:
Don’t ask children to sort themselves by gender, or worse, try to sort them that way yourself. Try asking children to self-sort by birthday month, grade, height, or whether they’re cat lovers or dog lovers.
Remind children that hobbies, interests, clothes, haircuts, names, and more can be for all of us, regardless of gender. One that comes up a lot for me is kids asking about why I have short hair. I remind them that anyone can have short hair; short hair doesn’t mean that someone is a boy, just as long hair doesn’t mean that someone is a girl. I usually give a non-gendered reason why I have short hair, for example, that I like it because it is very quick to wash and I don’t need to brush out tangles.
If you see teasing or bullying based on gender or gender presentation, don’t just stop the behavior, make sure to talk through the preconceived notions that drive it. For example, “Sky, I saw you teasing Bear because he likes unicorns. I wonder why you think that Bear can’t like unicorns, or that you should tease him for it?” Children likely picked up the attitudes they have from their families or peers in places outside of church without even realizing it.
For older kids, offer a basket of pronoun buttons next to the markers and stick-on name tags so they can self-identify as they are comfortable. For something like a confirmation class or Youth Group, consider using a “get to know you” questionnaire, like this one from Teaching Outside the Binary.
For younger children, respect what they or their parents tell you about how they identify. For children who are questioning their gender or know they don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, that self-awareness can come as early as 3 or 4 years of age.
If your church building doesn’t have all gender restrooms, consider starting that conversation with your Vestry or clergy person. In some cases, all that’s needed is re-labeling single user restrooms with clear signs like these.
Read it all. Go ahead.
What kind of seminary teaches this stuff?! This is perverse poison. Rowan Larson is going to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts this Saturday. Things are going very badly for TEC in that diocese, as the church’s data show:
That is, a 36 percent decline in average Sunday attendance in just nine years — with a 15 percent decline in a single year, which might indicate Covid skewing the numbers.
“The overall picture is dire – not one of decline as much as demise within the next generation unless trends change significantly,” said the Rev. Dwight Zscheile, an expert in denominational decline and renewal. An Episcopal priest, Zscheile is vice president of innovation and associate professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“At this rate, there will be no one in worship by around 2050 in the entire denomination,” Zscheile told Episcopal News Service.
That’s only 28 years from now.
I genuinely don’t understand the mindset of the people who run institutions like Virginia Theological Seminary. Do they really think the future of Christianity lies with nonbinary transgendered priests who advise churches to confuse little children about their own sex? Obviously they must … but why? Or is it rather that they know they’re on a glide path to oblivion, and just want to enjoy the irreversible ride?
Picking on Episcopalian libs is the easiest thing in the world, and I want to resist that. I am not trolling here. I’m sure there are many good and faithful people at VTS. Still, I genuinely can’t understand the logic of any of this. Is there a substantial number of people who would be eager to look to someone like Rowan Larson as their spiritual leader, and willing to turn their children over to the pastoral care of a parish led by someone who thinks the clergy should undermine the psychological stability of little kids? Is this what VTS endorses? It must, at some level, because Larson’s piece appeared in an online VTS ministry.
Maybe there is a need for trans non-binary clergy in Massachusetts. You tell me.
I am wondering if there are signs that a church/denomination has gone into terminal decline. I’m talking about numerical signs (e.g., population drop below a certain number), but also cultural signs within the denomination. I’m thinking about Charles Featherstone, a white man who read and commented in this blog some years back, who was refused ordination in 2014 after graduating from a Lutheran (ELCA) seminary, because (he claimed) of something he revealed in his memoir. I never found out for sure what it was, but having read the book, I think I know — and it is something so completely banal from his teenage years that it could not possibly be the reason. Could it? Granted, I never got the other side of the story, so I can’t pass judgment on whether or not Charles was unfairly refused ordination.
I bring his case up here because he did tell me that though he wasn’t a conservative, he was the only seminarian there from the working class, and boy, did it show. Everything was about advanced cultural progressivism (what we now call wokeism), but nobody had the slightest interest in class, except to think of him as problematic for not speaking their language. If his description of his ELCA seminary is accurate, then a church that is producing seminary graduates that are radically alienated in their beliefs, language, and habits of mind from the people they will be ordained to serve is not a church with a future.
I would like to hear from seminarians and clergy personnel, to get your take on this. Help me understand what is going on. You don’t have to identify yourself or your seminary, but do give us an idea of the specific church or general tradition it’s part of. Or is there a theory of institutional decline that expands past the bounds of seminaries? I am thinking of something I learned in a political theory class as an undergraduate, some “law” saying that over time, the administrative class of any institution will come to regard its personal interests as synonymous with the interests of that institution.
UPDATE: An Episcopal clergyman whose name and diocese I am withholding at his request writes:
I’m a young Episcopal priest in a progressive diocese who shares similar concerns raised in your article. I have coped with having more of a classic, orthodox Christian theology by leaving parish ministry altogether. As a rector, I was required to send parishioners to training(s) or youth camps that I would not send my children. I grew weary of pretending to be something I was not or even pretending I believed in the same way that most TEC does. I have chosen the self-preservation path to your point about TEC not being around in a couple of decades. I still want to serve Christ and have found a rewarding ministry in [hospital] chaplaincy. I do supply work (i.e., celebrate Holy Eucharist and preach for ministers on vacation) from time to time without the burden of shepherding parishioners in ways that conflict with my own (and classical Christianity’s) integrity.A few younger priests in this diocese have similar sentiments. Two have left TEC and are now priests in the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. These Roman priests lean into the rich Christian heritage of English spirituality by celebrating Mass using The Book of Common Prayer. One colleague of mine is thinking of leaving the ministry altogether, feeling too much pressure to conform to beliefs and practices that are not Christian.Within this diocese, a few churches side with classical Christian beliefs. Within TEC, these churches, and about eight dioceses nationwide, are part of the Communion Partners. They’re more like “Benedict Option” churches and dioceses within TEC. They do not send their youth to the diocesan camps. They hold their noses when they send their parishioners to required training(s) that are progressive and ideological. While the bishop of this diocese says that classical, orthodox teaching is a voice needed in this communion and TEC as a whole, in practice and at large diocesan gatherings, it certainly does not feel that way.Thank you for the article. Pray that TEC and the worldwide Anglican communion raises more Benedict Option and Communion Partner churches. Although I believe they will be persecuted as time passes, they will be needed for what is coming and perhaps is already here.