This past week a caller on the Eric Metaxas show brought up a fine comparison regarding the Bruce Jenner issue and the response to it that has dominated our culture. The tidal wave of approval of this man’s sad condition from the power brokers of the media, news, and entertainment has been predictable and discouraging. But, as the caller mentioned, if it was a celebrity woman who was convinced that she was fat even though she clearly was not and went about starving herself to alter her body to conform to a feeling she had, our culture would rightly view her as unhealthy and struggling with anorexia. No one would call her courageous or applaud her for taking control of her own identity. When Bruce Jenner makes such radical changes to his body to conform to a feeling he has long struggled with, we do him and others like him no favors by telling him that he is courageous and healthy. Out of concern for a person who is obviously hurting, our culture has felt compelled to be an encouragement to him (an instinct, by the way, that has some virtue) and has reprimanded anyone who offers the slightest disapproval. This has apparently thrown Christians into confusion as how to relate to this issue.
Many Christians have a paralyzing fear that they will be perceived as haters and therefore do not want to say a negative word about the issue in order to leave the door open to relationships with those that are struggling in a manner similar to Jenner. At the same time, there are many Christians who believe that the cultural momentum demands a clear voice even if it sounds offensive. Both of these positions, it seems to me, are touching on a necessary aspect of the Christian's responsibility in the world and neither is to be ignored. However we must learn to make the necessary distinctions. On the one hand we must learn how to speak to a cultural issue. As with the "normalization" of transgender or with the institutionalizing of gay marriage we must learn how to speak the truth in a culture bent on destruction. On the other hand, we must recognize that this is not merely a "cultural issue." There are real lives at play. We must learn to deal with people we know or meet who are really broken and need Jesus. Handling a situation like Jenner's is best dealt with on a personal level, of course, and not on social media or blogs; however, has made his struggle public and thereby invited cultural criticism. Therefore, how we handle the Jenner situation is not the way we might address a family member, church member, or co-worker that is going through the same thing.
Speaking to the cultural phenomenon we must be clear in defining the reality of gender dysphoria and transgenders as unhealthy and destructive just as we would regarding anorexia or bulimia. It does not mean that we have to be mean spirited, but we must speak truth. We must speak to this because the cultural voices are offering an approval that we believe accelerates the destructive nature of the brokenness. We cannot be silent in the cultural dialogue and at times it will not sound loving. Love is relational and hard to express on a large platform. It will be difficult (though we should make every attempt) to sound and be loving as we seek to address a destructive cultural trend, but if we care about the culture we inhabit, then Christians must have a voice. At the same time, we must commit to ministering to those in our communities that are struggling with their identities this way. This demands a very different approach. Again, love is relational and it is in close proximity that we can address a person's particular issues with compassion and sensitivity. We can come along side people and listen to them and patiently love them. The two approaches are not contradictory. It is not that Christians are called to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Rather faithfulness looks different in different scenarios. Until we learn how to distinguish between the two and to discern what each requires I fear that the Christian church will have a muddled and confused cultural witness, one that results in internal disputes and name calling. We must get this right for loving the truth and loving our neighbors requires it.