I was brought up a Catholic, and was taught from my earliest school years that the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother” was Number Four in the Decalogue (the theological name for the “Ten Commandments” in Exodus 20). As my spiritual journey brought me into a living, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, I left the Catholic Church (with no animosity, I want to add) to seek a purer, more Scriptural approach to this relationship, At present, my husband and I worship and participate in Bible study with a Southern Baptist congregation.
I say this because, long ago, Protestant exegetes and Bible translators assigned a different numbering system to the Decalogue, resulting in this present-day “problem”: Is the commandment concerning honoring one’s father and mother the fourth or the fifth commandment? Well – guess what! – I’m not going to get involved in that discussion (I was never really good at numbers, either then or now).
So what do I want to say? It is this: the Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner and the Rachel Dozeal / Dolezal (I have found both last names on the internet, to my astonishment) storms are fundamentally issues involving disobedience to God and His clear Word. But there is more beyond the face-painting of “gender reassignment” and racial “identification”: in both instances, these “instant celebrities” have publicly dishonored their fathers and their mothers. How, you say? I respond: Isn’t it obvious?
When Bruce / Caitlyn was born, his parents rejoiced over a son “born of [our] flesh.” When a baby emerges from the womb, one of the first things the doctor or midwife tells the mother (and father) is the sex of the child. This fact is clear and uncomplicated: if the child has certain genitalia, it is a boy; if it has another set, it is a girl. The mother can verify the attending physician’s pronouncement instantly; she does not have to go through any long process of “discovery.” And, aided and encouraged by the child’s parents and other people involved in the community surrounding that child, the child is affirmed with respect to his / her physical characteristics: the child is such-and-such a height; the child is such-and-such a weight; the child is a boy (in Bruce’s case). (Yes, I know I am ignoring the mental / spiritual side of Bruce’s argument for the moment, because it is not quantifiable. Only these sorts of facts are.) May I remind my readers that these physical characteristics contributed heavily to Bruce’s sports accomplishments in high school, college, and the 1972 and 1976 Olympics?
I wish to offer a sidebar at this point. If one is to take Bruce / Caitlyn’s “gender reassignment” seriously, isn’t he ethically required to return his Olympic medals? He competed as a male; he won as a male. He didn’t win any of the female competitions, because he wasn’t qualified. If he now asserts (rightly or wrongly is irrelevant) that he has always self-identified as a female, then he competed unfairly, even in 1972 and 1976. The Olympics Games Committee – whatever other faults we may accuse it of – is pretty strict on rules, and to my knowledge, there is no rule allowing for “plasticity of gender.”
And while we are tackling that issue, please let’s consider the fact that his biological children (presumably) have birth certificates listing him as the father. Is the plasticity evident in all this media hype surrounding Jenner’s assertion not supposed to affect the “products of conception” that his wives brought forth? Are the children (yes, I know they are grown – but they are still his offspring) now supposed to call Jenner “mother”? Are any grandchildren now supposed to call Jenner “Ga-maw” or “Na-Na” or “Granny”? You may not want to go there, but it’s an issue – provoked exclusively by Jenner – nevertheless.
And now back to my original point: In taking the (very public) steps that he has taken, Jenner has brought public shame on his parents. “They lied when they called me a boy,” he is, in effect, saying. “They conspired to make me into something I wasn’t.” Now, his parents are obviously innocent of these charges. So is Jenner following this Fourth / Fifth Commandment? I cannot – even using creative imagination – say “yes” to that question.
Let’s move on to Rachel Dozeal / Dolezal. Apparently, not only has her racial identity somehow mysteriously shifted (contrary to all known laws of genetics and biology), but her birth certificate “neither proves nor disproves” (her words) that her parents are her parents (as she said in an interview with Matt Lauer on June 16, 2015)! (Funny, I thought things like birth certificates were necessary things in courts of law and suchlike because they could prove those very things!) Is there something unique to R.D.’s existence that precludes a biological association with the people who conceived her, cared for her, supported her, and (until this nonsense) were actually identified as her parents?
Apparently, R.D. thinks there is, and this “uniqueness” resides – sadly – in her own mind as pure re-invention. She acts as though she is completely justified in denying her parents (and all the other details of this bizarre event) because…well, because she has convinced herself that it is true (all other factual evidence to the contrary). Ah, but there’s just a slight problem in that situation: Scripture records that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). Here the Old Testament prophet does not provide an “exception” clause; all people are deceived at one time or another by their mental machinations. It is the very nature of sin. That’s why God gave us commandments to be truthful and peaceful…and honorable towards our parents.
One cannot adequately judge by television appearances; therefore, one cannot pronounce whether Rachel’s parents were good, bad, or indifferent via that medium. However, that does not figure into the Fourth / Fifth Commandment at all. God did not enunciate “Honor thy father and thy mother” with an added stipulation that the parents be good, wholesome, and conform to the latest Sinai / Negev Desert regional regulations related to child-care practices. Instead of a stipulation – as Paul the Apostle pointed out – God added a promise – yes, a promise directed to the child, not to either parent – “that [life] may go well with you…” (Deuteronomy 5:16, Ephesians 6:3). God wants us to honor our parents. Deserving or undeserving. Period. No asterisk.
Jesus Christ chided the Pharisees for their practice of “corban” – cutting off aid to aging parents by declaring such aid had been “dedicated to God” and therefore not available to mere mortals (Matthew 15: 4 – 6, Mark 7: 10 – 13). Furthermore, He made dramatic (and public) provision for His own mother as He hung dying on the cross (John 19: 26 – 27). These are not the words or deeds of an ascetic, imperious self-identifier; they are the words of pure love. Is R.D. trying, through her NAACP work, to emulate the founder of Christianity (with whom the NAACP used to be proud of associating themselves – check out Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”)? If so, she should be paying more attention to His words.
If Jenner and R.D. are guilty of breaking the command to honor their parents, what should we do? Well, the first thing would be to not celebrate them! They cannot dishonor their parents and somehow be honorable people. Forget those haloes that the media have put around them; their actions are plain, and they have acted against God’s law to be honest and truthful. Condemn the sin and pray for the perpetrators.
And then let’s all work on following the Ten Commandments and the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ.