Why is it so hard for us to love the “Caitlyns” of the world? Why is it so hard to love for us to love those who were just given the right to marry? Why is it so hard for us to love those who are different than us?
We are Christians. We have seen and felt the love of God. We know what unconditional love feels like. We are called to love others. We are instructed to love those we may not understand, those we may disagree with, those who are just different from what we know. We are called to love, without qualifiers.
Simple enough right?
It's been an interesting summer so far in the world of American culture and politics. We've heard and seen the controversy surrounding Caitlyn Jenner. We're wading through the thick tension of the new Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. We've seen riots and racial tensions peaking to dangerously high levels in parts of our country. Our country is changing. We are still a country founded on Christian principles but with religious freedom. We still boldly claim "In God We Trust" but are we willing to do what He's asking us to do?
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
So why then is there so much animosity, so much hatred, so much controversy over someone like Caitlyn Jenner? Please understand, I am not writing this about Caitlyn. She is just the name everyone recognizes now. She is a symbol of “that person” that some find hard to love. Caitlyn can be swapped out for anyone really... the neighbor that seems a bit odd, the local criminal that was just arrested, the mom in your play group that parents differently, the member of the church down the street that is a different denomination, a supporter of the opposite political party. The list can go on and on. Swap “Caitlyn” out for anyone who differs from your normal social circle, from those you are most comfortable being with. For the sake of this post, we will call that person, Caitlyn.
As far as Caitlyn goes, I will not be discussing my opinion of her transformation process. I am not giving my opinion on the recent court decision regarding marriage rights. As you read, I hope and pray that you will see why I feel my opinion is irrelevant to what God is calling me, us as disciples, to do.
In reading posts over the past weeks, I keep seeing arguments for why Caitlyn is right or wrong in her decision to be trans-gendered. Many of these arguments are based on tidbits of scripture that are used to compel the reader to come to one side of the argument or the other on why we should support them or not. I am deeply troubled by this because we’ve convinced ourselves that throwing out a bunch of words to firmly mark our stance on one side or another is going to change things. Sadly it does change things, but not in the way we were intending. What it changes is that the divide grows deeper. We love people less. We, as Christians, turn away more people from church because they are different than us. We call it “convictions” but in reality, it’s often nothing more than our own opinion full of our own weaknesses and insecurities coming out. When I read all these articles and hear all the conversations surrounding them, my heart screams out... Where is the mercy, the gentleness, the grace and the love that God showed each of us? Where is the compassion that He has commanded us to have for others?
A couple years ago, my church handed out t-shirts that I absolutely love. On the front is just the church name and logo, but on the back it simply says “No Perfect People Allowed.” That’s the whole point isn’t it? We all fall short. We all have our areas we struggle with. But only through working on ourselves, to allow God to transform our own minds, and hanging on with everything we’ve got to show mercy, grace and love, will we help bring others in to His presence. The second we isolate the “Caitlyns” in our life and throw out some big overly stated opinion – and there is a big difference between opinion and conviction – we have firmly shut and locked the doors to church for anyone that isn’t just like us. We have made the judgment on God’s behalf of who is worth saving for eternity. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a call I want on my conscious when I get to the pearly gates.
Many times, I think we fall into the trap of book-ending our faith. We are suddenly faced with a situation that is abnormal for our everyday comfortable circumstances. We quote tidbits of verses like Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” We can understand that. So we define God’s perfect creation based off of what makes sense to us.
But then we find ourselves faced with an example that makes us question what we have defined as “God’s perfect creation” and our bookends don’t make sense anymore.
We are all truly made in His image and are wonderfully crafted. We are also born into a sinful world with the original sin in our nature. That’s the downside of the gift of free will – and it is a gift! There are some things we just can’t understand about this creation and how all the pieces work together, yet we make rash judgments based on the little bits we think we understand. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a single person that was born with “perfection.” I know I wasn’t... I was born with the ability to develop some pretty ugly character flaws that I’m working hard on letting God change. That temptation is a part of all of us. I’m watching my adorable little girl as she’s growing up and even through my mommy filter she’s about as close to perfection as I can imagine, do you know what she did the other day? She flat out lied to me – to my face. I asked her if she had cleaned up the mess I had asked her to clean, and while she was still sitting right smack in the middle of it she looked at me, smiled and said “yep, I cleaned it up!” What??? Who taught you how to lie!? So we had to have a little talk about telling the truth, all the time. None of us are perfect.
