Growing up in the 1970’s, Bruce Jenner was something of a hero of mine. When he won the 1976 Gold Medal in the Decathlon in Montreal he was dubbed The World’s Greatest Athlete. It wasn’t just hyperbole. The 10 discipline historic event is a grueling test of athleticism and the human spirit. I remember being in awe of this quintessential spectacle of masculinity. He had stunning good looks and the physique of a Greek god. He was immortalized on the cover of the Wheaties box and it was all us young teenage males could do to eat bowl after bowl of the miracle cereal in hopes that one day we could be built like Bruce. But alas, I switched to Frosted Flakes and ended up looking more like Tony the Tiger.
So when the events of this week saw the gender troubled Bruce Jenner roll out as Caitlyn Jenner on the pages of Vanity Fair I confess I was troubled… but mostly saddened. Nobody likes to lose a hero. In case you have been living under a rock and have missed this story, the short version is that Bruce Jenner told Diane Sawyer in a two hour interview in April that he has struggled his entire life with gender dysphoria (or gender identity disorder), which is defined as being discontent with the gender in which one was born. In his case he claimed he has lived a profoundly tormented life as a female in a male body. I watched the entire interview and I had no trouble believing that the torment he was suffering was real. At the same time it was hard not to also feel that there was something seriously unhealthy, either spiritually or mentally going on as well. It was not easy to watch. Among other things I was struck by just how incredibly narcissistic the whole thing was. Whatever he was, is, or was going to be, it was to be played out publicly for the whole world to see. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since he did spend a decade of his life with a camera recording his every movement as a cast member… I mean ‘family member’… on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. He declared to Sawyer that the next time the public saw him he would appear as his true self – a woman.
Vanity Fair had the exclusive rights to the story and this week rolled out the feature under that tag line “Call me Caitlyn”. Caitlyn Jenner’s new Twitter account broke all records as it garnered one million followers in the first 4 hours. The news media outlets for the most part have been tripping over each other congratulating the transformation as an act of heroism and courage, especially for the apparently millions of people suffering from gender dysphoria. ESPN announced they are going to award Caitlyn the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at their summer awards banquet. Only a few brave voices have had the moxie to condemn it as a crass prostitution of one’s soul for monetary gain. Ironically one of them was transgender national news reporter Zoey Tur (formerly Robert Tur) who claimed Jenner is not the kind of icon their movement needs since what ‘she’ appeared to be doing was rolling out a professional produced commercial product. Clearly the brand appears to have been carefully constructed and presented to the public in a way that is guaranteed to make Jenner millions of dollars. The Diane Sawyer interview was negotiated, the Vanity Fair piece lined up, and the entire gender reassignment process was timed to coincide with a brand new reality show that debuts in July on the E! network. Yippee can’t wait!
What everybody seems to forget is that Jenner is not a pioneer in this field at all. Forty years ago in 1975 tennis player Richard Raskind had sex reassignment surgery to become Renee Richards, and then had the nerve to sue the United States Tennis Association to be able to compete as a woman in the US Open. Richard’s won the case in the New York Supreme court only to lose the matches on the tennis court. In 2007 Richards rewrote her autobiography, No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, in which she expresses regret over the type of fame that came with her sex change. She also wished she could have found another way to have solved her gender anxiety because the gender reassignment didn’t solve it. Her grown son still refers to her as ‘he’ explaining, “Because I have a mother that’s a woman, my father could have an elephant change — he could be a dromedary — and he’d still be my father.” Here is Jenner and Richards together in 1987.
This of course brings up the important part of the discussion for us Christians. Where do we put all this? We need to have the conversation. It can’t be put off or ignored, and our young people in particular need to be part of it. They have been raised in a culture that has already accepted homosexuality and gay marriage as part of the norm. Pop culture, music, TV and movies have been way ahead of the curve on this one and have for the most part swept an entire youth generation along. 78% of 18-29 year olds support gay marriage, over twice that of seniors. Church leaders today, who for the most part still do not share these beliefs, have become eerily silent on these and related moral issues (adultery, divorce, remarriage). I understand why. We are trying to reach people with the good news of the gospel, we don’t want to offend the very people we are trying to reach by putting up moral or ideological barriers. The unintended consequence however is that by our silence we lend passive assent to a culture that has already redefined the God-given meanings of gender, sexuality, marriage and family. We have every right to be part of this discussion. Our voice matters as we have a very critical contribution to make to the debate – the biblical one. Even if the world isn’t listening, the church needs to hear it. If God did one thing without ambiguity it was defining marriage, sexuality and our gender assignment. Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. It really doesn’t get any clearer than that. This is not a mix-up God could make by placing a person in the wrong gender body. Nor did He offer up a multiple choice of various marital options or sexual partner combinations. Lev 18:22 ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. And make no mistake about it, God never changed His mind on these things in the New Testament like many claim. 1 Cor 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. Oh… and don’t miss the heterosexual misgivings on the very same list!
I have read a number of the books on how the bible somehow validates same sex attraction or homosexuality. Every single one of the them violates the most important rule of bible interpretation – they draw the conclusion first and then go to scripture to try to prove it, rather than the other way around. Most of these authors have had life long struggles with same sex attraction and are desperate to try to find an explanation. When they say they did not choose their propensity towards same sex attraction, we have no reason to dispute that. We cannot, however, conclude that this somehow makes it God’s will for their lives, any more than it is for the next guy whose ‘natural’ inclination is towards fornication, overeating or depression. There are a lot of things in this life we don’t choose, but they somehow choose us. I think Daniel Mattson may have said it best in an article he wrote for First Things Magazine entitled Why I don’t Call Myself a Gay Christian. In it he concludes, “The gay community will become family when those of us in the Church who live with the inclination accept it for what it truly is: a deep wound within our persons which we joyfully choose to unite with the Suffering Christ, on behalf of those we love so dearly in the gay community. By his wounds we are healed, and by the acceptance and transformation of our wounds, through the love of Christ, the Holy Spirit will draw them home to their Heavenly Father.”
We truly need to sympathize with those struggling with gender anxiety, but we cannot condone sexual reassignment as a solution. Seriously, is this truly the ‘real’ Jenner that has been buried for so long? Tens of thousands of dollars in plastic surgery, gallons of hormones, tubs of makeup, silicone implants, designer evening dresses and considerably ‘airbrushed’ photos? I for one am not buying it. It doesn’t seem like the ‘real’ anything to me. Having said that, other than losing my teenage idol, I don’t actually care what Bruce Jenner does with his body, it’s none of my business. I can’t impose my sense of morality on him or anyone else I don’t know. I am however profoundly embarrassed with the world that my children and grandchildren are inheriting. Any Christian sense of propriety or decency seems to have been eviscerated from our culture. How do I explain to them how I let their world roll down this sordid path of moral decay while ostensibly doing nothing at all to stop it? We should not be surprised if in the days ahead we hear a lot of Christian young people saying, ‘call me confused.’