Friday, June 5, 2015

How Christians should REALLY respond to Caitlyn Jenner

Have I got your attention? I have been really struggling with wanting to say something about all of the coverage surrounding the recent transitioning of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner.

Now, perhaps, like you, there is a lot here that I really don't understand. If I'm going to be completely honest, the experience of having a biological gender but experiencing that you are actually another gender, is so very far outside of my realm of experience, it really leaves me quite speechless.

But, what has troubled me at an even deeper level over especially this past week has been the response of far too many so-called Christians, and even those who are called forth to be leaders in the Christian community to this public announcement.

Over the course of the last week, I have come across blog posts or articles that have had titles like, "How Christians should respond to Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner" and some of them have even begun with some hope, but they have quickly descended into something that makes me question how anyone could ever think that these are Christian responses to anything.

Let me give you a sampling:

"You may want to write in your social media, 'This disgusts me.'" or "Bruce Jenner is not a woman. He is a sick and delusional man." These are the tamer ones because I won't give space here to the truly objectionable quotes.

Worse for me was an article I read about a high ranking U.S. Church official speaking at a conference this week on the sacred liturgy. He was speaking to a room full of devoted Catholics, devoted to the Church, devoted to the liturgy. Speaking to the crowd, he said that someone told him of a university that offered housing “for a grand total of 14 different gender identities. I’m sure even more will be invented as time goes on.” The crowd of Christians, it is reported, laughed. They laughed.

Speaking of the Jenner situation, he said that when culture no longer respects the natural law in regards to gender the natural conclusion is that this will lead us to the  "paganism of old" with "the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities, or the cult of priestesses."

Putting aside the, at best, challenging logic of that claim, how is any of this the way that a Christian should respond? Condemnations, accusations, and laughter. What, Sweet Jesus, would You do?

I watched the Diane Sawyer interview a few weeks ago, and again, I state that I am really confused about the whole issue of what's really going on when someone is experiencing what they call transgender disorder. What I was not confused about at all was this - the experience of Bruce Jenner's life up until now, the last 65 years, has been an experience of pain, difficulty, confusion and often depression.  It has harmed his ability to form and maintain good, open, fully honest relationships.

What all of this has engendered in me has been compassion. I feel so sad for anyone who goes through their life feeling this terrible disconnect between who they are on outside and who they feel they are on the inside - no matter the reason, no matter the cause. I cannot imagine what pain that must be to endure.

It also made me feel some sense of relief for Caitlyn that she can finally feel as though she can begin to address the situation of her life openly and honestly. There must be a tremendous liberation in that experience for her. (And for those of you who might be wondering why I'm using "she" and "Caitlyn" it is because no matter what my own personal feelings or struggles with the issue might be - I see the person first, and respect their own inherent, God-given dignity. It is a respect every person deserves.)

Please show me the passage in Scripture where Jesus says, "No, I don't think so. I don't accept you. Try again. I reject you." I'll give you a few moments to go look that one up....

Are you back? Good. I'm sure what you found was that Jesus always meets people where they are at - with love, with compassion, with joy. Jesus sees the person before Him. He loves that person - not some idealized or future perfect version - the person before Him as is. And, so should we.

Why is it that in the world of social media, those who don't claim to know Jesus have been the ones responding with love, support, care and compassion; and so many of those who do claim to know Jesus have been responding with judgment, contempt, condemnation, or worse? And we wonder why people find a disconnect between the Gospel and what they experience from the followers of Jesus?

The response that Christians REALLY should have is this:

Be people of prayer - pray for Caitlyn and people like her who find themselves in what has to be a very difficult situation. Pray that they experience God's presence in their struggle.

Be people of compassion - this is a very good general rule for us followers of Christ, by the way. The world needs our presence to be one of kind compassion. Let's not be quick to judge. Imagine if we were as quick to offer compassion as we are to offer condemnation.

Be people who listen - imagine what we can learn by listening to the experiences of other people; these experiences that are so very different, perhaps, than our own. Listening helps us to learn, it helps us to become more compassionate, it helps us to see the other as a person.

Be open and welcoming - imagine the difference we could make in people's lives if they felt closer to God, closer to Christ, closer to the Church by feeling as though they were welcome in our midst, welcome to be part of our life of prayer and community. Pope Francis said just yesterday, "The Eucharist is not the prize for the strong." Imagine the benefits of a full sacramental life for people in struggle.

Be who we are called to be - that's the heart of it. They will know we are Christians by our love. Unfortunately, especially in the public sphere, that doesn't seem to be what we show. I know how loving our Christian communities are. I was formed by them. I live in them and I thrive in them. I want the rest of the world, especially those who need us, to know this too. Let's show them how we love.

I'll give you one blog post that did have a good answer, "Jesus wasn't the one to turn away from those the world had labeled broken. He was the one who would walk towards them with open arms."

Let's respond as Jesus would respond - with mercy and compassion; with love and joy - with arms open wide.

May the Lord give you peace.

- Fr. Tom


  1. This is the best of the articles I have read about the Christian response to Caitlyn Jenner. Thank you for saying what we all should be doing.

  2. Thank you. Two young relatives in my family have recently revealed that they are transgender. I don't understand this condition (and I doubt that the medical/mental health community really do either). But I love these young people and pray for them. They will not be unwelcome, ridiculed, or rejected.

  3. What a true Christian response to the Caitlyn Jenner news story. I am so blessed that my high school was run by Franciscans and that I am currently in a parish embodied by the Franciscan Community. Amen.

  4. Thanks you for this wonderful gracious and may I say Christian response ! Only recently we have found out our precious grandson is gay. He is a Christian. We shall always love this wonderful generous kind young man, who has gone through so much struggle, even contemplating suicide in his teens. What the worldwide church of Christ needs is to apologize for it's abominable treatment of these LGBT folk who would not have chosen to be as they are. How dare we judge ! ? As Jesus said, we will be judged in the way we judge others ! Thank you for your compassion !

  5. As a mom with an adult child who is transgendered I want to say thank you. Like you I don't understand. I don't have to understand, I have to love. My son no longer believes in God. His lack of faith is the saddest part of this and a lot of it has to do with the reactions of so called Christians. We are fortunate because we are blessed with priests, family and friends, all very devout Catholics, who believe they must show Christ's love to our child. It is through their example that he will see Christ and one day return to God, a God who has never abandoned him. Thank you again. This is not an easy subject, but it needs to be talked about.

  6. Excellent insight! Thank you so much.

  7. This was an excellent read, and I was happy to share it on several pages I manage. Compassion is vitally important, especially in today's world where our one on one communication is truly lacking. Put down your phone, and open your hearts & minds. Blessed Be.

  8. When the label we favor to speak of Caitlyn Jenner is "broken," I wind up wondering who is it that's "broken." When we have the courage to see ourselves as "broken," compassion becomes part of our relating in ways it wasn't before. "Take the beam out of your own eye first," is so much more freedom than a one time warning about being judgmental. It is a hard learn to do that and may it never end. Dag Hammarskjold once asked us to pay heed to our enemies because we have more to learn from them than our friends. Part of that learning is a surrender to our woundedness that empowers and sits at the heart of the compassion that heals and welcomes ALL. It is a great read Fr. Tom! liflocjim