Brisbane Priest Jo Inkpin’s decision to publicise a transgender transition raises important questions of consistency for the Anglican Church.
The facts are pretty clear. Inkpin announced the transition in a blog post in July 2017.
Outside of work, I have been increasingly living as a female and confiding in family and close friends. I am in the process of changing my name on all official documents to Josephine McDonnell Inkpin and my driving licence will show me as female. Throughout I have had the unstinting love of my wife Penny, who has shared this journey most positively from very early in our happy marriage and with whom I have grown even closer in this process over recent months.
Inkpin reports that the leadership of the Diocese of Brisbane (officially known as the Anglican Church Southern Queensland) are very supportive:
The bishops and senior leaders in the Anglican Church Southern Queensland have been very supportive and have assisted in arrangements for enabling my public recognition of gender. I therefore plan to begin working as Josephine (Jo for short) from this time on. It is a huge delight to be able to take this step towards personal wholeness whilst staying in a ministry which is so rewarding. Indeed, I know that this will help make me a better priest and I hope that you will find me less distracted and more content.
The Archbishop of Brisbane, Phillip Aspinall, issued an ad clerum where he communicated support for the move, including mentioning Inkpin’s desire to continue in ministry. His ad clerum does not provide any engagement with the wider questions that arise other than referring readers to resources provided by Inkpin.
Last week Inkpin decided to take part in an episode of ABC’s The Drum along with other transgender people as well as featuring in a web article on the ABC site. In other words, Inkpin has chosen to put this issue back into the public forum.
In doing so Inkpin makes a number of claims about the Christian doctrine of marriage and also presents the Anglican Church with a number of inherent contradictions that will, at some point need to be addressed. These arise by the deliberate choice to present Inkpin and “partner” (their choice of words) as continuing to be in a marriage along with attendant claims about what marriage is. Here’s the full ABC video clip:
Now no doubt this is a difficult and, at first, confusing situation to be in. Both Inkpin and wife, Penny Jones, are sincere in their approach to this matter and have come to their own conclusions as to how things ought to proceed. As Jones puts it in the video (2:24) “Jo is the love of my life. So I don’t know what that makes me… I love Jo, and that’s all I can really say!”. It’s a genuine statement said with no guile. But it does add confusion for those considering some of the key questions facing the Anglican Church of Australia today.
Towards the end of the ABC article the author, Julia Baird, asks the obvious question:
So what is the status of their marriage? Is it now officially a same-sex union?
Rev Jones says they are not a same sex couple, but simply “anomalous”.
Addressing this contentious topic of marriage, Inkpin states,
“It doesn’t matter if we are male or female, cis or transgender — that’s not the point of marriage.
The point of it is not a construction of individuals but the quality of the relationships that are in it.”
“God is far more than male and female.”
With which many would agree. And yet at the same time the Bible seems to be pretty clear (and Jesus affirms it in Mark 10:6); God’s image is reflected in humanity not least in the fact that we are made male and female:
Gen. 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
and rather than “male and female” not being “the point of marriage” it appears to be an intrinsic part of it:
Matt. 19:5 [Jesus] said [quoting Gen. 2:24], ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’.
At it’s recent General Synod the Anglican Church of Australia not only reaffirmed this orthodox position but also declared that blessings of same-sex marriages were a “departure from the Doctrine of Christ”.
All of this therefore presents the Diocese of Brisbane with a number of questions over theological consistency.
Given that Rev. Inkpin has decided to permanently transition to be a woman and is doing everything necessary to formalise that movement (stating in the blog post “I am in the process of changing my name on all official documents to Josephine McDonnell Inkpin and my driving licence will show me as female”):
- Does the Diocese now recognise Rev. Inkpin as a woman?
- If so, is Rev. Inkpin’s marriage now a same-sex marriage since it is between two women? If not, why not and what implication does this have for Inkpin’s desire to be treated as a woman?
- If this is a same-sex marriage then how is this consistent with
- The Doctrine of Christ?
- Repeated statements by the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia upholding the orthodox view of marriage?
- Our own shared Anglican standards expressed in Faithfulness in Service [pdf on Diocese of Brisbane website] which states, “7.4 You are to be chaste and not engage in sex outside of marriage and not engage in disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature.”?
These questions are not intended to unnecessarily single out Inkpin and Jones. Personally I think they have the general right to order their lives however they choose to, even if I consider a number of their decisions are extremely unwise. That’s the same right that in other places I have argued ought to be extended to each and every person.
These questions are, however, intended to tease out the obvious contradictions that their choices bring to the Diocese of Brisbane’s doctrine of marriage. Those are challenges and contradictions that Inkpin and Jones have deliberately brought to the fore not just by choosing to re-publicise their story but to use that moment to challenge the Biblical view of marriage and thus place the Archbishop of Brisbane in a difficult position; he can support the validity of Inkpin’s transition and the new status of Inkpin and Jone’s marriage or he can support the Doctrine of Christ on marriage which the Anglican Church has repeatedly affirmed. It’s hard to see how he can consistently do both.
Of course it is important that compassion and care is shown to anybody experiencing such a radical change in their life. But the dilemma here is not about pastoral care for Inkpin and Jones which could be provided in any number of ways. It’s about ordained serving ministers of the Anglican Church living contrary to our doctrine and standards with the claimed support of their bishop.