In 1997 I was all of 18 and thought I had the world figured out pretty well. I was leading an adult Bible class at church when Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay. I joined in the chorus of criticism by making the unoriginal joke that we should call her "Ellen DeGenerate." I regretted it soon afterward, and looking back I am even more ashamed of myself. That was only one small indication of my spiritual pride and condescending attitude.

The matter of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner has given rise to another round of cultural commentary by Christians, and some of it does not sit well with me. I readily admit that I am still learning how to speak the truth in love, but it's obvious that I'm not the only one who needs to learn that lesson.

If changing one's gender identity or expression is a harmless expression of personality, why can't we respond to people who have that desire with compassion and kindness?

If it is a psychological or sociological disorder, why can't we respond with compassion and kindness?

Even if it is a sin, why can't we respond with compassion and kindness?

Why can't we love?

Love does not mean "tolerate" or "put up with". True love requires an active demonstration that we want what is best for the other person.

If someone is hurting other people, we should not be afraid to speak strongly against him and intervene to protect his victims. But if someone is herself hurting, misguided, marginalized, isolated, or otherwise distressed, we should not to make the problem worse by ganging up on her with mockery, insult, and criticism.

Christians too often assume the belligerent attitude of James and John who wanted to zap those who got under their skin (Luke 9:51-56). We should learn something from the example of Paul. He was very upset by the idolatry he saw in Athens, and he had the opportunity to speak out strongly against it (Acts 17:16-34). But Paul did not use that opportunity to berate his audience. Instead, he complimented them, found common ground with them, quoted from their poets, and told them that God cared about them and wanted a relationship with them.

My friends at the Cookeville Pregnancy Clinic put this approach into practice every day. They teach young people through abstinence education programs that saving sex for marriage is a good and healthy choice. If the students choose abstinence, fantastic. But if a young woman comes in with an unplanned pregnancy, staff members don't react with anger and disgust. They offer practical support and encourage the woman to evaluate carefully all of her options. If she chooses life, fantastic. But even if she chooses abortion, they are still ready to walk beside her in love.

It doesn't take much effort to sit in judgment and issue proclamations about problems in the world. I've done that a lot, and it has not produced positive results for me or for others. We can do more good by getting to know people where they are and listening to their stories, their hurts, and their dreams. Then, as we have opportunity, we can speak the truth in love so that "perhaps they might grope for God and find Him" (Acts 17:27).