Intersex and Christian theology.

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 publsihed on line to coincide with the General Synod's latest discussions concerning the consecration of women as bishops.

Dr Susannah Cornwall, a researcher at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester, has published a new paper on intersex conditions and Christian theology.

Cornwall argues that many contemporary theological accounts of sex, gender and sexuality take too little account of the existence and significance of physical intersex conditions. The

full paper, “Intersex and Ontology: A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision”, may be downloaded from

Responding in particular to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision, a document sponsored by the Latimer Trust and produced by a group of writers concerned that a legal

framework should be provided for the continued protection of those within the Church of England who will not accept the ministry of women as bishops, Cornwall argues that

intersex conditions – those where an individual’s physical sex cannot be easily categorized as male or female – disrupt the model of human sex in which the writers’ arguments rest.

Cornwall writes that beliefs about the supposed ontological differences between males and females are grounded in selective readings of Scripture and outmoded anthropologies.

She argues that theologians and Church policymakers must take into account evidence of the bodies of intersex people themselves, as well as the Scriptural witness. She acknowledges the Church’s prophetic role in challenging unjust social norms, and suggests that its present failure to take account of intersex in debates on human sex, sexuality and gender roles risks compromising its vocation to privilege and speak with marginalized people.

Peter Scott, the Director of the Lincoln Theological Institute, said, “The Intersex, Identity and Disability project represents a significant engagement with an emerging area of study, and

considerably advances the theological discussion of intersex. Intersex has implications for issues of policy and pastoral practice as well as theological interpretation. With the

publication of this paper, LTI is delighted to be making a clarifying contribution to the Church’s consideration of this issue.”

The paper is published online by the Lincoln Theological Institute to coincide with the General Synod’s latest discussions surrounding the consecration of women as bishops. It

forms part of Intersex, Identity and Disability: Issues for Public Policy, Healthcare and the Church, a major research project on intersex and Christian faith identity in Britain running

until 2014. More information about the project is available at

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 theimplications 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.”