Christians talking about Caitlyn Jenner: How not to do it

Rev Stephen Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Arizona, has attacked Caitlyn Jenner in a sermon.YouTube

The furore around the news of Bruce Jenner's transition to Caitlyn and that picture on the front of Vanity Fair was beginning to die down. Then Rev Stephen Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church decided to pour oil on troubled flames, and whoosh – Caitlyn's in the news again.

Anderson has made headlines before, notably when he called for the execution of gay and lesbian people. His comments about Caitlyn Jenner in a sermon are just as objectionable. Among other things, he says: "I'm going to pray that he dies and goes to Hell" and "Listen to me – I hate him with a perfect hatred." He continues: "I have no love for this Bruce freak. I hope he dies today, I hope he dies and goes to Hell – he's disgusting, he's filthy, he's reprobate.

"I hope God touches Bruce Jenner's heart like this," he said, then mimed pulling out his own heart.

Anderson's at one extreme, but other Christian responses to Jenner's transformation have been less than loving, too, seeming to show a deep lack of awareness and respect. Matt Walsh from The Blaze described him as "a mentally ill crossdresser" who underwent surgery "in pursuit of some perverse, bastardized notion of synthetic femininity".

He continues: "In response, our depraved and insane country has hailed him as something approaching a god, with millions of people flooding social media to heap unrestrained praise and adulation." He says: "I'm not saying this was all a marketing ploy, but his bank account and reputation are certainly reaping the rewards."

Walsh is a journalist known for being provocative. Other contributors to the debate claim a more elevated platform, but also seem to shoot from the hip. John Burton in an article for Charisma News entitled Celebrating Confusion writes: "Without Jesus, Bruce Jenner is hopeless—regardless of whether he struggles with gender identity or not. Eternity is a small and rapidly decreasing number of heartbeats away and he will live, as Bruce Jenner, not Caitlyn, for trillions of years (forever) in horrifying, unending torment—a neverending panic attack."

Burton continues that "The same is true for every person who has ever lived on the earth," but the implication is pretty clear: change back or go to hell.

Similarly, James MacDonald pulls no punches in his article 5 Bruce Jenner Facts. "My goal here is a breath of biblical oxygen for people still fighting the deluge of dissipation and debauchery trending constantly in our culture," he says. Jenner is "still a man": "Just as kids going door to door on halloween are not actually witches and warlocks, Bruce Jenner is not a woman simply because he has worked hard to look like one. If I had a surgeon attach a long gray hose to the center of my face and hang wide gray, leafy lobes from the sides of my head, I would not be an elephant." MacDonald concludes: "For though his depravity is on display for the world to see, this man needs what we all have needed so badly—he needs the Lord."

Another take is provided by Denny Burk, a respected professor of biblical studies, who says in his blog that to call Jenner Caitlyn is to be untruthful. "The practical upshot of this principle means that I must never encourage or accomodate transgender fictions with my words," he says. "In fact, I have an obligation to expose them. For me, that means that I may never refer to a biological male with pronouns that encourage him to think of himself as a female." He suggests avoiding pronouns and using 'Jenner' where possible – a little socially awkward in a face-to-face encounter, perhaps.

Truth to tell, the reaction to Jenner's transition has been mixed, and has tended to lack nuance from both sides. Celebrating it as some sort of victory, as though someone was "really" a woman in an ontological sense and finally become one physically, is clearly highly questionable from a philosophical point of view, and does indeed raise awkward questions about a debased celebrity culture. Caitlyn's chromosomes are still XY.

But treating her as a theological aberration or a dire example of depravity – or indeed as a social embarrassment – is just as clearly wrong. She is a child of God, loved by Him as she is, just as she is – as are we all.

Christians should have enough confidence not to need to fly into a moral panic over troubled people who are trying to make sense of their lives in the best way they can. With any transgender person, we should be able to show love, compassion and acceptance, being open to what helps them on a hard road that no one chooses willingly.

Follow @RevMarkWoods on Twitter.