Caitlyn Jenner calls the question on Christian anthropology

Shift or Control
Shift or Control? (photo by Ryan Bell)

Emma Green at The Atlantic published an excellent summary of the negative–and revolting–reactions from conservative Christians that we have have become familiar with over the past few days, from the hateful rhetoric of Matt Walsh* to the disturbingly rapey comments of Presidential candidate (I know!) Mike Huckabee who said in February that he wished he could have identified as a female when he was in high school so he could shower with the girls.

Green then puts her finger on the core issue: what does it mean to be human and who gets to decide?

Importantly, [Russell Moore, ethics head of the Southern Baptist Convention] framed his position in culture-war rhetoric. “The cultural narrative behind the transgender turn … is rooted in the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, with the idea that the ‘real’ self is separate from who one is as an embodied, material being,” he wrote. “Our transgender neighbors experience real suffering … the answers the culture and the Sexual Revolution-Industrial Complex offer can’t relieve that suffering.”

Setting the initial-capped, dubiously reified “Sexual Revolution-Industrial Complex” aside, this is a straightforward claim about the nature of existence: Individuals can’t define the nature of their “self”; only God can. Feeling discomfort with yourself and alienated from the world is a normal part of being human, Moore is saying, but living as a Christian means accepting that Jesus, and not alterations of the body, is the salve to that feeling of alienation.

The aggressive and sarcastic push-back by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians against Caitlyn Jenner reveals deep anxiety about the waning significance of a Christian anthropology. Christians must accept Jenner and change their theology or cling to their theology and reject (and mock, apparently) Jenner. Some Christians are beginning to accept those changes but it’s is far from clear how theology will adapt to deal with new understandings of how people experience and understand their multiple identities. One thing does seem clear: Caitlyn Jenner and other trans* individuals are not the only ones transitioning. Christianity is going through its own transition. What name it will take at the end remains to be seen.

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