The checkout stands in the grocery store where I just shopped are packed with magazines—picture after picture—of Bruce Jenner in various striking poses that, at least on the surface, look remarkably female…sort of! Just a few weeks ago Bruce came out to Diane Sawyer on national TV. The secular media has had a great time hailing Bruce as, well, whatever you would call a female knight in shining armor.
People of my generation remember a different Bruce Jenner. He blazed into national attention when he won the 1976 Summer Olympic gold medal in the decathlon in Montreal. Overnight he was a national hero, the next big face on a Wheaties box.
For Bruce Jenner, this metamorphosis into womanhood has come neither easily nor fast. Among other things, it has involved hormone therapy, Adam’s apple reduction surgery and breast implants. To me, Bruce still doesn’t look quite like a female—more of a fella who wants to look like a gal!
I really do not mean to mock Bruce. I hope this will not shock my friends, but I actually feel a strange sense of empathy for Bruce. You should, too. His reasons for embarking on this pathway to extreme change, as he said himself, is that he was (and I believe still is) confused about the very same thing that perplexes every man and woman ever born into this fallen world. This confusion, which the Bible calls sin, impels many of us to attempt some change in our situation and deal with the whole issue of self-identification somewhere in our lives.
Our issues may not surface as Bruce says his did, but most of us are painfully aware of the distance between where we are and where we should be. We all need to experience radical change. Jesus likened this need for transformative change to being reborn. In fact, our Lord told Nicodemus that until we go through this change nothing about our lives ever will be as it should.
Bruce Jenner is every man, and every man is Bruce Jenner—and that is why we preach! Every time we stand before our people, we need to remember there are many who are uncomfortable with, and uncertain about, themselves. Many are carrying the heavy burdens of broken relationships, big mistakes and the deep scars of every imaginable sin. Some already have tried ways to escape from, or to cover and hide, or another means to change their situations. Similar to Bruce Jenner, they feel stuck in a strange world where nothing feels right.
All this comes with living in a fallen condition. The people who hear us preach often long for an opportunity to begin again. They yearn for someone to tell them God in Jesus makes it possible for them to make a determined break with the past, to step into a new way of life. They are demoralized about the possibility of being stuck with the burden of who they are; and as they go through life, they grow increasingly confused and frustrated by their track record of failure.
For Bruce Jenner, 40 years of celebrity and accolades, of sports success and adoration, did not satisfy his confusion and failure as evidenced in a personal trail of wreckage that includes three failed marriages. Even the wealth and glitz of Kardashianism did not satisfy him. This not-so-brave new world of gender reidentification cannot do it either. The tragedy that lies ahead of those who think it can is that they will end up permanently scarred and altered in ways the world’s best medical experts cannot restore.
“There is a way that appears to be right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). Whatever the human issue, this gospel of grace that we are called to preach is the only hope for the Bruce Jenners of this world. At its heart, the gospel offers transformation not of the outer person, but of the inner. Would it not be wonderful if, by God's grace, Bruce Jenner’s story did not end in the tabloids but in discovering the only freedom he and every person longs for: a truly new identity through a real life encounter with the Lord Jesus!
My, what a message He has given us! Go out and preach it with all your heart!
After 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, Leslie Holmes teaches a new generation of preachers at Erskine Theological Seminary. Reach him at LHolmes@Erskine.edu.