I’ve been thinking about Caitlyn Jenner’s cover photo on Vanity Fair this week, and All The Things that have been said and written about it/her/the former dad of the Kardashians this week.
I am related to a person who had gender-reassignment surgery: I met her at an extended family reunion with her new boyfriend. I didn’t know her in the days when she was a son, and a husband, and a father – and so, for me, it was not that hard to greet her by her new name. (Things did get a little weird when, a few hours in, we crossed paths in the women’s bathroom and she wanted to trade girl-tips on finding cute shoes in bigger sizes… I mean, I do have big feet, but that felt awkward.) My heart went out to her, but also to the family members who didn’t come to the reunion because she was there. They didn’t want the confusion of explaining why their uncle/brother (the identity they’re retaining) looked like a woman. My heart went out to her sons, who have a person who is still their parent, but not their father.
It’s all very messy.
I don’t know the answers on this. I don’t know how it works when people feel there is a disconnect between their biological identity and their gender. I really don’t understand how sexual orientation and identification develop: it’s complex and I think there are 1000 ways to get it wrong in our response. Especially for Christians.
I think one sure fire way to get it wrong, though, is to react with disgust and outrage and rejection, especially towards people who are not claiming to be Christians. We have no business passing moral judgment on those outside the church.
Of primary importance is not whether Caitlyn Jenner, or anyone for that matter, identifies as a woman, but whether she identifies with Jesus.
Of course, if people do come to know Jesus – then we are committed to a life-long overhaul of patterning our lives after His – something which will affect everything from the way we text and spend and talk to who we sleep with and how we map out our future. That future with Jesus certainly DOES place (life-giving) limits on our sexuality and sexual expression, just as it does on everything else.
What does that look like in practice? I’m not sure. A lesbian teen recently asked, “if I become a Christian and I’m still gay, does that mean I’ll go to hell?” Her youth leader looked around at her peer group and wisely answered, “What if Peggy is still a liar? And what if Kate is still sleeping with her boyfriend? And what if Brianna is still sending gossipy texts?”
Touche. If our acceptability to Jesus depended on our performance, we’d all be up the creek without a paddle.
But that’s not to say that our moral choices don’t matter. They DO matter to God, and they do matter to society. It is not okay to abuse people, or to participate in sex trafficking, or to cheat on your taxes and treat those things as if they are “personal choices” and so we can’t comment on them. Our evil choices cause societal harm and so there HAS to be a place to talk about things which promote and protect and flourishing of society. The conversations about sexuality form part of this (and, judging by my relative’s kids: no-one can deny that their parent’s gender reassignment surgery has not caused them harm.)
BUT, BUT, BUT… we need to be so careful about how we talk about this. We can’t say nothing and freeze people out by silence, but we need to save the hating and disgusted speech, and pray hard that God will help us to speak as Jesus would in these circumstances: somehow, he always managed to speak graciously, even while never compromising.
I doubt Caitlyn Jenner will ever visit my church, but it is not beyond the pale to imagine that one day my relative might come to visit. If such a day was to come about, I hope she would know that we are so much more concerned about her spiritual orientation than her sexual orientation, and that God bids us WELCOME. He loves us just the way we are, and yet loves us too much to leave us that way.
Oh Lord, teach us to speak the truth in love, just as you do.