I typically don’t follow celebrity news closely, and this is true of Caitlyn Jenner as well. What I do follow rather acutely are the responses by people on my Facebook feed. I can gauge the climate of an issue typically within seconds. I am sure I am not alone in having a diverse “friend list”, but my time growing up in rural Alabama and and my ongoing work among a relatively conservative group of Christians, coupled with my time at one of the South’s most liberal seminaries usually engenders me to a wide sampling of opinions on any given issue.
Last week as news broke of Josh Duggar, a conservative Christian reality TV star who inappropriately touched girls as a young teenager – some of whom were his sisters – I saw many socially conservative Christians taking up for him, asking for others to be gracious and forgiving of his criminal activity, and essentially asking everyone to just leave him alone.
This week, as news broke of Bruce Jenner’s transformation into Caitlyn Jenner, many in the conservative Christian community not only posted their disapproval, but have resorted to outright inappropriate speech, and at times genuinely hateful discourse about another human being whose greatest “crime” is being confused about one’s own gender and the efforts taken to figure things out.
I get not getting it. I cannot identify with the issues that led to Bruce Jenner’s decisions, but I do not have to understand it or even agree with it to practice the basic virtue of kindness.
While the media is free to respond to the news of Caitlyn Jenner’s actions however they wish – or perhaps better stated, however their audiences and advertisers expect – those following Jesus should, as the song suggests that we sang in my little conservative country church growing up, “Oh, be careful little mouth what you say…”
It’s not as though Jesus refused to ever speak harsh words. It may come as a shock to some to discover Jesus could be rather harsh and downright offensive with his words.
But here’s the curious thing about Jesus:
He most often reserves his harshest words of criticism and condemnation for the mainstream religious folks of his day who oppose him, while his kindest words are quite often spoken to the irreligious, the marginalized, and the outcast who often live in direct opposition to his moral and ethical teachings.
There are few groups who stand along the margins more than the LGBTQ community in this country.
Many Christians seem content enough to have Jesus love them and to follow Jesus all the way to heaven only to pass by those who need to know and experience his love most while here on this earth.
Regardless of what a socially conservative Christian might believe theologically or biblically about those who identify as LGBTQ, aren’t all who follow Jesus invited to parrot his way of speaking words of love and kindness, his way of pulling up to the table with all sorts of people eating and drinking and sharing stories with each other before we ever speak a word of judgment or, worse yet, condemnation?
There’s a word for this, and it’s called, empathy.
Many of us are tempted to pity those, like Caitlyn Jenner, who struggle to know who they are both inside and out, but how many of us are willing to walk with the “Jenners” of this world, to know them, to hear their stories, and to demonstrate in the flesh all the stories of Jesus that practice love and belonging?
THIS is empathy – a willingness to understand another and to practice compassion along the way.
I do not know what you believe about Caitlyn Jenner (or anyone else for that matter), but I know if you believe in Jesus, then it is possible you are like me and in need of remembering how Jesus behaved around those different from him in order that I might behave in a kinder way around people who are different from me.