June 9, 2015 by Alex Johannigman
I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about what’s on TV these days, and even less when it comes to reality TV, a genre that I’ve never had the desire to watch even a single episode of, whether that show features rich celebrities, duck hunters, or a giant family. But when these shows’ characters do something that is deemed noteworthy by whoever has the influence to say so, I’m regretfully forced to see what the ramifications of their actions are on popular culture.
Recently two such celebrities have been all over the news. Yes, I’m talking about former Olympic athlete Bruce/ Caitlyn Jenner and eldest son of the family in “19 Kids and Counting,” Josh Duggar. If one or both of those names don’t ring a bell, let me briefly explain why folks are all talking about them to the best of my ability.
At the end of April, Jenner announced publicly that although he had a male body, he felt female and then decided a few weeks ago to surgically modify his body to physically resemble the woman he believed himself to be as much as is possible.
Many have referred to Jenner’s condition more specifically as “gender identity disorder” or “gender dysphoria.”
In the other corner of the news world, police records were recently made public revealing that twelve years ago Josh Duggar inappropriately touched several teenage girls, most of whom were his younger sisters, multiple times. He was charged with sexual molestation at the time.
(EDIT: A comprehensive summary of the entire situation can be found here.)
Both of these are incredibly newsworthy and relevant to our lives because… I guess because they’re both on TV.
But enough of my cynicism. Even if I believe that both of these stories shouldn’t be nearly as newsworthy as they were made out to be, I do think it’s worth commenting on what they revealed about us.
Everyone was very quick to pick sides, either empathizing with or being overly critical of one side or the other. The Jenner controversy created an unlikely alliance between feminists and Christians who often don’t see eye to eye when it comes to abortion or marriage but agreed that there is more to being a woman than feeling like you are one, and that objective reality ultimately determines who you are more than subjective thoughts. Some were compassionate in their criticisms, and others were not. Meanwhile, relativists and secularists were praising Jenner’s move as a victory for the LGBT community, admiring the courage that they thought it took to make such a public move.
Meanwhile, we return to the story of Josh Duggar whose police record has been released to the public. The folks following the previous story have more or less flipped sides, with the secular crowd condemning Duggar’s sin and offering no forgiveness and the Christian crowd stating that while what he did was horrendous, he should still be offered forgiveness.
Why did most people take such different responses to each of these individuals? If you were a typical American, you were probably quick to hate or condemn one, but then love, support, and/ or forgive the other. And it mostly came down to whether you agreed with the individual’s values or not.
It’s so easy to look at people we’ve never met, never talked to, never shared an afternoon with, and make value judgments based on how similar they seem to us. Many only wanted to forgive Josh Duggar because his conservative values reflected their own. They realized that while his sins were probably graver than several of theirs are, he’s still a sinner in need of a Redeemer like the rest of us. And many others only wanted to love and support Jenner because they support his fluid theory of gender. Or perhaps they too have been in a situation where they felt they were not understood. They too have gone through points in their lives where they were depressed or lonely, confused about who they were or what they were supposed to do with their lives.
We picked sides, as we tend to do when we feel we are in the middle this continued “culture war.” You had to be for one and against the other. Red or Blue. Conservative or Liberal. Christian or Atheist.
Very few loved and forgave both. Yet Jesus said “You have heard how it was said, You will love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the tax collectors do as much? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Do not even the gentiles do as much? You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-48)
When we hear these news stories about individuals we don’t know personally, we have to resist painting caricatures of them and thinking that because they have different values than our own, they are less human and less deserving of respect, love, mercy, and forgiveness. Instead, I urge you to pray for them. I have no doubt that they could both use all the prayers they can get right now.