Greater NW Pride: Baptismal Affirmation and Transgender People


Baptismal Affirmation and Transgender People

The Church of England recently issued rules to their priests on ways of being “creative and sensitive” as they welcome transgender people into the Church. Benjamin Fearnow wrote that the Episcopal Church’s “House of Bishops approved the pastoral guidance document that advises Anglican clergy to address trans individuals by their chosen names, rather than their birth names.  The move to welcome more transgender individuals into the church, the BBC reported, comes one year after a general synod in York voted on the need for trans people to be ‘welcomed and affirmed’ by church leaders and its congregations. The church faced protests from African immigrants and LGBT community members to push forward in its efforts to welcome minority members. ‘The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ, and rejoices in the diversity of that body into which all Christians have been baptized by one Spirit,’ the guidance approved by the church reads” (Newsweek, Dec. 12, 2018).
This “Affirmation of Baptism” in the Church of England stops short of being a re-baptism, because the Church of England recognizes that there is one baptism and is not condoning a second baptism. It isn’t a “re-affirmation” per se, because the transgender person is celebrating their new identity in this Affirmation of Baptism ritual. What this document and ritual is intended to do is to welcome people who are making a renewed declaration of their faith.
When I first read this story, I smiled, broadly. Here was a church, using an old sacramental ritual, which is as old as the faith itself—namely baptism—using this sacramental ritual in a new, contemporary context—affirming the lives of transgender people—as a life-giving, life-affirming sign and seal that this person is loved and  embraced as a new person in God in the Beloved Community. Thus, when it is time for us “remember your baptism, and be thankful” on Jesus’ Baptism Sunday in January, all of us—LGBTQ+ and straight allies alike—will have an opportunity to rejoice over the water mark left upon our souls, bodies, and minds as faithful disciples of Jesus, the Pilgrim God, in which, by grace, the Spirit claims us as God’s own. By baptism, we recognize that we are part of the mystical yet real body of Christ, individually members, one of another (Romans 12). Thanks be to God.   

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!