How to Faithfully Address Gender? It’s all About Relationship
By: Jenny Uebbing
Q: How do we as woman talk about gender and share the truth of our faith in a world that is so quick to pounce on this topic and shut us down? Will we lose all our friendships? I’m scared talk about this based on past experience and don’t want to be, but don’t know how to engage. I know many women do and others do an awkward dance to avoid it, but it is on all our minds because there seem to be more and more people struggling with this reality and I think we need to know how to communicate truth but how to do it with love.
Sharing the truth about gender in a world quick to pounce
We’ve most of us found ourselves in the middle of some variation of this conversation, whether around the holiday dinner table, the water cooler, or on social media: A friend, family member, or co-worker broaches the question of gay marriage or transgenderism, soliciting your opinion as the token Catholic in the room. Sometimes the inquiry is sincere and well-intentioned, other times there might be a bit of baiting at play. Whatever the case, the question may come accompanied by a rising heart rate, sweating palms, and a sudden and intense feigned interest in Aunt Irene’s sweet potato casserole recipe.
It’s never easy to feel the sudden and searing heat of the spotlight, and it’s never fun to feel like you’re going to break the heart or hurt the feelings of the person asking the question. So why has it become so difficult to talk about gender issues in a society like ours that prides itself on being so openminded and tolerant?
Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a social media blast of emotion knows that our cultural fixation on tolerance is actually a stringent demand for conformity by another name. Polite people no longer seem to be able to, well, politely disagree on issues, particularly those of the most delicate and personal nature: matters of human sexuality.
Part of the real difficulty is that many Christians, out of a misguided – but big-hearted – desire to come across as loving and accepting, have confused compassion with cooperation in this confused, sexually toxic culture we’re living in. When someone confides an attraction to persons of the same sex or a desire to change their gender, instead of responding with authentic love rooted in concern for that person’s greatest good, many of us take our cues from the ambient culture and weakly accept or even encourage self harming and sinful behavior.
(An important distinction: same sex attraction, as we read in the CCC 2358, is never in and of itself sinful. It is acting on these impulses (CCC 2357) that damages the human person, body and soul. Every person struggles with temptation in some area; the temptation to sexual activity with a person of the same sex is no more or less grievous than the temptation to adultery or embezzlement.)
Because we have been culturally encouraged to accept and even celebrate homosexuality, gender fluidity, transgenderism, promiscuity, and a host of other sexually-devastating behaviors, and, more to the point, because so many Christians have remained silent in the face of the cultural juggernaut of the past decade in particular, many of us are ill equipped and intensely uneasy in presenting the truth of the Gospel in the realm of human sexuality.
We fear being branded as bigots, being dismissed as hateful or out-dated, being castigated as unscientific and barbaric in our views of the human person. Rather than risk a relationship breach or a professional fumble, we keep silent, or we weakly nod our heads in agreement, hoping that keeping the peace will, well, keep the peace.
Meanwhile, real, unrepeatable human souls created in the image and likeness of God are being lost in this raging battle against the very essence of what it means to be human. And Christians are sidelining themselves in the fight, hoping to remain neutral in a war that takes no prisoners.
It is not easy to disagree with someone even in the mildest of circumstances. Conflict is uncomfortable, and hurt feelings are not something most of us relish. But what if there were a way to disagree lovingly? What if there was a technique to ensure all parties involved could feel respected and valued, even in the midst of disagreement?
Our Lord Himself models this mode of discourse for us throughout the Gospels, showing us over and over what it looks like to love without limits, and to call on without condemning.
It’s all about relationship.
Jesus is the master evangelist, and His pattern holds true in all 4 Gospel accounts. He encounters, He calls into relationship, and He calls on to something greater. It happened with Peter, with Mary Magdalene, and with the Samaritan woman at the well.
He meets the person where they are, He enters into relationship with them, and He calls them into a new way of living.
We have story after story of what happens when this model worked as intended, but how about when it didn’t? I think of the parable of the rich young man, eager to inherit the kingdom of heaven and wondering what more he needs to do to get there. Sell everything you own and give it to the poor.
The rich man hangs his head and walks away from Jesus. And then Jesus runs after him, waving his arms and yelling “jk jk you can keep all your stuff, we’ll work something out.”
Except that’s not what happened. Jesus let the guy walk. The Lord God Himself couldn’t win over over every human soul; it’s hard to imagine the anguish in the heart of the Creator watching one of His beloved children walk away from eternal life.
But our free will, instilled in us by that same loving Creator, makes that a possible outcome of every person’s story.
We can’t force the Gospel on someone. God Himself won’t do that. And sometimes, we are going to lose relationships and suffer personal and professional losses over the demanding beauty of the faith.
We must be courageous and compassionate in our relationships with our brothers and sisters, no matter what their struggle. And we must not be cowed in the face of a culture that insists that “this is the new normal.” A person struggling with homosexual inclinations or wrestling with their biological gender deserves our compassion, respect, and authentic acceptance. But acceptance does not equal endorsement.
Jesus didn’t hold the rich man at arm’s length and make a disgusted face over his materialism. He opened his arms in acceptance and said “come and live this way, it’s how you were created.” And the man chose to walk away. But he was not driven away with a stick. Jesus stood with arms and heart wide open, offering an unvarnished and uncompromising truth. But He never demeaned the man’s dignity.
Now, the analogy is imperfect, because we are each of us struggling with our own sins and shortcomings, unlike Jesus. And unlike Jesus, none of us have the right to judge another person’s heart. But all of us have the responsibility to call each other on to holiness.
The next time you are called into dialogue with a friend or colleague over homosexuality or gender issues, be confident in the teachings of the Church that insist we treat each and every person with respect, love, and real compassion. And do not be afraid, as our Lord was not afraid, to present the truth with love.
They can always walk away. Our prayer ought to be that when they walk back, they find our arms – and our hearts – open and ready to embrace.
“Neither then do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”