Jesus & Gender Identity

Bruce JennerThe other day I was in the grocery store with my six-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter when my son asked, “Dad, what’s that?” He was pointing to the cover of a magazine with the picture of Bruce Jenner as a woman. I was caught a little off guard so I said, “That’s a man who wants to be a woman.” To which my son replied, “Why?” I had to say, “Well, I’m not sure I can explain that.” While my daughter added, “Someone should tell him he’s not a very pretty woman.”

As I explained that we always need to be kind when speaking about other people, I realized that I didn’t used to have these conversations with my now 19-year-old son. I didn’t have them with the people I pastored or the people who lived in my neighborhood back then either. As I stood in the line that day, I found myself thinking about how far our culture has already moved past the gay marriage question.

Recent News

I’m fairly certain the Supreme Court will rule that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. But that decision will follow Bruce Jenner’s appearance last week on a 2-hour prime time newsmagazine to discuss his decision to become a woman and a champion of transgender rights. On top of that, President Obama announced 3 weeks ago that he’s opened a gender-neutral bathroom in the Executive Office Building. This shouldn’t surprise us because California already passed a law to let transgender students choose which restrooms they use and which athletic teams they join (male or female). In some ways, it makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland stepping through the looking glass into an alternate world, but in other ways it reminds me that “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Different Times, Same Issue

The rapid progression of our culture past the issue of same-sex marriage and onto the issue of gender identity makes me think of Romans 1. In that text, society rejects the obvious truths of God that are revealed in nature. They ignore God and embrace created things rather than the Creator. Now we see the Romans 1 story played out in tabloids, the national news and social media. So how do we parent and pastor in the world as it is, not in the world the way we want it to be? How do we rebuke the people in our congregation who are dismissive or unkind to people because of the way they express their gender/sexuality, but still stand firmly on what God says in His word?

Respond like Jesus

Jesus shows us the way to be uncompromising on truth, while having great compassion for the people who are lost, confused or simply disagree with our worldview. Jesus’ teachings offended many people, but His love drew in even more people. I want to make sure that my family is able to develop friendships with all kinds of people regardless of their sexual preference or gender identity. I want to make sure our church is welcoming to all the people who live in our community. But I also want people to be guided to the truth of the gospel. Compassion and a firm stance on truth don’t have to conflict – there is no greater example of this than Jesus himself.

Jesus ate with the tax collectors, got His feet washed by the prostitute, stood up for the adulteress and died with the criminals. When Jesus looked out over the people, He was moved with compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Yet the Bible presents Jesus as the perfect embodiment of both grace and truth. And these characteristics have to permeate the attitudes of my heart, home and church. But as I recall my conversation in the grocery store, I’m reminded that the grace/truth/love balancing act is becoming more and more complex. In the clash between culture and Biblical truth, how will you respond? Can we respond like Jesus?