Like all of you, I have been treated to more of Bruce Jenner’s personal life than I would ever care to know. And yes, I still call him Bruce and use the masculine personal pronouns, not because I want to be insensitive to his predicament but because I do not believe that gender is a mere matter of personal preference that can be altered by a few surgical procedures. It is a part of the given-ness of our created being that we are called upon to accept and offer to God for his glory, not manipulate for our own perceived ends. Bruce Jenner may have had reconstructive surgery and had hormones pumped into his body, but for all that he remains male – and a sadly mutilated one at that. As such, he is a tragic figure and one that we ought neither to mock nor condone, but pray for.
From a biblical perspective this is all predictable. Jenner, a highly celebrated Olympic champion, represents the pinnacle of success as our society defines it and yet this success did not satisfy. The Bible teaches us to expect this: such a sense of dislocation is a consequence of fallen humanity’s alienation from God. Apart from Christ, we all feel a sense of dislocation that no amount of success can take away. Should it surprise us then that there is a longing within us all for a decisive break with our past and the opportunity for a fresh start with a whole new identity? In a world in which science has made sex-change surgery possible, Jenner had the means to act on this discontent in ways once regarded unthinkable. His mistake, however, was to believe that his discontent was rooted in his gender identity, when in fact, the Bible teaches us that the problem lies much deeper - in his alienation from God. This requires something even more radical than surgically changing certain physical body parts. It requires the kind of heart transplant described by the prophet Ezekiel in Ezek. 36:26 – and by heart I do not mean the literal bodily organ.
For that reason, I doubt seriously that the secular version of a ‘new birth’ that Jenner has undergone will satisfy. Statistics sadly confirm this. A 2011 long term study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article (http://www.wsj.com/articles/paul-mchugh-transgender-surgery-isnt-the-solution-1402615120) revealed that those having undergone such surgery had a 20 fold increase in suicide rate over the normal population. One can hope and pray that such is not Jenner’s fate, that when the nagging discontent returns, when he finds that being female is not the cure-all he had hoped, that he will probe deeper and seek a new identity in Christ.
But Jenner is no aberration. Apart from a reconciliation with God all thoughtful people will wrestle with this sense of dislocation brought about by sin. Most will lack the means or the courage to take such a radical step and will instead drown their pain in the distractions of social media or substance abuse. Others will attribute their sense of dislocation to some other cause and seek radical transformation through other means such as conversion to radical Islam or immersion in some other cause. But Jenner is not some freak or oddball that we can simply dismiss. He is what we all were apart from Christ and what many of our neighbors still are, though they may deal with it in very different ways.
In the meantime, the world demands that we not only accept Jenner’s self-diagnosis and cure but that we celebrate it. This we cannot do because God, in His Word, has revealed to us a different diagnosis and a different cure. Parroting the world’s assessment may feel like compassion but make no mistake about it: advancing a false diagnosis is not compassion, it is cruelty. May God give us the wisdom to use such situations as opportunities to engage our neighbors in thought-provoking discussions that probe the deeper issues of the heart in a tactful and truly compassionate way.