There was a time long ago, in a land far away, when “private parts” were considered, well … private. But reality TV, social media, and sensationalistic journalism have helped dawn the era of radical transparency. This is a time when a sex tape won’t actually ruin your acting or music career, when explicit tweets won’t derail your political career, and a time when the biggest question surrounding gender reassignment surgery is, “Can we let him/her keep his/her Olympic medals?” In some ways, our society has moved from a religious view of human sexuality (i.e. sex is a dirty, necessary evil) to an irreligious view of human sexuality (i.e. sex is merely an appetite to be fed, and flexible enough to be fed in any way we’d like.)
(NOTE: I’m defining “religious” differently here than many would. I’m considering Christianity/the gospel as something entirely different from much organized religion. Additionally, there are many people who label themselves as “Christians” who I believe fit much better in this “religious” camp.)
The world today has shifted to highly value honesty and transparency. On such an occasion, your core beliefs rise to the surface and become obvious to all. So, for Christians, stories like that of Caitlyn Jenner are good opportunities to measure what kind of evangelical balance, if any, actually lives in our hearts.
While I’ve heard a lot thus far about Jenner’s physical changes, as well as some knee jerk reactions about how wonderful or disgusting they are, I haven’t read a ton about Jenner’s soul. So that’s where we’ll go today.
I’ve used the “trispectival analysis” tool before for diagnosing cultural issues. As a reminder, here’s a quick summary of how it works:
A religious person sees morality as purely black and white, believes there are good people and bad people, and while he acknowledges God as the ultimate authority, he believes that because of his good behavior he is more deserving of God’s blessing than the “bad” people. Religion is perhaps best characterized by self-righteousness. The way our current political system is set up, religious people tend to lean right and emphasize truth at the expense of love.
An irreligious person sees morality as relative, believes people are born basically good but sometimes hurt others or themselves when put in bad circumstances, and acknowledges no higher authority than man. Irreligion is perhaps best characterized by self-indulgence. The way our current political system is set up, irreligious people tend to lean left and emphasize love at the expense of truth.
A gospel-thinking person understands the black and white of morality but recognizes there is a shaded spectrum of motives, believes we are inherently born broken and powerless to put ourselves back together, and acknowledges Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior. Gospel-thinkers are perhaps best characterized by humility about self and confidence in Christ. Gospel-thinkers are careful not to over-identify politically, understanding that no party perfectly holds biblical reality, and they work hard to hold truth and love as inseparable, non-expendable ingredients for mankind’s flourishing.
With that said…
The Religious Viewpoint – Bruce Jenner is a wacko.
It’s very easy to take cheap shots. It’s easy to say stuff like, “Yeah, after living with the Kardashian girls for 20 years, my only surprise is how long it took Bruce to say he’s no longer interested in women.” In other words, to identify some undesirable traits about some obviously godless people is not difficult, not particularly creative, and for people seeking to shine the light of Christ in the world, not helpful.
But this is a good chunk of our society’s reaction to Jenner and his celebrity family. The Daily Caller didn’t hesitate to take some shots. The Blaze’s frequent op-ed contributor, and someone who is somehow now the apparent poster boy for conservative Christians, Matt Walsh, unsurprisingly shared his thoughts too. In one breath, Walsh says things like, “few share my love or concern for him (Jenner)” and “I pray for him.” But the very next moment he uses expressions in his article like “a culture of narcissistic imbeciles” and “You know, if I want to be preached at by humorless progressive gasbags, I don’t need the worldwide leader in sports.” and “I’m told that white people appropriate black culture when they listen to Nikki Minaj or wear flat brimmed hats. I’m not sure that such offenses constitute cultural theft as much as they indicate possible brain damage…”.
We’ve got a real problem if THAT is the Christian side of this issue, a side that I cannot comprehend the Jesus of the Gospels ever sitting on. In fact, as I recall, without being dismissive of sin, Jesus ate with sinners, who, so far as we can tell in the ancient world, in all likelihood did consist of the sexually confused, sexually damaged, and even perhaps sexually reassigned.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt. 9:10-11; see also Matt. 21:31-32 to understand that “sinners” is often used synonymously with sexual deviancy)
If Matt Walsh actually has the desire to share the love of Christ with someone like Jenner, he forfeited any opportunity by calling people he disagreed with “disgusting, brain-damaged imbeciles and gasbags.” For that matter, I’m not sure he has any of this actual “love of Christ” thing to share. His militant morality makes him a better candidate to be the voice of the Islamic State, not Christianity.
As many well-intentioned religious people do, Walsh has so many right things to say, but he says them in such a way that he registers as nothing more than the personification of a “resounding gong” (1 Cor. 13:1), a heartless noise-maker.
