Former Olympic champion, and current pop celebrity, Bruce Jenner, revealed in a recent interview his lifelong struggle with gender confusion. This week he announced that he is changing his public identity from male to female, his given name from Bruce to Caitlyn, and celebrating his gender transition by being featured in a photo shoot and cover article for the July edition of Vanity Fair.
Jenner has suddenly become the most well-known transgender person in the world and has brought transgender issues into the headlines and cultural conversation.
So how should we, as Christians, respond to Jenner’s transition?
In 1976, Bruce Jenner won the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon. Instantly, he became a global mega-star. But when making public appearances afterwards, no one knew that sometimes under his suit, this handsome, muscular, charismatic epitome of masculine virility and success was wearing a bra and pantyhose.
Jenner was nine years old when he first secretly tried on his sister’s dress because he felt like he wanted to be a girl. He didn’t understand his strange desires and had never heard of anyone else who felt this way. He had no one to talk to. He was a little boy carrying a secret shame that made him feel isolated from everyone else. He always felt like a fake — like he was constantly pretending to be a boy, even though he was one.
A gifted athlete, Jenner excelled in every sport he played throughout his teens, eventually becoming world-class in track and field in his twenties. But no one knew that part of what fueled his fierce competitive drive was a desperate effort to prove he really was a man. Always present in his consciousness, sometimes screaming at him, sometimes whispering to him from the shadows, was an inner voice telling him that he was female.
Adding to his confusion, his gender and sexual-orientation voices were dissonant: He had a heterosexual attraction to women. The inner conflict of his disordered desires, though not the sole cause, contributed significantly to the break up of three marriages.
None of this means that Jenner’s decision to self-identify as a female is okay. There are important reasons why it’s not okay (see the links below). Compassion does not mean compromising biblical truth. But sexual identity must be for us more than an abstract social issue. Real souls have endured real anguish over it. We must seek to understand their painful stories before we speak into their struggles. The more we know, the more compassionate will be our truthful response.
“Sexual identity must be for us more than an abstract social issue. Real souls have endured real anguish over it.”
Christians are equipped to respond with real compassion for such struggles. We all understand from experience the distressing disorder of the inner man that occurs because of indwelling sin and the brokenness of the fall:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15, 21–24)
Bruce Jenner, and every person who deals with gender or sexual-orientation disorders, bears the image of God and has a priceless soul. The first compassionate impulse we should have is to pray for them. Jenner professes to be a Christian. Whatever that means, he at least may have potential openness to biblical truth. Let us pray that the truth of the gospel will set him free (John 8:32), knowing how much Jesus loves to redeem and restore sin-broken people.
With Greater Understanding
Growing in our understanding of the nature of transgender and sexual-orientation disorders is necessary so that we don’t hold ignorant assumptions and say erroneous and insensitive things to people. And it would be wise for us to anticipate the possibility of discovering someday that our child, grandchild, cousin, nephew, niece, friend, co-worker, or possibly a parent is enduring such a struggle. If that should happen, we want to be safe people for them to talk to.
“Jenner, and every person who deals with gender disorder, bears the image of God and has a priceless soul.”
Beyond that, gender issues are only going to grow in prominence in our society. The nations of the West have fully legitimized many of them and are working them into the legal codes. The past cultural restraints are gone. We will increasingly be called upon to explain and defend the biblical position. We need to know what the Bible actually says about transgender and sexual orientation and why the church throughout history has held its positions. Greater understanding will make us both more compassionate and more articulate. (I’ve prepared a list of places to begin at the end of this article.)
With Truthful Love
If we are compassionate, prayerful people who reasonably understand transgender and sexual-orientation issues and what the Bible says about them, we are in a good position to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking truth is itself a form of love, even if a person doesn’t receive it as such initially. But “in love” also means speaking with great respect, empathy, and appropriate humility. And it means a willingness to love strugglers with deeds (such as hospitality), not just words (1 John 3:18).
Regarding Jenner’s transition, it probably means being slow to speak, especially on social media. And if you do speak something truthful, seek to be an unusually respectful, gracious voice. Jenner is not likely to read your remarks, but maybe someone you know who is guarding a tender, shameful secret will. Speak as you would to a friend.
But pray for Jenner, that God will send to him one or two who will speak the truth of the gospel with Christ-like love and that he will have ears to hear. Jenner’s hope is that “as soon as the Vanity Fair cover comes out, I’m free.” But we know he will not be free. After some period of euphoric relief, he will find that he is still a “wretched man” who needs to be delivered from his body of death (Romans 7:24).
That is precisely why Jesus came: to deliver people like Bruce Jenner and us from our domains of sinful darkness (Colossians 1:13) and our failing, disordered bodies, and give us glorious, powerful, disorder-free resurrection bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” there is a greater hope than gender identity can provide (Romans 7:25).
It is Jesus’s truth that sets all of us free (John 8:32).