My perspective of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner comes from other media sources. I’ll say that up front because I wasn’t able to watch it when it aired, and I’m not sure I’d have made that choice anyway. Jenner was the Olympic hero of America when I was in high school, and I’m not really entertained by watching someone disclose something about their life that was obviously painful and difficult. I’m more into gathering information by reading, and there’s been plenty to read since the interview aired.
Of course, there have been plenty of judges and critics, just look at Facebook and Twitter, and you’ll see plenty. There are plenty of self-identified Christians among them. Of course, most of them are reflecting what they believe to be a Biblical perspective of the matter of gender and identity, and of the nature of God, but lack the sympathy that is also expressed as a Christian ideal in the scripture, since “all have sinned…” and in the story of Jesus confronting the woman caught in adultery. Regardless of whether Jenner ever had any kind of an understanding of the Christian faith or not, I don’t think judgement or criticism is the best reaction to the interview, or to Jenner, especially from those who are recipients of God’s grace through their faith in Jesus.
Jenner was an American hero, an Olympic medalist, and an all-around athlete who embodied all that was positive for American youth in the turbulent 70’s. And of course, the media lens through which we observed him did not allow us to look at his flaws, struggles, imperfections or problems. That’s one of the problems we have in our culture. The fact of the matter is that no human being is perfect, everyone carries baggage that is either the result of choices that other imperfect humans made which led to our consequences, or the result of our own choosing. We certainly understand this concept because we live with our own imperfections every day. And that’s why we admire people like Jenner, because their success provides us with an illusion.
“There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.” Romans 3:10-12, HCSB
I was raised in a Christian family, and in a relatively “strict” church environment, and as a result of that, I became very good at learning how to hide my own lack of righteousness. My primary motivation during most of my school-aged years, through high school and into college was fear; not necessarily the kind of respect of which the Bible speaks, but being afraid. Faith was my “fire insurance policy,” because I wanted God to answer all my prayers (the way I wanted them answered) and I didn’t want to go to hell, and at home I wanted to avoid being deprived of privileges by my parents as punishment. Criticism of the behavior of others is part of the act.
That kind of thinking isn’t easy to change. It is still difficult to see a situation without being tempted to use it to measure my own righteousness. But I’m pretty sure, from a Biblical perspective, that’s not consistent with the example that Jesus set for us. I have some understanding of the pressure that results from high expectations, though nothing close to what a celebrity like Bruce Jenner must experience, especially after setting the bar as high as he did. I don’t really know any of the circumstances that have occurred in his life since his Olympic performance in the 70’s.
“Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.”
Without over-use of the term “worldview,” this particular issue is an excellent illustration of the basic philosophical differences that exist in our culture. In a perspective where there is a strong belief that an identifiable, imminent God created the universe, and with it, knowledge of its inner workings that is revealed to humans created in his image. That includes an understanding of their own identity, and their own purpose, and how to reconcile the free will that is the result of being created in God’s image to the will of God.
Human wisdom, on the other hand, lacking the direction and guidance of the creator, fails to understand the concept of God’s image in human existence, and arrives at solutions to resolve problems that seem counter to what has been created, including the drastic measure of altering the gender of a human body. The science that supports it is flawed, since it is incomplete, and can rely only on what has been revealed or discovered up to the present time, and lacks the insights of spiritual illumination. It cannot fully recognize what is right or wrong, and therefore draws conclusions about things that are mistakes, like someone’s gender identity, that are based only on what knowledge is currently available. If you look at human history, you can see the flaws in that kind of thinking. History is full of examples of problems that were considered solved, and answers that were considered final, only to discover, in most cases in just a few generations, that wasn’t the case.
Bruce Jenner is a celebrity, who got a lot of media attention. Rather than pontificating on what is wrong with his choice, and the decisions he is making in his life, Christians should use this as an opportunity to recognize that we are surrounded by a sea of human beings, each of whom is dealing daily with their own struggles, of all sorts and sizes, including each one of us, and figure out how to be salt and light while, at the same time, “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”