Be Careful on the Caitlyn Issue

NOTE:  For those who do not understand satire, this article is a tongue-in-cheek way of addressing a simple issue.  Leading voices in our own Southern Baptist Convention are urging us to address LGBT issues in a way they would NEVER ask us to address any other issue.  When you replace LGBT issues with any other sin, such as animal cruelty, the flawed argument becomes obvious to most people.

It’s been all over the news this week.  From USA Today (1) to the LA Times (2) news outlets have bombarded the nation with stories about her.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

All of my social media accounts have been buzzing about this story.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

Some have recoiled in disgust.  The photos are particularly troubling for many.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

Many Christians say, “This is not what God intended.”  Even moralists say, “This just isn’t right.”  It’s obvious that surgery will be required to address the damage done to the body.  But the real issue is a heart issue.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

I’m talking about the strange and sad story of Caitlyn, the dog.

According to a June 2, 2015 story in the LA Times, “Caitlyn, a 15-month-old chocolate staffie, was found wandering along the streets of Charleston, S.C., seemingly looking for her former home. The dog probably had wandered for at least a day, or even two, seeking safety and security after being horribly abused. Her jaw was bound so tightly in thin black electrical tape that the blood flow had been cut off and her tongue was trapped between her teeth, officials said.”

41-year-old William Leonard Dodson has been arrested on various felony charges related to cruelty to animals.

But as strange as the case is, I want to issue a gentle but firm plea to my fellow believers.  Please be very careful how you address the “Caitlyn issue."

Pastors, your friends, neighbors, and church members are watching.  The way you address this matter will give them a clear insight into how you will address any issues of animal abuse subsequently revealed in their lives.  It is a gospel issue at its core.

Animal abuse is much more common than most people think.  The National Humane Society is forced to acknowledge that, “Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated. Cruelty and neglect can also cross socio-economic boundaries.” (3)

That means that statistically, you have an abuser on your Facebook feed.  It’s highly doubtful there’s no animal abuser numbered among your Twitter followers.  And pastor, you are very likely to have an animal abuser in your congregation this Sunday. 

And I don’t just mean you mega-church pastors.  I’m talking about the secret abusers who teach Sunday School at New Ebenezer #27.  I’m talking about the choir member at Mountain Look Primitive Baptist Church and the usher at Greater Macedonia AME.  I’m talking about US.

I beg you, be careful how you speak, tweet, and post about animal cruelty. Be aware that the testimony of the gospel in the animal-abusing community is at stake with every word, click, and keystroke.

Animal abuse takes on many different forms and expressions.  Of the nearly 2,000 cases reported in the last statistical year, about 65% involved dogs, 18% involved cats, and a full 25% involved horses, livestock, and other domesticated animals.

I know what some of you are saying.  I grew up in the church.  I know all the clichés.

Yes, the Bible says, “The righteous man cares for his animals.” (Proverbs 12:10).  But we must also be careful that we do not become unloving, needlessly dogmatic, and hurtfully judgmental in declaring what the Scripture says about animal cruelty.  Saying that righteousness requires a man to care for his animals is, well, awfully narrow.  Such statements necessarily imply that animal cruelty is unrighteous.

Now, as believers we understand that animal cruelty is not righteous.  But people in your realm of influence may have taken a different view.  We will never convince the modern, culturally-savvy animal abusers of our day that animal abuse is unrighteous if we tell them that animal abuse is unrighteous.  If we declare our message, we will lose the credibility to declare our message.

See, this post isn’t even really about Caitlyn.  It’s about the William Leonard Dodsons of this world.  The William Leonard Dodsons of your town.  The William Leonard Dodsons in your church.  Honestly, it’s about the William Leonard Dodson that lives in each of us.  In those dark, quiet, hidden places that you don’t talk about at your Sunday School social.

It’s so easy for us to share a post, write a tweet, and click the “like” button as we arrogantly exalt ourselves above the Caitlyn issue.  For a small minority, it’s about their hatred of animal abusers.  For others, it’s a subconscious desire to deflect attention from the animal hater that lurks in each of our depraved hearts.

I mean, who among us can honestly say we’ve never wanted to harm the neighbor’s screeching cat?

Who among us can say we’ve never wanted to shoot the neighbor’s barking dog with a BB gun…or worse?

Who among us has never considered contacting the dog catcher or the local pound with a reckless disregard for the euthanasia that most certainly awaits the culprit?

When the neighbor’s dog poops in your yard or their cat leaves claw marks on the hood of your mini-van, who among us hasn’t muttered under their breath, “I’d like to get my hands on that varmint?”

When you said it with your mouth and thought it with your mind, you are as guilty as the nationally-vilified Mr. Dodson.

If you dare say, “I’ve never wanted to harm an animal,” then that’s all the more reason you should speak slowly…and tweet even more slowly.  If you’ve never known the inner confusion and struggle from animal-abusing desires you tried to hide and suppress, you have no business speaking to this issue.

Simply put, if you have EVER wanted to harm an animal you have no room to speak.  If you have NEVER wanted to harm an animal you have no place to speak.  In either case, only God can judge William Leonard Dodson.  And we’re not God.

Rather than throwing around our Proverbs 12:10 verses, we should remember Matthew 7 and John 8.  Judge not lest ye be judged.  Ye without sin cast the first stone.

Without grace we'd be just like him.  Cat-killers, dog-deserters, and maybe even bird-beaters.  Our animal-hating depravity may not have manifested itself in full measure but if we recognize its presence in the ugly corners of our soul we will speak more softly and much more slowly about another man taping a dog's mouth shut and leaving her alone to die of starvation and heat exhaustion (an act I chronicle here only in the most loving and compassionate way).

William Leonard Dodson is created in the image of God.  Be careful that in your denunciation of his actions that you don’t lose sight of the Imago Dei that resides even within Mr. Dodson.

Pray for Caitlyn and William.  And pray for yourself.  Especially that self-righteous part of you that wants to declare animal cruelty is wrong with reckless disregard for how your words hurt those who live in the animal-abusing community.

Perhaps Providence has allowed this issue to come to the forefront of our national consciousness to remind us all of a simple truth:  We are all broken and depraved William Dodsons in desperate need of grace.