For a long time, the Jesuits of the Bombay Province have been regarded as the crème de la crème of India’s clergy. They run some of the finest educational institutions in Mumbai. Their commitment to the poor is unrivalled. Their work among tribal peoples in rural areas is unparalleled.
The Jesuits recruit the brightest and the best. The training is rigorous and takes 14 years to complete. The selection is gruelling. In my days, it involved four interviews, of which the most demanding was the mental health evaluation conducted by a psychiatrist.
Despite their capitulation to Marxism, the Society of Jesus remains committed to excellence and even elitism when it comes to recruiting novices. The stringent application of the motto Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (to the greater glory of God) makes it incumbent for this order of God’s commandos to enlist the finest. After all, sloppy clergy who produce shoddy work will accomplish little for the greater glory of God.
The church has had more than its fair share of crappy clergy. William Tyndale, father of the English Bible, noted in 1530 that hardly any of the clerics in England knew the Lord’s Prayer. In 1551, when the Bishop of Gloucester tested his diocesan clergy, of 311 priests, 171 could not repeat the Ten Commandments and 27 did not know the author of the Lord’s Prayer.
Mediocrity in the Church of England is back with a bang. Now it is ideological and driven by the engines of equality, diversity and anti-elitism. When Sarah Mullally was installed as Bishop of London, I wrote on the ‘Mullallyfication of the Church of England’ citing mediocrity as one of the criteria the church uses to appoint its bishops.
Last week, in an unbelievable fit of ideological frenzy, the C of E said it now wanted to move beyond the mediocre to the mentally ill. It is now encouraging transgender people to become vicars in a new diversity drive headed by the bishops in the Diocese of Lichfield.
The document affirms that LGBT+ people should be ‘supported in exploring vocations to licensed lay and ordained ministries.’ The Ad Clerum (letter to clergy) condemns as ‘almost always inappropriate’ any ‘intrusive questioning about someone’s sexual practices or desires, or their experience of gender’.
The very idea of bishops so glibly blessing the divisive gibberish of identity and sexual politics is staggering. Anyone with secular or sanctified common sense can spot the icebergs bobbing before the Titanic as Bishop Michael Ipgrave and his suffragan bishops give the order to charge full steam ahead.
Since the bishops’ document specifies ‘LGBT+’ it would be fair to ask what the ‘plus’ entails. Would the C of E be willing to broaden the sexual scrabble board from LGBT+ to LGGBDTTTIQQAAPP?(Lesbian, Gay, Genderqueer, Bisexual, Demisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two-spirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, Allies, Pansexual and Polyamorous). Shouldn’t we be learning inclusion from Facebook, which has 71 different genders to choose from?
Can Anglican bishops learn from the LGGBDTTTIQQAAPP inclusiveness training session hosted by the Ontario Canadian Elementary Teachers Federation last year? Wouldn’t a Two-Spirit vicar make an outstanding contribution to the spirituality of the parish? Wouldn’t a polyamorous bishop be like King Solomon with 700 wives and 300 concubines?
The only fly in the alphabet soup is that many people who claim to be transgender suffer from gender dysphoria, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which lists gender dysphoria as a mental disorder. We are called to love them and care for them. This involves creating opportunities to provide them with the best psychiatric treatment and not carving out roles for them in highly stressful and demanding roles as vicars.
Not all transgender individuals have a psychiatric disorder. But even ‘if only, say, 40% of individuals who identify as a gender that does not correspond with their biological sex experience significant distress related to their gender identity, this would constitute a public health issue requiring clinicians and others to act to support those with gender dysphoria, and hopefully, to reduce the rate of gender dysphoria in the population,’ write psychiatrists in The New Atlantis journal.
So why has the church bought into this arch-narrative of gender diversity and jettisoned its meta-narrative of the gospel and divine calling as a criterion for choosing candidates for the pastorate? Why is the church sanctifying mental dysfunctionality as a charisma or quality for the priesthood?
The roots of the rot run deep. In 1960, Dr Thomas Szasz, an influential professor of psychiatry wrote an essay entitled ‘The Myth of Mental Illness’ in the February issue of The American Psychologist. The opening line of his article gave away his agenda. ‘My aim in this essay is to raise the question “Is there such a thing as mental illness?” and to argue that there is not,’ he declared.
Dismissing the traditional scientific supposition that ‘mental illnesses are diagnosable disorders of the brain,’ Szasz ridiculed the idea of mental illnesses as ‘fictitious illnesses’. In a book of the same title published the following year, Szasz derided ‘the linguistic pretensions of psychiatry and its pre-emptive rhetoric’. Within a year of the book’s release, the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene demanded the dismissal of Dr Szasz because he did not ‘believe’ in mental illness.
However, it was the postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault who pushed the normalisation of mental illness to its limits in his book Folie et Déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique. Foucault’s book also written in 1961 was translated into English in 1964 under the title Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. It is often regarded as the most influential volume in the ideological dethroning of mental illness as a medical category.
For Foucault, ‘madness’ is a social construct dating back to the Enlightenment, and its ‘treatment’ is nothing more than a disguised form of punishment for deviating from social norms. Hence, the category of mental illness itself must be abolished and all forms of deviant behaviour must be normalised. It is this perfidious dogma that has seeped into the very heart of the Church of England.
Ultimately, the fundamental objection to the ordination of transgendered people remains theological not psychological. Biblical scholar Robert Gagnon insists that transsexuality is ‘an even more extreme version of the problem of homosexuality: an explicit denial of the integrity of one’s own sex and an overt attempt at marring the sacred image of maleness or femaleness formed by God’.