The first Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday. It’s a liturgical pivot point, and it provides a lesson in discipleship. For a week after Easter we simply experience the power of the Risen Jesus. Every day is treated as Easter; the Gospels tell of one resurrection appearance after another. Then we pivot. After drinking deeply from the power of his risen love we’re called to bring that love to the hurts of the world.
One of those hurts today concerns gender ideology.
Rather than speak first about a cultural movement, however, I want to speak first about individuals who are questioning their identity, and individuals who consider themselves as having a gender identity at odds with their biological sex.
The first thing we’re called to do there is not to offer criticism but compassion. To wrestle with our identity, and to wonder about the meaning of our maleness and femaleness, is a common human experience. In addition, those who are questioning their identity, and those who consider themselves as having a gender identity at odds with their biological sex, are at risk for a whole series of poor health outcomes. They experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and have a much higher rate of suicide attempts than the general population. They are uniquely vulnerable.
Knowing these things, what should be our first reaction? The first thing we need to do is not to draw away in suspicion, fear, or condemnation, but to lean in with compassion. And we need to make it clear that violence against any of our brothers or sisters is unacceptable.
If you’re uncomfortable with your biological sex, or if you consider yourself as having a gender identity at odds with your biological sex, here’s the first thing I want you to know: God loves you. He loves you right where you are. He has a plan for you.
Think about Zacchaeus: he was a tax collector, and Jesus stayed at his house. Think about the Samaritan woman: she had previously had 5 husbands, and was now living with a man who was not her husband. Jesus initiated a conversation with her, and asked her to give him a drink. Think about Peter: he betrayed Jesus – three times! Jesus reached out to walk and talk with him. In each case Jesus didn’t draw away, he drew closer.
But, you might say: “Those were cases of sin, and sin freely chosen. What we’re talking about here is different.” And that’s right. What we’re talking about here is, first, before any action is even taken, a condition people experience, which is not the same as a sin, and a condition most people experience as not freely chosen.
So it’s important to say something more: Jesus also reached out to people who experienced conditions that were not sins, and that were not freely chosen. In just two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 8-9) Jesus reaches out to a leper, a paralytic, a woman with a fever, a woman with a hemorrhage, two blind men, and many others with conditions they did not choose. The list can be multiplied by looking at the rest of the Gospels.
Whether we’re talking about sins we have freely chosen or conditions we have not the Gospels make it very clear: whatever our hurt is, Jesus came for the hurt. He doesn’t draw away there, he draws closer.
But if compassion is the first (and the last) thing to say, it’s not the only thing to say…