Doing The Bare Minimum Unto Others
Understanding the Golden Rule
As part of a sermon Jesus preached to his followers, outlining how to live in a way that leads to life, Jesus says:
In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.
This is often referred to as the golden rule. Let’s consider two possible ways of interpreting Jesus’ words.
Find out how others want to be treated and lovingly treat them that way. The reciprocity isn’t that I do to them the things that I like. Rather it is deciding that, because you feel loved when others see and honour your wants and needs, therefore you will see and honour the needs of others.
To put it concretely, the loving thing for an extrovert to do isn’t to constantly force their introverted friend to attend large social gatherings. Instead, the loving thing for the extrovert is to see that what fills the introvert, namely that they need time alone and undistracted conversations with small groups of friends. The extrovert can carry out the golden rule by seeing the needs of the introvert and respecting those needs that differ from their own.
Sometimes the specific loving action is to encourage the introvert to go the events they are uncomfortable with because it is good for them socially or professionally. However, to do this lovingly isn’t to tell them their needs and desires are wrong and that way the extrovert acts is good. The invitation to the social event can only be made lovingly while acknowledging and honouring that the introvert will be uncomfortable during the event and will need to recharge following the event.
The opposite of this is that I see my wants and desires as superior to others and thus do to them exactly as I want them to do to me. In this second reading of the Golden Rule, if I love black licorice, I will give you black licorice regardless of whether you enjoy it.
Let’s Pick One
Which way should we read it then? Which reading seems loving? Which of the two looks more like a Saviour who would die for others?
Can we agree that it’s the first reading?
And if so, that it is closer to what Jesus meant in his sermon.
This is hard, right? It requires us to move our focus from ourselves and actually listen to those around us. That means listening to them even when we don’t agree.
Applying the Rule Today
Now that we have accepted the more generous reading, let’s move on to how Christians can apply the Golden Rule today. Specifically, what does a Christian do with non traditional gender pronouns and transgendered people’s new names?
Even more specifically, what is a follower of Jesus to do with a trans person’s pronouns and name when that believer is offended by the idea of gender pronouns and non-birth names? What if it is uncomfortable? What if that believer believes that the trans person is violating natural law, or God’s law?
In that case, the generous reading of the Golden Rule would be scary to follow. It would not allow the believer to reject the trans person’s desired name and pronouns. After all, what kind of love is love that is only given if I’m comfortable?
The first, and more loving, reading of the Golden Rule that we looked at calls the believer to go deeper than their own offense and discomfort. The believer makes space for the trans person to have wants and desires that are different than their own. The believer gives honour to the request because they honour the person making the request. The believer then grants the request, regardless of whether it triggers negative emotions within them, and uses the name and pronouns requested.
Using another’s preferred pronouns is not your endorsement of the morality their request. It does not require that you adopt their worldview. It does not even require you to understand their worldview. It does require hearing, acknowledging, and honouring their request. It means treating them like you would like to be treated. Using their pronouns is really the bare minimum demonstration of love you can offer.
Using another’s preferred pronouns, within the context of a healthy relationship built on the foundation of acceptance, does not prevent you from asking questions to understand their desires and perspectives. It does not preclude expressing your concerns. This type of dialog, though, does require you to be knowledgeable enough about the subject matter first rather than forcing your loved one to take on the role of your sole guide to the trans world.
What About the Truth?
I find it fascinating that there are those who claim to follow Jesus who seem more interested in “standing up for what’s right” than in following Jesus’ teachings. Where does Jesus teach us to impose our morality on others? I haven’t found that verse yet. However, in the clearest distillation of Jesus’ rules for his community of followers, he does teach us that respecting the wishes of others and treating them accordingly is the most accurate reflection of God’s character.
Twitter is banning deadnaming, using a trans person’s birth name. For the follower of Jesus, this should not be a problem. If we treat others how we would like to be treated, we will call them what they wish to be called. We shouldn’t need to be threatened with a ban in order to love.