If the last two Presidential elections, the last midterm elections, and every exit poll ever conducted can teach us anything, it’s to not put too much faith in polling. Still, a new Gallup poll released last month deserves a serious look. In a remarkable jump from prior years, one in six adult members of Gen Z (that is, ages 18 to 24) self-identify as LGBT.
The first thing to unpack is the definition of terms; specifically, what does it mean to identify as LGBT? The disconnection of biological reality from one’s identity makes this question particularly complicated. Is merely conceiving of oneself as “LGBT” enough, or must on claim it, or advertise for it, or “outwardly present” in a way consistent with cultural stereotypes? Does identifying as an “L,” “G,” or “B” imply these 18 to 24-year-olds have engaged in homosexual behavior? Does being attracted to members of the same sex qualify as behavior? Or, does any sexual encounter with someone of the same sex mean they must identify as gay? The answers to these questions aren’t clear.
The fact is, in addition to those who experience same-sex attraction and struggle with gender dysphoria, calling oneself LGBT has become a sort of Cool Club for the disenfranchised. I’ve personally heard from high school guidance counselors, teachers, youth pastors, and others that many kids who struggle socially, or with depression, or with fitting in, now claim to be homosexual or transgender. In other words, it’s entirely plausible, even likely, that more young adults identify as LGBT because the terms are not clear and because they’re unhappy.
Still, the ones who’ve made this acronym the new Cool Club are the adults, not the kids. To resurrect words from the early days of this issue, this is nurture, not nature. Now, to be clear, many of the most vocal advocates of the new sexual orthodoxy admitted years ago that the “born this way” narrative was useful, not really true. Now that the debate has largely been settled, at least culturally, there’s no need to hold anyone to a fixed orientation or identity.
Of course, Christians are typically accused of denying the “spectrum of sexuality,” the idea that sexual urges may ebb and flow throughout a lifetime towards members of the same or the opposite sex. However, both Old and New Testament Scriptures take the idea that sexual attractions can change, both in intensity and direction, largely for granted. One way to describe the Biblical view, to quote G.K. Chesterton, is “there are a lot of ways to fall down, but only one way to stand up straight.”
Today, however, the various spectrums of sexuality (and there are at least four taught to elementary school age children) have nothing to do with moral or natural guidelines for our sexual impulses. Rather, those impulses are equated with identity, which is also seen as fluid. Though their impulses may change, children are taught that they have no power over their impulses and that to deny them is to deny themselves.
They are, in fact, taught to be slaves to their desires, even if those desires lead them to misery or harm. In this context, Christianity’s greatest news may be that humans actually have freedom to navigate our desires. We are not mere creatures of instinct and, in Christ, can be made free indeed.
Another crucial component to make sense of this Gallup poll is a larger cultural observation: we don’t know what love is. The adult Gen Z-ers highlighted in this survey have been raised in an environment offering only two bad understandings of love. For some, every time they’ve heard the word “love” used in their entire life, including within the Church, it’s been in either a shallow and sentimental sense or in a sexual sense.
Imagine never hearing that relationship between love and God’s moral character, but only of a squishy, sentimental figure who has no strong feelings about anything except our happiness. Imagine never understanding Who God is or His created intent for His world, but then trying to make sense of relationships. In reality, one of the consequences of divorcing love from its only real Source is that sexual love has been disconnected from the physical bodies He gave His image bearers. In turn, sexual acts, sexual morality, and sexual impulses are left completely up in the air.
Among the The Four Loves identified in his classic book (storge, or affection; phileo, or friendship), eros, or sexual love, and agape, or sacrificial love), C.S. Lewis thought true friendship had become the rarest. Recent data backs him up. At least part of the crisis of absolutizing sexual deviancy, is that young adults lose the ability to even conceive of true friendship. In fact, the vast majority of people who claim to be LGBT in the Gallup poll identify as bisexual. How many simply lack categories for true, affectionate, loving, and yet non-erotic, relationships?
At the same time, trying to disconnect from our design is like trying to disconnect from gravity. Reality eventually wins. This means that Christians have actual good news to offer a culture helplessly obsessed with but thoroughly confused about sex. We can offer a love that reorients and transforms sexual impulse (eros), a love that orders friendship and affection (phileo and storge), and a love sacrificial and self-giving (agape). In the process, image bearers can find their true identity as created, loved, and redeemed by God.