In the past few weeks there has been one story which has dominated my news feed: Bruce Jenner’s recent transition to become Caitlyn Jenner. Responses have ranged from congratulatory to condemning; from the deranged to the downright derogatory. I am not interested in debating or commenting on any of this because in all honesty, I don’t know Caitlyn Jenner, and probably never will.
I Do Know Mark
I do know Mark1 though. Mark was considering transitioning to become a woman. In fact, Mark had already begun the process of pursuing his transition through secular counseling and hormone therapy.
Despite this, he willingly came in for counseling to get, “a Christian opinion on the topic.” He had done his research, and came ready to present a defense of his pursuit of this sex change. After listening to his story and background for over an hour, I paused and simply said, “Thank you.”
Thank you for being willing to share your story with a person you don’t even know. Thank you for being willing to come in and share a difficult and painful part of your life. Thank you for being willing to come in and seek counsel. I’m fairly confident Mark knew what I was going to say as a biblical counselor; but yet he took the huge step of coming in and talking with a stranger.
Isn’t this one of the many joys of biblical counseling? We have unique opportunities every day not to address the current cultural phenomenon of the day, but to interact and minister with real people with real hurts and heartaches.2 We have the joy as biblical counselors to speak with people and present them a living hope: Jesus Christ.
Biblical Counseling with Mark
What happened over the course of several sessions wasn’t complex or even controversial. I asked questions, listened to him share, and offered biblical counsel from the truth of Scripture. Here are some themes we unpacked together over the course of our time:
- His History Matters: Mark’s story was similar; yet different to many I’ve heard who have struggled in areas of sexuality and gender. His understanding of masculinity as informed by culture was markedly different than what the Bible has to say about masculinity and gender. We sought to biblically define masculinity hopefully losing many of the cultural stereotypes which had inculcated themselves into his thinking.
- His Body Matters: What Mark chooses to do with his body matters. Worship comes from the heart, but ultimately that worship must be mediated through a physical body created by God. Often we unintentionally over-spiritualize our sanctification, and forget that our sanctification has a bodily/physical component, which cannot and should not be denied (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). Something as simple as eating and drinking (cf.1 Corinthians 10:31) can be a worshipful act.
- His Community Matters: While choices like Mark’s understandably become individualized, I tried to share with Mark that he is connected to a wider community. That wider community should rightly have a vested interest in his choices (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26). We live in a time where one’s individual choices get baptized into orthodoxy much too soon. We have lost a sense of community where my choices must be shaped, refined and submitted to God’s goals for the community. In the words of the John Donne, “No man is an island unto himself.”
- His Faith Matters: At the end of the day, anyone could sit and go back and forth debating Mark’s feelings and emotions about pursuing his sex change. While some might find arguing a person’s experience to be a convincing way to win a person, I’ve not found this to be true. Here’s the question I landed on with Mark: “Mark, what choice and pathway helps you best fulfill your calling as an image-bearer of God, man, husband, father, and friend?” Over the course of our time together we went through many permutations of this question to help him see who he was in light of God’s calling on his life.
Eventually my sessions with Mark came to an end. At a certain level, the conversations had come to a natural conclusion. Mark had fulfilled his goal in coming to see me, and I had shared with him what I believed the Bible had to say about his decision. I remember being somewhat disheartened after our time together. Should I have been more direct? Should I have pressed him harder? Should I have been more compassionate?
Ultimately Mark’s heart had to be changed by the person and work of the Holy Spirit. That is every counselor’s ultimate hope and desire. We cannot do this work of change on our own, and we are foolish to think we can.
A few months ago, I got a text followed by a phone call from Mark. After much consideration, prayer, and the role of faithful believers in his life, Mark stopped the process of his transition. Although he didn’t use the word, essentially Mark described to me a process of repentance, humility, and submission to God’s will for his life. I’m not naïve to think Mark’s journey is over, and that his story is one of “happily ever after.” But I’m hopeful and confident in God’s ongoing work in his life.
So, while you and I will never meet or probably know Caitlyn Jenner, you’ll probably run into someone like her if not now, very soon. We must be equipped as Christians to offer more than one-liners, political sound bites, or theological platitudes. We must be ready to offer them the good news of a Savior who came, lived, died, and ascended on high so that they could have the hope of eternal life!
Join the Conversation
As a biblical counselor, how would you minister to someone like Mark?
1Name and details have been changed to protect the person’s identity.
2I’m not saying by inference that Caitlyn Jenner is not a real person with real hurts and heartaches, but I’m saying the vast majority of us do not personally know Caitlyn Jenner. All we know of Caitlyn Jenner is what technology and media have mediated to us by way of image and information.