Though the seeds of the sexual revolution have been growing for more than a hundred years, the speed of cultural change over the last few years has been stunning.
The concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity are now being celebrated in advertisements, in recent Netflix and Disney+ releases and other entertainment, in women’s sports, in classrooms, in the selection of the most recent White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and in communities from rural America to the urban core.
This idea—that we can dispense with the “antiquated’ concept of a loving God who created us as immutably male or female, and who orders our sexuality (Genesis 2:21-24; Genesis 5:2; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20; Ephesians 5:25-32)—has recently triumphed in the popular imagination. And ministry leaders from coast to coast are wrestling with how to love and engage all of their neighbors without jeopardizing biblical beliefs.
Most pastors and ministry leaders I speak to have some story or experience with this issue, so the general importance of understanding and engaging the LGBTQ community is already apparent. But I want to point out three reasons church leaders should pay special attention to this issue right now: (1) the exponential increase in individuals identifying as LGBTQ, (2) the sexual revolution’s pivot from acceptance to enforcement, and (3) the sexual revolution’s reality check as an opportunity for ministry.
1. Exponential Increase
Though the evidence of the triumph of this idea is all around us, I will point to a few key indicators. First, according to a recent Gallup poll,1 LGBTQ identification in the U.S. has ticked up to approximately 7.1% (approximately 23 million out of a population of about 330 million). Approximately 10% of millennials identify as LGBTQ, and 21% of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ. I am always cautious about polls and interested in their methodology, but this is certainly a massive shift in self-identity in the United States.
Further, though we have very little data in the United States concerning gender identity, the United Kingdom’s Tavistock Center2 (the primary gender clinic in the UK) and a global group known as Genspect3 have reported a recent rise of 1,600% to 2,000% in the number of individuals seeking gender identity-related services or transition. Sweden has also reported a surge in gender dysphoria diagnoses of approximately 1,500%.4 The percentage increase in the US is probably similar, as the ideas behind the transgender movement do not recognize national boundaries, and arguably originated from American popular culture. A 2016 study by the Williams Institute5 at the UCLA School of Law found that 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender, and that number has certainly increased since the study was completed.
In sum, the number of individuals identifying as LGBTQ has increased exponentially over the last few years, and our churches need to be prepared to engage the LGBTQ community with love and truth.
2. From Acceptance to Enforcement
I have a profound cultural insight. Wait for it. The sexual revolution has shifted from an acceptance phase to an enforcement phase.
Of course, anyone with an internet connection know this, but that shift is worth pointing out. During the last decade or so, many in the sexual revolution have pushed for acceptance in entertainment, the workplace, some religious denominations, and the courts. Now, the sexual revolution is moving to mandate approval and even celebration of its ideas and to punish (legally or at least culturally) any holdouts.
This is occurring in the areas of employment (for example, an employee of a religious school in North Carolina has filed suit against the school after being terminated because his same-sex relationships contravened the school’s statement of faith6), ministry in the community (the City of Philadelphia refused to contract with a religious organization that would not place foster kids with same-sex couples7), parental rights (parents in Ohio lost custody of their child due to refusal to affirm the transgender ideology of the child8), free speech (a university professor was threatened with termination unless he used students’ preferred pronouns9), and even biblical counseling (the city of West Lafayette, Indiana, proposed an ordinance that would have characterized biblical teaching on sexuality as “conversion therapy” and punished such teaching with a $1,000 fine10). Taken together, these cases show that the sexual revolution is moving to use cultural pressure and federal and state laws to mandate the acceptance of its ideas.
Though we may be tempted to silence our witness or simply hope that we will dodge public scrutiny of our biblical beliefs, the better response (2 Tim. 1:7) is to engage the LGBTQ community, build relationships, explain our biblical position in word and deed, and prepare to winsomely stand for truth.
3. Reality Check
I was recently introduced to a new religion called The Church of Prismatic Light, a “LGBTQIA+ focused religion that values the true self.” I am not pointing out this faith because it has widespread acceptance (it was launched in April of 202211) or to make light of its founders’ efforts. Rather, I am pointing it out because their tenets of faith appear to concisely describe the religious/absolute truth claims of the sexual revolution. For example, the “Ritual of Transition” includes the following statements, “Transitioning is a sacred act” and “When you transition to make your outward appearance match who you are truly inside you, that is an act of worship. Worship yourself, your worth, and the light that shines inside you. When you are transitioning, meditate on the inner strength it takes to bravely be yourself in the face of oppression. You are worthy, you are unique, you are holy, and you are light.”12
My premise here is fairly straightforward: The sexual revolution is promoting at least quasi-religious truth claims about reality, human identity, human sexuality, and the body. And, because these ideas are being widely adopted, they will now face the test of reality. Our neighbors will be building their identities and their lives around these ideas, and there are already stories of individuals that have found them hollow (for example, consider Jim Child’s story).
As Christians, we believe humbly but firmly that our identity must be rooted in Christ, and that only following Jesus (rather than our hearts) will lead to true flourishing in our homes, cities, and nation (Luke 9:23; John 10:10). As John Stonestreet says, “Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims.” We have an obligation to our neighbors to tell them the truth in love about these ideas and to stand ready to minister to the ideological refugees of the sexual revolution.
Now is the time to engage our neighbors with the good news about who God made them to be.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 31, 2022.
1. “LGBT Identification in U.S. Ticks Up to 7.1%,” Gallup, last modified February 17, 2022, https://news.gallup.com/poll/389792/lgbt-identification-ticks-up.aspx?utm_source=twitterbutton&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=sharing.
2. “Number of referrals to GIDS,” Gender Identity Development Service, https://gids.nhs.uk/professionals/number-of-referrals/.
4. Richard Orange, “Teenage transgender row splits Sweden as dysphoria diagnoses soar by 1,500%,” The Observer, last modified February 22, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/feb/22/ssweden-teenage-transgender-row-dysphoria-diagnoses-soar.
5. Andrew R. Flores, et al, “How Many Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States?”, The Williams Institute, June 2016, https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Trans-Adults-US-Aug-2016.pdf.
6. Jonathan Drew, “Gay teacher sues over firing from North Carolina high school,” AP News, last modified January 11, 2017, https://apnews.com/article/1c04193e1cdc46b097cc887e07b6d945.
7. Josh Hershberger, “3 Key Takeaways from the Fulton Case,” The Good Citizen Project, last modified June 17, 2021, https://www.goodcitizen.us/3-key-takeaways-from-the-fulton-v-philadelphia-decision/.
8. Jen Christensen, “Judge gives grandparents custody of Ohio transgender teen,” CNN, Last modified February 16, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/16/health/ohio-transgender-teen-hearing-judge-decision/index.html.
9. Megan Henry, “Shawnee State to pay professor $400,000 in settlement over student’s preferred pronouns,” The Columbus Dispatch, last modified April 19, 2022, https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/2022/04/19/shawnee-state-pay-professor-400-000-settle-pronoun-lawsuit/7358716001/.
10. Josh Hershberger, “#224 Loving Your Community in a Changing Culture with Dr. Steve Viars,” The Good Citizen Project, last modified March 29, 2022, https://www.goodcitizen.us/224-loving-your-community-in-a-changing-culture-with-dr-steve-viars/.
11. Eddie Burkhalter, “Former Alabama woman starts church in wake of anti-trans laws,” Alabama Political Reporter, last modified April 28, 2022, https://www.alreporter.com/2022/04/28/former-alabama-woman-starts-church-in-wake-of-anti-trans-laws/.