OK, I’m going there.
I don’t often use this forum to comment on the hot topics of the day. I’ve discovered that when topics are as fresh and popular as Sunday’s Bruce Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer, it’s hard for anything but the shrill voices on each extreme to be heard.
But I’m giving it a try today. Here’s why.
I know people like Bruce Jenner.*
I have spent many hours sitting, talking and crying with people who struggle with various gender and sexual issues.
I’ve also sat with their loved ones. Parents and grandparents, sons and daughters, husbands and wives. I’ve seen the pain and confusion in their eyes as they struggle to adapt.
What does it mean as a Christian to love a child, parent or spouse who has just told you they are gay? Or that they’ve felt trapped in the wrong body all their lives? (No, those are not the same thing.)
And who can help me negotiate what to do next?
What Do I Do Now?
There are two sets of voices that dominate these issues. I know, because Facebook and Twitter has been filled with both since the interview last Sunday night.
On the one side are people saying Bruce Jenner is a hero. On the other, that he’s a sad, sinful pervert.
If you’re struggling with feelings of sexual identity, which side would you go to?
But those aren’t the only voices out there. They just seem like it because they’re the loudest.
In the huge middle are real people. Not reality TV stars. Just people who are trying to make their way through an already challenging life that’s been upended in a way they never expected.
If you’re a Christian and your spouse has just told you they’re gay or transgender, where do you turn? To those yelling “hero!” or to those yelling “pervert!”?
What they want is someone who isn’t yelling. But that’s often hard to find.
So they go nowhere. They stuff it down and don’t deal with it at all.
They don’t want to hear how awesome this is. Their world has been rocked to its core. But they don’t want to sit through a tirade about how their parent, child or spouse is a pervert, either.
They want know how to keep loving their family member the way Jesus loves them. That’s all.
But too few of them are finding out how to do this, even as they sit in our churches week after week. So they either suffer in silence or leave our churches saying nothing.
I don’t know why so many people have sought me out for these conversations. After all, I’m not a counselor. I’m just a pastor.
Many of them don’t even attend my church. Some don’t attend any church. But they need a pastor.
Maybe that’s why.
Whatever the reasons, here’s some of what I’m learning through many real conversations with real people dealing with overwhelming challenges.
- Listen first, talk later.
- Deal with people as people, not as issues.
- Nothing about this is easy – for anyone.
- People aren’t expecting easy answers – they’re hoping for a loving, truthful conversation.
- Speak the truth in love.
- Don’t respond according to your feelings, but according to a balanced view of scripture.
- When you don’t know what to do, don’t pretend you do.
- Treat people with respect – even especially the ones you disagree with.
- They’re not coming for an angry sermon or a pat on the back – they want someone to pray with them, talk with them and walk with them through the hardest time of their life.
That’s what the people I talk with seem to be looking for. And isn’t that what pastors are supposed to do, after all?
(*In case you missed it, last week ABC aired an interview with Bruce Jenner in which the former “world’s greatest athlete”, gold-medal-winning decathlete and reality TV star told the world he is “a woman on the inside” – to use his words. Click here to watch it.)
Let’s have a civil conversation about this. I expect comments from various points on the theological spectrum, so I won’t delete any based on theological viewpoint. But I will delete angry and/or strident comments from either extreme. Let this be a place where conversation is encouraged, not shut down. But I will shut it down if that doesn’t happen.
– Karl Vaters
So what do you think? What pastoral experiences have you had with people struggling with challenges like this?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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