Bruce Jenner and the Nature of Love
Dear Church Family,
What a rapidly changing culture we live in. On Monday of this week, former Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner announced to the world that he was now “Caitlyn” and should be referred to as such. In a few subsequent hours, Caitlyn’s new twitter account would garner 2.33 million followers. Everybody, it seems, wants to know what the one-time “world’s greatest athlete” is thinking and feeling. Never before has Jenner been so popular. Whereas he once graced the box of Wheaties (and put a relatively tasteless cereal on the map), Jenner now appears on the front page of the landmark fashion magazine, Vanity Fair.
I haven’t read too many responses to Bruce’s big reveal (and I’m not terribly interested in entering into the fray), but I have noticed a disturbing trend that, I believe, needs to be pastorally addressed: everyone seems to be hailing Bruce as a hero. A courageous individual. An American icon. Even Christians are saying these things. And for those who are less inclined to bestow upon Bruce such accolades, they are scolded with the questions, “Why all the hate? Where’s the love?”
The latter is a fair question—where is the love?—but it prompts an even better one: What does it mean to truly love someone?
True love, after all, is a theological exercise. In order for us to understand what love is, we have to first consider who God is, and who we are in relation to Him. If our view of love is not shaped by God’s view about creation, humanity, sin, salvation, sex, and so on, then love becomes strictly subjective and arbitrary, constantly redefined by cultural trends and ever-changing humanistic arguments. But if God defines what love is then it has permanence and an ever-stable locus. In other words, love actually means something.
The Scriptures suggest that we don’t even know what love is apart from theology. John, the evangelist, wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). The Apostle Paul also presents sacrifice as a key element of biblical love. He instructs to love even as we have been loved by God. And how did God show His love for us? By sending His Son to die for us, “while we were yet sinners” (Rom. 5:8).
Here’s what we can conclude from God’s example: unlike romanticized love, which is primarily an emotion of self-actualization, biblical love is not ultimately about me. Romanticized love is a feeling of desire, acceptance, longing—but that longing is really for my fulfillment in you. So if I feel that romanticized love with someone and I say to that person, “I love you,” what I’m really saying is: I love the way you make me feel. You make me feel special, desirable, attractive, inspired, moved.
This, by the way, is why romanticized love is so fickle, so unreliable. As soon as you stop making me feel all the aforementioned things, then my love for you is gone.
But biblical love is different. It too is a strong affection, intense and emotional. Sometimes well-meaning people suggest that biblical love is not emotional, that it’s purely behavioral; only about what you do and not how you feel, but this is impossible to reconcile with Scripture. Biblical love involves emotion, but it is a passion for another’s ultimate good.
To love someone in the example of Jesus is to have a deep desire to see that person experience what’s best for him or her. Not necessarily what that person wants, but what is most desperately needed. To borrow an expression from John Piper: To truly love someone is to “make much of that person.”
And sometimes that involves saying and doing hard things. Therein lies the sacrifice.
What does it mean to show love to Bruce Jenner? Well, it certainly does not mean perpetuating in our writing or speech the false and enslaving notion that a person can alter his gender. “Male” and “female” are not cultural constructs, but aspects of humanity rooted in the will of God. Gender is assigned by God at creation, and for His divine purpose, and it cannot be changed. We do not show Bruce Jenner love by suggesting anything to the contrary. Instead we only add confusion to the crushing feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing already experienced.
Neither do we show love by referring to Bruce’s actions as noble, honorable, courageous, or heroic, despite cultural pressure to conform to this rhetoric. To openly (or tacitly) endorse such conduct is to bring harm to Bruce, not healing. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20).
To love Bruce Jenner is to earnestly desire, pray for and seek his reconciliation with the God who made him. The God who offers salvation by grace alone. The God in whom Jenner can find the approval, acceptance, and love for which he is desperately searching. That’s what Bruce Jenner truly needs, despite what he thinks he wants.
To love Bruce Jenner is to long to see Jenner truly made whole, not by mutilating his body and thereby incurring the devastating psychological and emotional pain that goes along with such a decision, but by coming into a right relationship with God through faith in the person and work of his Son.
To love Bruce Jenner (and other transgenders that we might come in contact with, like the man I met with this week, or anyone else who spurns God’s design) is to come alongside in grace and humility, with an invitation to turn to Jesus in repentant faith and experience all the benefits of being made to be “at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … through whom we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2-3).
Where is the love? Good question. It is in this glorious announcement: Christ died to save sinners like you, me, and Bruce Jenner. And all who turn to Him in faith He will in no way cast away.
For the gospel,