The Most Important Thing About Caitlyn Jenner

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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.

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17 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing About Caitlyn Jenner”

  1. The focus on Jesus and the call for love are where we should really concentrate, Bronwyn. I am dismayed by the vitriol on both sides: those who deride and lash out against Jenner and those who claim to celebrate Jenner but are really lashing out at the deriders. As I said, there’s a lot of vitriol being spewed by people who criticize and who support. None of that is of the Spirit of Christ.

    1. I think its fair to say that those who are celebrating so publicly are also lashing out at the deriders. But, the internet is click-baity, and it rewards extremism, doesn’t it?

  2. Pingback: Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner in Vanity Fair |

  3. Thanks for your voice in this! It can be so easy to point fingers and “rank” sin. I LOVE the response of the youth pastor! Wisdom there…..

  4. Most of the time when people want to refer to the love of Jesus, it is done in a way that is designed to dodge uncomfortable situations. When Bruce Jenner stands before God on judgment day, will it be as Bruce or Caitlyn? It is a pretty safe bet it will be as Bruce. You are not loving him by embracing this symptom of the evidence that he has never met the Son of Man.

    1. I wouldn’t say I am “embracing” this move at all: along with many others, I find it distressing and confusing. My concern, though, is that we respond well.

      As for whether it will be Bruce or Caitlyn standing before God on judgment day – I have no idea. I know that our bodies will be redeemed (those who were lame will walk! the deaf will hear!), but—judging from Jesus still having holes in his hands and feet in his resurrection body—there is reason to believe our resurrection bodies may still bear some/all of the scars we incurred in this life. I wonder what that means for voluntary surgeries: will be bear those scars in some way as testimonies to the story that God has redeemed? I don’t know. This much I do know: for those who have trusted in Jesus, we will have no shame, redeemed bodies, and new names, too.

      Don’t misunderstand me: I am not taking the “in Christ there is neither male nor female” to an illogical extent where neither male nor female matters, but thinking about our resurrection bodies makes me wonder how much our lifetime choices will carry over in resurrection bodies: will people still have tattoos? or cesarean section scars? Will those martyred for their faith bear witness to that in some physical way? I had a seminary professor who wondered whether our redeemed body would have any genitals at all, given that we won’t be marrying or procreating… I thought that concept weird, but it all falls into the “I don’t know: but I trust God will reveal it all in His good time” category.

  5. super helpful bronwyn! this topic has been coming up a lot for me in my workplace and with my friends/co-workers… I have been at a loss for how to communicate/respond lovingly & truthfully. This was incredibly helpful.

  6. i really like your perspective on this! what a great frame to consider not only this issue but so many others. thank you.

  7. Really gracious 🙂 I love your voice.

    Just a quick comment: there’s a difference between sexual orientation and gender orientation. Sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to (I’m bi, Caitlyn Jenner is a straight woman), and gender orientation has to do with cis, trans, genderqueer, bigender, agender, etc. Most people in the church don’t know that, since gay, trans, etc, get lumped in together. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Liz. Thanks, too, for clarifying some of the terminology – although they are connected when it comes to discussing the issues. For example, my friend Margaret has a front page piece up at Christianity Today this week discussing her relationship with her brother who is transgendered, and it includes this reference: “his lesbian girlfriend”… that’s where the gender and sexual orientation issues get truly tangled! (Here’s the link – it’s a really gracious, beautiful piece:

  8. Bravo! Bravo! Again, I say, Bravo! I LOVE what you have said “Of primary importance is not whether Caitlyn Jenner, or anyone for that matter, identifies as a woman, but whether she identifies with Jesus.” I personally feel that to react in disgust or in hate is a cop-out to what we Christians are called to do: love God and love others. Jesus didn’t react in disgust or hatred when he came across prostitutes, tax collectors, or lepers. Instead, He showed them the same kindness and respect that He showed everyone else. Reading this made me think of James 2: 12-13 “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

    Thank you for writing this and all of your other blog posts. I find them all encouraging and honest.

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