We were also all born with genetic flaws. I was born being allergic to half of God’s green earth and am thankful every day for the manufacturers of Benedryl and Zyrtec. My husband, also a Type 1 diabetic, and I have to face that we both suffer from factors that make us infertile. Many are born with much more serious and life altering genetic flaws than that. Parents and patients rush to doctors seeking medical advice and procedures trying to make the most of a difficult situation, a genetic flaw. Whether the flaw is something well understood like seasonal allergies or more life altering and confusing like severe epilepsy or an issue that confuses one’s sexual identity, we don’t understand them all. But I am confident that God did not create us to suffer without purpose or in isolation. Whatever the struggle we are facing in our lives can be used to show us what true mercy, love and grace look like. That flaw can be the very thing that brings us in to God’s plan for our lives and where we discover our true self and the freedom to be part of God’s creation.
We were all wonderfully and fearfully made, in God’s image, but not with perfection. So we need to be very cautious about making those big statements about what is right and wrong when we’re talking about people’s flaws and subsequently withholding mercy and grace from everyone in our life. I don’t want to be responsible for judging something I know I do not and cannot fully understand. There are most definitely some pretty well defined rights and wrongs in the Bible, and we absolutely should try our very best to uphold those and live according to them. Let those be our convictions that we live by. But along with that, we have a huge responsibility to guard our words and use them to bring comfort and courage to live in God’s presence, rather than destruction and deafness to those we encounter.
Please on’t misunderstand me here. I am in no way saying we are not to be convicted about how we are to live. We are to hold ourselves to a higher standard that the world displays. We have a responsibility to train up our children in the way of the Lord and to teach them right from wrong, as the Scripture defines it, not as the world dictates. But, nowhere in that do we get the right to throw mercy, love and grace out the window.
It's our job to shower everyone around us with mercy, grace and love. It’s God’s job to do the convicting in the areas that need it. Let’s not confuse our roles here. Let’s be cautious with our words that are shouted from the mountaintops if they are full of “conviction” but lacking grace.
Again, I am purposefully not including any declaration about Caitlyn and her transgender process. Nor am I making a statement about the right way to parent your child or correct political party to belong to. Part of the reason is because I do not fully understand everything there is to understand about why these decisions were made. It is not my place to make a decision on why Caitlyn has chosen to go through all that she has gone through and if that is subsequently right or wrong. That is for her to work out with God, just like I have decisions to work out with Him. I know someone who is willing to go through that much of a life change and face so much ridicule and misunderstanding needs mercy, they need grace, they need love – just like I do. My opinion in meaningless to her, but absolutely runs a high risk of turning those like her away from a God that did wonderfully create her in His image. The second I shout a meaningless opinion out and take a stance for the whole world to see, about something that doesn’t neatly fit into my bookends, I’ve done nothing but shut the doors and allow only perfect people in to church with me. It’s easy to put up a billboard with an opinion on a whole group of people you’ll never meet (again, please substitute in any group of people that you personally may be uncomfortable around), but as soon as that billboard has a face, a name, a person you might just love dearly associated with it, you have done a significant amount of damage. You’ve altered a relationship with another of God’s creations, and rather than there being a bridge of love and grace to bring them into His presence, you’ve created a huge void filled with a merciless opinion and hurt. As a person who has someone very dear to them in their life that has gone through the transgender process himself, I’ve seen the destruction this can cause in one’s life. I’ve seen how much “church” has shunned him all in the name of being “convicted,” but at what cost? Was it true conviction or just a piece that didn’t fit within their bookends? But because of that, someone I love dearly, a fearfully and wonderfully made creation of God, doesn’t feel welcome in a church that should be showering him with mercy, grace and love... period.
Regardless of what makes someone look or act differently than ourselves, let’s leave that verse with a period at the end of it and not pencil in a comma with a qualifier on who is worthy of loving. Let’s leave the convicting where it belongs, in the hands of the creator who understands how all the pieces of this wonderfully created world fit. I have no doubt that if a decision that doesn’t make sense to you and me is sinful, then the closer that individual grows in their relationship with God, God will convict them and change them. He will do the convicting because of just how much He loves them. I guarantee you He loves the Caitlyns of this world, the crazed moms at the play date, the Republicans and Democrats, and the convicts, just as much as He loves you and me.
What are we saying that will bring people into His presence? What are we doing, as children of God, to bring people who are hurting into a place where healing can begin?