Church of England admits it doesn't have a definition of 'woman'

‘There are complexities associated with gender identity’: Church of England admits it doesn’t have a definition of ‘woman’

  • A bishop said the church was had no ‘official definition’ of what a woman is
  • Rt Rev Robert Innes added the definition of a woman used to be ‘self-evident’
  • The stance comes despite Anglicanism still opposing same-sex weddings 
  • One campaigner said it was ‘shocking’ the church had given up the definition  

The Church of England has admitted it does not have a definition of the word woman.

A bishop said yesterday that the meaning of the word used to be ‘self-evident’.

But he added that there are now ‘complexities associated with gender identity’ which a church project about sexuality and relationships is exploring.

The admission, in an official report prepared for the gathering of its governing body this weekend, stirred criticism last night.

It comes despite Anglicanism continuing to oppose same-sex weddings – and only recently allowing women to be bishops.

Pictured: Canterbury Cathedral. A Church of England bishop said the church had no definition for a woman at a meeting of the General Synod last week 

Campaigner Maya Forstater said: ‘When the Government redefined women through the Gender Recognition Act, the Church of England could have stuck with its long-established understanding, which makes sense whether your starting point is biology or the Bible. 

‘It is shocking that they so readily gave up the definition of man or woman for the state to amend, as if this fundamental truth did not matter.’

And Rev Angela Berners-Wilson, who in 1994 became the first woman ordained as an Anglican priest, told The Telegraph: ‘I’m not totally happy with it. I mean, I do think certain things like “men can’t have babies”, just to say the complete obvious thing.’

But she added: ‘But I think we need to be very sensitive and maybe we need to re-examine our boundaries.’ 

It comes after months in which the definition of the word woman has gripped politics. 

Several Labour MPs refused to define it, while leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was wrong to claim that only women could have a cervix.

By contrast, Cabinet ministers have been clear that biology defines women and that anyone born male should not compete against women in sport. 

The church was put on the spot in one of almost 200 questions submitted to its ‘parliament’, the General Synod, in York this weekend.

Adam Kendry, a lay member from the Armed Forces, asked simply: ‘What is the Church of England’s definition of a woman?’

Rt Rev Robert Innes, the Bishop in Europe, replied: ‘There is no official definition, which reflects the fact that until fairly recently definitions of this kind were thought to be self-evident, as reflected in the marriage liturgy.’

He added that the church ‘has begun to explore the complexities associated with gender identity’ .

Jayne Ozanne, who sat on the Government’s LGBT+ advisory panel, said Mr Kendry’s question was ‘passive aggressive… designed to upset the LGBT+ community’.

It is not the first time the Church has come under fire for its stance on gender. 

In 2019 thousands of clergy objected to guidance for a new type of baptism service to allow transgender Christians to celebrate their new identities.

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