Intersex and Ontology: A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision

My paper, "Intersex and Ontology: A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision", is published online today by the Lincoln Theological Institute. Its publication coincides with the Church of England General Synod's latest discussions concerning the consecration of women as bishops.

The paper is written in response to a document recently published by the Latimer Trust, by a group of writers concerned that a legal framework should be provided to protect those within the Church of England who do not accept the ministry of women bishops. I argue that the authors of that document assume a model of theological anthropology which does not take adequate account of the existence of physical intersex conditions:
"The fact that maleness and femaleness in The Church, Women Bishops and Provision are considered so self-evident that they do not require definition suggests that the authors do not consider human sex something which can be doubted. However, the existence of intersex, and the uncertainty it raises in some respects about polarized, either-or accounts of human maleness and femaleness, means that anthropologies grounded in fixed, polar models of human sex are anthropologies only of some humans. In order to be comprehensive, theological anthropologies should take account of all the evidence available. Not taking account of intersex, then, might lead to problems for arguments grounded in anthropologies of clear, fixed, polarized maleness and femaleness ...

To argue that intersex embodiment might also be a specific and good part of God’s creation, and that intersex reflects God’s image, is not to undermine the argument that maleness and femaleness also reflect God’s image. Whilst many have argued that women reflect specific attributes of God in a way that men do not – and that there are specific and particular roles appropriate to women, of which serving as bishops is not one – the question is whether the anthropologies in which such statements are grounded also fail to do justice to the distinctions between the sexes – all human sexes, including intersex.

Furthermore, the existence of intersex bodies raises broader questions about the way in which the scriptural witness is interpreted in this debate: do the creation accounts in Genesis tell contemporary readers all they need to know about what it means to be sexed, or should other evidence, including the evidence of bodies which do not fit into the polarized model, also be taken into account?"
This research took place as part of the Intersex, Identity and Disability project at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester. "Intersex and Ontology: A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision" may be downloaded as a PDF file, free of charge, from the project's resources page.

For more information about the project, please e-mail


  1. Dr Cornwall, thank you for writing this research - a very worthwhile contribution to the life of the Church. I am proud to be a Trustee of the Intersex Trust of Aotearoa New Zealand, ( the first of its kind in the world ). Your thesis is extremely helfull, and may I refer to you in papers I am beginning on the subject?
    Br Graham-Michoel bSH (Catholic religious)


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