Yet the most important thing Christians can do with this is to be moved with compassion. When you see someone whose beliefs put them in this dilemma, you must realize how painful and heartbreaking it is to be told theologically that you can't embrace God in your life if you hold to these ideas. Christians must feel in their hearts the ache and despondency brought on by a belief that your "truth" or identity makes you incompatible with the Church. Such people need the Gospel desperately; they need to know that God specializes in changing those who embrace Him, not embracing those who first change.I rewrote this post. I had to.
When I first put it up, it ended with the conclusion stated at the top, and an appeal to Christians to engage people on these issues by focusing on displaying who Christ is rather than focusing on the issue itself. That's still there, but what I realized quickly is that something vitally important was missing. What was missing was the empathy of understanding just how painful it is for people to find themselves in this theological bind, and what it does to their souls to have it implied that the life they embrace is incompatible with God. The Gospel is a message of hope. It is meant to bring hope, not despair. So if anyone takes anything from this post, I hope it is the paragraph in italics above, and the new ending.
We've all had these conversations with friends (or sat silently listening with no idea where to begin) when the transgender question comes up, or when abortion or Planned Parenthood are the subject. Most of them tend to follow the same track of arguments or attitudes so steadily it's like we're holding a script. We eventually develop an inner resignation that these conversations are all going to end the same way. But we still must try. Do what you can, and as Charles Spurgeon would say, "believe in the Holy Spirit." We take courage that God does supernatural work in people's hearts and minds beyond the words we use.
Understanding why people feel the way they do is also essential. If we don't take the time to get behind the emotions and arguments and understand what beliefs drive the person to insist on one thing and reject another, we often underestimate how broad the disagreement really is. That's one reason we often end up talking past each other: we haven't realized that the other person has fundamental beliefs about reality that make it impossible for them to agree with us. We also may miss an opportunity to address those fundamental beliefs themselves, which could solve a lot of conflict.
Rod Dreher just posted helpful insights into how abortion and transgender identity affect the ability to relate to God. He titles it The Metaphysics of Caitlyn & Planned Parenthood. (n.b. For those unconsciously trying to 'fit' me into a thought category, I don't regularly read The American Conservative. I read Rod Dreher.)
Here's the crux, although I recommend it all:
The culture now seems to have accepted as self-evidently true that one’s gender is whatever one wants it to be. To assert this implies a metaphysical view that is radically at odds with classical (including Christian) metaphysics, which holds that nature is not mere stuff that we can fashion as we like, and impose our own meaning onto it, but rather that nature in some mysterious way reflects things as they actually are. ...the stand you take has everything to do with what you think it means to be human, and how you relate the human being to the natural order. Modernity generally sees the material world as meaningless matter that we can fashion however we like. The older world — including the world of Christianity — teaches that God is intimately involved with Creation, and that we therefore have strict limits governing how we should treat it, including our bodies. A big problem is that far too many modern Christians have lost that older, classical Christian metaphysics, and no longer view the body and nature as bound inextricably to the divine. The conservative Christian may draw the limits of exploiting nature in a different place than, say, Caitlyn Jenner or Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Deborah Nucatola, but there may well be a shared metaphysics among them. [Nucatola is the Planned Parenthood executive caught on hidden camera discussing how to maximize dismembering infants during abortions to get the most saleable organs and tissue.]Christian, here is why thinking this way affects your faith so much: For those who think this way about life, there is actually no room for a God who has any authority or involvement in the world. If all of reality is raw material that humans should be free to shape in any way they desire, what role is left in their minds for God to play? The basic outlook they have on life denies there is any design at all, because to believe that the way things were made tells us nothing about what we must do with them, or how they function, is to deny any intent or purpose behind what exists. It also denies there is any rule or boundary except what the will of man desires to do with life. What is a god who provides no purpose for making the world, exercises no authority separate from what we believe in our own minds, and cares not at all how we use reality? Nothing but a tender thought in the hearts of those who find him comforting, much like Santa Claus or Peter Pan. He can have any qualities we want him to have; but the main thing is that his existence requires nothing of us.
Such a god passes through our thoughts as a mere companion, perhaps not exactly an equal but certainly no one for whom we must change our plans. It's like living down the street from a billionaire. He has vastly more resources and we know who to turn to if we need help, but we each have our own houses and our own business. He is simply available when we're interested, but never needed when we're not. In short, if our idea of God makes no claims about what reality exists for or why our bodies were made this way, then we don't really accept the idea of a God. To be that, we would have to admit He had some kind of authority over life, and thus a purpose behind using that authority, which means a design and purpose behind why He created what He has made. But a belief in shaping nature to our own sense of identity is completely incompatible with anything resembling this God.
How Does this Help Us Talk to People?
First, take the conversation off of the topic and, instead, go back to who God is and how we relate to Him. Sometimes the most effective way of transforming thinking is to focus on getting a clear view of God back at the center of our universe, and a clear view of who we are to Him. Of course, it doesn't ordinarily help to say, "Your problem on abortion is you don't understand God." The point is not to tie the two together at the moment, but instead to have a different objective in what you decide to talk about in your relationship with this person. Their biggest problem is not what they think about Caitlyn Jenner. It's how they see God. Think over how this affects what you will say next time.
Second, your attitude must be compassionate: By all means, use your minds with all your might to discern and identify whether people are boxed in by these ideas. But take care that your way of discussing this doesn't make them feel shut out. When you get to the heart of it, most people have very deep pain behind their reasons for what they believe. You can't argue people out of pain. They need to be healed. Bring the Gospel as a solution. Show them the God who transcends all of our feelings and ideas so greatly that He is able to give us a new vision of life and identity in Him. Do everything you can to display the glory of God that is more precious than every desire on earth.
Make sure they understand that God specializes in changing those who embrace Him, not embracing those who first change. The dilemma may not have to be resolved first before they behold God and desire to know Him. Our best work is often not in changing people's minds, but in bringing them to God and helping them fall so deeply in love with Him that they surrender their ideas and desires to Him and welcome the transformation He makes in their hearts.
None of this happens quickly, and there are plenty of people who profess to know Christ who still hold beliefs about their bodies and their babies that don't fit with God at all. But you are much more likely to help them past this if they love God enough first to be willing to understand and accept what He reveals about reality. And for this very reason, make sure you also take Dreher's test yourself. Does your view of nature or the way we use the world have the same flaws, and just "draw the limits of exploiting nature in a different place than, say, Caitlyn Jenner or Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Deborah Nucatola"? Does pondering this article reveal something to you about your own views of God?