Questioning ‘The Church, Women Bishops and Provision’

A new paper on intersex conditions and Christian theology questions anthropological assumptions behind Latimer Trust-sponsored publication The Church, Women Bishops and Provision has been published by the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester.

Leading academic in intersex and theology, Susannah Cornwall, suggests that intersex disrupts the discreteness of maleness and femaleness and the gendered roles (including those within church leadership) made to rest on them.

Paper is published online ( to coincide with General Synod’s latest discussions concerning the consecration of women as bishops.

Highlights from “Intersex and Ontology: A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision”:

“The important question is what definition of maleness the authors of The Church, Women Bishops and Provision are using, and what it is in which they believe that maleness inheres. This is not stated in the document, perhaps because it is taken for granted that maleness and femaleness are simply obvious. However, it is important to know just what is it about maleness which makes it discrete and distinct from femaleness to the extent that it conveys the capacity for authority and governance – in the episcopate or elsewhere – in a way that femaleness, or for that matter any kind of non-maleness, does not. This matters because intersex disturbs the discreteness of maleness and femaleness, and might therefore also disturb the gendered roles which are pinned to them.”

“There is simply no way of telling at this juncture whether Jesus was an unremarkably male human being, or someone with an intersex condition who had a male morphology as far as the eye could see but may or may not also have had XX chromosomes or some female internal anatomy … The point is whether all this conjecture and appeal to statistical improbability ‘from below’ matters … It does matter if Jesus’ undisputed maleness is deemed crucial to his Christness, to his sacerdotal function and the sacerdotal function of the priests and bishops who minister in his stead – which the authors of The Church, Women Bishops and Provision insist is the case. But that Jesus was male is simply a best guess – a kind of sexual docetism on which ecclesiological truth and essentialist ontology is now being made to rest.”

“It is of no particular discredit to the Church if it has not until now begun to appreciate the implications of the existence of intersex for models of theological anthropology and the ontologies implicit in them. Indeed, society in the main has been similarly unaware of the implications of intersex – and it has at times been the Church itself which has stood in the prophetic role in terms of querying accepted categories of gender and sex. What might be of discredit to the Church, however – and what might compromise its vocation to privilege and serve those who are marginalized and treated unjustly – would be omitting to reexamine its beliefs about human maleness and femaleness, and teachings about what it means to serve the Church as human men and women, in light of what is now known of intersex.”

The Press Release is available to download below.

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