Compassion is an exalted human quality. For the secularist, compassion is the more active and practical form of empathy—the great hope and foundation for morality. For Christians, it is the twin sister of love, the heart that responds to suffering and lostness. Compassion is what Jesus felt as he witnessed the grief of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:13); what he felt as he encountered sick people (e.g. Mark 1:41; Matt 14:14). It was what made him begin teaching when he saw the crowds starved of truth and leadership:

When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)

Compassion is so fundamental that, if we don’t have it, we should wonder whether we are Christians at all:

Compassion is a Christ-like response to people in pain and trouble. It is what motivates the actions of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33) and the father of the Lost Son (Luke 15:20). It is so fundamental that, if we don’t have it, we should wonder whether we are Christians at all:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1John 3:17)

But compassion can also be dangerous. In the absence of truth and proportion, or when yoked with prejudice, it can be the engine for crusades and witch-hunts. Antisemites once used misplaced compassion to whip up murderous pogroms against Jews who, their scurrilous lies said, sacrificed Christian children in their ceremonies. Cynical Great War recruiters deployed similar propaganda to rally sentiment against the “Hun” and his monstrous depredations against Belgian babies and nuns.

Compassion can also be very fickle and selective. It can respond to one photogenic white child in a news video but turn a blind eye to thousands of African children dying of easily preventable diseases. It may beat its breast over the dozens of women who might die in backyard abortions but refuse to consider the millions of girls and boys who are killed every year by the state-funded machine.

Childish Compassion

Compassion without reason or consistency is typically a weakness of children. But it is also a weakness of our own society. As Flannery O’Connor writes:

If other ages felt less, they saw more … now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror.

Karen Swallow Prior summarises the point:

When love is unmoored from unchanging truth, it becomes mere sentiment.[1]

We at TGCA received quite a few messages of Christian compassion last week after publishing articles on the transgender phenomenon and the Citipointe enrolment contract furore. Some of the responses expressed a reasonable concern that the proposed contract was going to lead to the expulsion of kids simply for being same-sex attracted or gender dysphoric.[2]

Other responses showed compassion shaped by the harm-minimisation arguments of the trans-lobby: anything but an unquestioning affirmation of children’s self-diagnosed gender identity must inevitably lead to them hurting themselves (surely a self-fulfilling prophecy considering what we know about the way suicides often follow social-contagion-like patterns).

And finally, some offered comments that seemed to reflect nothing but progressive ideology: children know what’s best and true for them when it comes to gender and sexual attraction and it is hateful for a school or religious community to say anything different; if religious bigots would simply sit down and shut up, trans and gay kids could get on with their lives and find happiness. This, of course, is the doctrine that this month became law in the state of Victoria.

Cracked Compassion

The last kind of compassion will do the actual damage to the children it purports to champion.

I do not doubt the sincerity of any of these responses. I am sure they were all born of strong and genuine feelings. But I am equally sure that at least the last kind of compassion will do the actual damage to the children it purports to champion.

My concern is not just that this response uncritically ignores the social forces exacerbating the queer revolution; nor that it ignores the examples of young people who desist or ultimately detransition; nor even that it makes light of serious and irreversible medical interventions and encourages children to chase a dream that medicine can never fulfil.

The deeper problem is that it invites them to believe that sex and gender are at the root of human identity; that peace and salvation will be found in the realm of flesh and human opinion; that if only my body or circumstances or public perception could be altered, my life would be okay.

This is fundamentally wrong—and not just for those with divergent genders and attractions. It is a fundamental lie embraced by our whole society—and every society. It’s the core motif of the human tragedy: we turn away from God and then find ourselves pursuing more and more extreme and destructive forms of self-medication in our desperate quest to solve our existential despair. It’s the same thing that God talks about at the start of Jeremiah:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water … Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God … (Jer 2:12-13,19)

The people of our society are embarked on a great project of cistern building. Some excavate the traditional sites: relationships; money and possessions; politics and reform. Some sink their bores into life-experience, achievement and culture. Some scrabble away at sex and gender. We see one form of it or other in every advertisement and in every reality-tv or lifestyle show.

Not all these wells are equally likely to cave in, but none of them will ever hit the fountain of living waters. None of them will bring satisfaction—and as people become more and more parched, they will become angrier and angrier. Rather than acknowledge that the whole quest was a disaster from the start, they are going to keep digging and rage against anyone who won’t help them.

Costly Compassion

What does genuine compassion look like in a world like that? Not digging, or cheering-on the digging, or berating people who won’t—though plenty of Christians will take one of these options.

It will mean what it has always meant: pointing to Jesus; speaking the truth in love; gently and respectfully offering the reason for the hope that we have; trying to be kind with people who have been terribly damaged by false hopes (and, sometimes, by Christian failures to be compassionate), even when they lash out in return.

And, I think, it will also have to involve at least part of what some of our critics were calling for last week. It will mean a more costly and convincing love for outsiders and people whom we believe are mistaken. It will have to mean us proving by our lives that we believe that the real substance of life is Jesus and his church—not just a healthier, more creationally-aligned expression of sexuality and gender. It will mean, in other words, something like Paul talks about in 1Corinthians 7:

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1Cor 7:29-31)[1]

Paul says that serving Jesus in the last days—and particularly in times of crisis (cf. v26)—means loosening our hold on, not the truth, but some of our own gifts. It means being ready to lose things for the sake of loving God and loving our neighbours.

May God make us ready for it this year.

[1] Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well (Grand Rapid: Brazos, 2018), 153 (The O’Connor quote is from the same source).

[2] Though, in light of the school’s subsequent statements, it seems clear that the objective was only ever regulation of behaviour, not people.