Christians aren’t heartless.
The Irreligious Viewpoint – Caitlyn Jenner is just being true to herself.
Since western culture today as a whole, especially the average young adult, tends to lean left, most of the reception for Caitlyn Jenner has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have commented on how great she looks in her photo shoot (as though that has something to do with the issue itself being right or wrong). Even more have commented on how proud they are of Jenner for being true to herself – doing what she feels is right and matching her outside to her inside.
Even the president chimed in to offer his support …
It takes courage to share your story. twitter.com/Caitlyn_Jenner…—
Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 01, 2015
While such acceptance seems loving, when something is simply not truly beneficial, it’s not that difficult to prove that it’s not, in fact, loving to support it. By the way, even the secular world understands the concept of “intervention” for someone who is doing something personally dangerous though that individual doesn’t objectively see it that way. While there is some research, including Jenner’s own self-assessment, that seems to suggest gender reassignment surgery is psychologically dangerous, I don’t know that we have enough evidence to be conclusive.
Fortunately, there’s a much easier way to take down the arguments supporting Jenner’s choices. All I’d ask for is that people apply the “do what feels right inside” argument consistently. So, for all of the women who are supportive of Jenner’s transition because he’s simply being true to what he feels, are you comfortable allowing your husband to also do whatever he feels inside? Shall he get a free pass on his next business trip if he experiences strong feelings for another woman? For the men, what if there was a known child molester coaching at your child’s school? Shall we still let him be true to himself? Do we still not realize that there are legitimate organizations like NAMBLA who exist because of this “you gotta be you” mindset. Using a “true to yourself” logic, you cannot fault the bully or the drug addict or the murderer or the rapist or the adulterer or the pedophile. Granted, we could debate whether Jenner’s actions are “victimless” or not (the argument usually brought up in these sorts of issues), but that doesn’t at all change the question of whether or not our personal feelings and natural impulses should always be rightly followed. The obvious answer is that they should not.
The reality is that a civilization can only exist not when people are encouraged to pursue the wildest fantasies that exist within their broken human nature, but when they are compelled to resist that within them which, from the standpoint of God, is clearly wrong.
While we said the religious viewpoint espouses truth devoid of love, the irreligious viewpoint often touts baseless love – love not grounded in truth, logic, or consistent thought. Christians shouldn’t be mindless, i.e. devoid of sound logic, either.
The Gospel Viewpoint – Jenner is broken by sin but offered grace by Jesus.
Bruce/Caitlyn is a tender, valuable, eternal soul. He/she struggles with sin. He/she needs to repent of those sins (not just this one). And while I’ll offer an encouragement/warning, ultimately he/she will answer to God, so I have no need to bring him/her to justice. I’ll let God do that as I am merely a witness to his grace, not a judge.
There is a point of commonality between Jenner and me. We recognize that something is not right inside of us. We are far from what we were originally created to be. And the more we look in the mirror, the less we like what we see in our natural self. This reality of imperfection is so gut-wrenching that we know we can’t live another day with it as is – so we look for a cure. We (all) self-medicate in vastly different ways, from alcoholism to workaholism, anorexia to plastic surgery, social approval to materialism, but the underlying issue is much the same – something’s wrong and we want to fix it.
Jenner took the drastic step of gender-reassignment, but I’m guessing this will provide a temporary bandage, a quick high, yet will eventually result in deeper despair when the painful realization sets in that the broken piece was not the private parts. The broken piece was actually deeper than skin and more complex than feelings. Jenner has a heart that hasn’t been pressed by the weight of God, touched and healed.
Interestingly, healing sick people is one of God’s clearest ways of showing his goodness. Whether it’s the blind (John 9:1-9), the deaf (Mark 7:31-37), the lame (Matt. 9:1-8), the diseased (Matt. 8:1-4), the demon-possessed (Luke 4:31-37), or the flat out dead (John 11:1-44), Jesus takes it upon himself to cure those who are sick on the inside and out, including you and me.
Therefore, scoffing at Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner as “sick” (i.e. the religious stance) doesn’t help. Neither does calling him “healthy” or “brave” (i.e. the irreligious stance). To be the kind of person that could actually help Jenner, you have to believe that Jenner is, by nature, exactly as sick as you are. And he needs the same cure that you need – a Savior who was broken in order to put your pieces back together, and then says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)
Jenner’s actions, by most estimations throughout history would be considered a bit strange, but “This sickness is not unto death” (John 11:4 KJV) The sickness that he’s trying to medicate – the separation from the love of Christ – that, on the other hand, is actually quite deadly.