Sexuality is no longer the hot button issue it was during the culture wars, when evangelicals squared off with gay rights activists. It is part and parcel of the contemporary worldview. The number of people who identify at LGBTQ+ is rapidly rising—particularly among young adults, where 1 of every 6 identify with an alternative sexuality. But this is just the tip of iceberg. What about those who are wrestling with their sexuality and aren’t actively identifying with it? In a sense, even sexuality is becoming passe when compared with polyamory (non-monogamy).
As someone actively ministering amid this culture, I’m going to make this brazen assertion: Within ten years, half of all young adults and teenagers in America will be questioning their sexuality and/or gender. And not for the reasons you think.
We often assign blame for this cultural shift to the pioneers of the sexual revolution or to elite institutions that increasingly normalize alternative sexuality. This fits the old culture war narrative that those on the other side of the cultural divide are to blame for our sin struggles. The real threat is internal and far more insidious.
In today’s culture, most youth—including Christians—struggle with pornography. It is more accessible than ever before. But what kind of pornography are people viewing? Not monogamous marital intercourse. That ship sailed as soon as said young person reached the illicit site. If the things our youth absorbed in pornography were practiced in real life, then many of them would identify with alternative sexualities. What has been forbidden in principle has been subtly embraced in practice.
Perhaps we can think of it this way: There are three barriers to alternative sexualities: shame, the “eww” factor, and the Bible. Our cultural elites have dispensed of the former while the pornographization of culture has dispensed of the middle factor. The only thing—the only thing—that stands in the way of sexual libertinism now is the Bible.
We know that the Bible is sufficient to address such issues, but we must also reckon with how the Bible has been misappropriated in ages past. Often, our response to struggles with sexuality was just as much conditioned by shame and disgust as it was by biblical truth. And often behind this all was a spirit of fear: “My kid wouldn’t struggle with such things!”
But they—we—do struggle with such things. Not only as youth, but even as married adults. We often treat weddings as the finish line, but the sexual baggage makes its way into the married bedroom as well. The lines have not only blurred with who we say we are, but we are willing to do. While statistics are notoriously difficult to nail down with open marriages, they are increasingly common inside and outside the church.
I once gathered a group of soldiers and spouses to talk about marital love. What are some of its characteristics? A number of responses were given, but when I broached the concept of faithfulness, the response was crickets. One spouse said “Really, that’s up to the couple—whatever they’re comfortable with.” Every single person agreed with that statement. Marital fidelity is a matter of individual choice and consent. Believe it or not, this is increasingly becoming the predominant view in our culture.
So let’s assume that within short order, most barriers to alternative sexualities are done away with inside and outside the church. Most youth will no longer cringe when they think about same-sex relationships, and amorous married couples will not be as deterred from open relationships by exposure and consequent shame. This will become a major sanctification issue within the church, but I’d like to pivot for a few moments to explore how we can use these developments to better engage the culture.
Exploiting Cultural Idols
Let us slow down and reflect on a crucial point: Idols are entryways for the Gospel. Think about it—idols are what consume an individual or culture’s spiritual energy, but these blind, deaf, and dumb idols offer exactly nothing in return. They take everything and give back nothing. When you identify an idol, you identify a means for discipleship or apologetics.
One of our culture’s central idols is sexuality. Through sexuality, people find identity, meaning, purpose, and hope. It has become central to a person’s dignity and synonymous with their understanding of love. As with all idols, the idea that sexuality can be our spirituality is preposterous. The same cherished cultural value that is used to beat Christians over the head is also the chief vulnerability in the modern worldview.
A quick qualifier before we move on to the next point: As I argue in virtually every article I write; you can’t do apologetics without counseling and you can’t counsel without apologetics. It goes without saying that engaging sexuality in a public forum is not wise. Not only will you get clobbered but our focus here is no longer the other “side,” but the other person. We can best exploit cultural idols on an individual level.
Deconstructing Sexuality as Spirituality
As a broad consideration, we need to largely retreat from the broader cultural knife fight. We were never going to win that fight and every time we re-engage, we come away with both our civic rights and corporate witness diminished. Instead, we bring the scalpel into our personal relationships, looking to deconstruct the faux religion built upon sexual expression in our culture. We do this with the apologetic-counseling approach.
First, we listen. However a person’s alternative sexuality is constructed, we want the story. We want to know all about her upbringing—from her parents’ relationship to the way in which she was raised, whether she was ever harmed in childhood or as a teenager, and the role religion played throughout. Remember, the more we learn, the better we can love and effectively engage with the Gospel.
Second, we question. The premise “I am gay,” for example, is faulty—not because you doubt her attraction to the same sex (perhaps even from birth!) but because it relies on the false assumption that sexuality is identity. My identity is not to be found in my attraction to my wife. It is found in Christ. Identity is an inherently spiritual concept, and it must be sturdy enough to support the weight of hopes and dreams, receive criticism and setbacks, and persevere through incredible suffering.
I once deployed with a soldier-friend whose life was bound up to his sexuality. He was always looking for a new place and way to advocate for gay rights. I remember asking him, “What if there was no possible way for you to ever effect a policy ever again? What would you still be living for?” He was clearly unnerved and simply dismissed my hypothetical. He would have nothing left in such a scenario.
Instead of directly challenging your friend, consider having her question her own premise. Does your sexuality give your purpose in life? Is it what you want people to know you for? Does it give you hope or mitigate your fears? Would you want it to be etched on your tombstone when you die? If we can pry the smothering fingertips of sexuality off identity, we can take the most perilous piece of the discussion off of the table. You are not questioning your friend’s attraction. Rather, you are questioning whether she might have value greater than her sexuality. You’re not telling her that her sexuality is too much—rather, that it is not enough.
Third, find areas to validate. Where can you validate those same sex attractions without endorsing them? Sinful desires often have their own twisted logic. Same sex attractions often make sense if you’ve been wounded by the opposite sex. It is also often much easier to relate and connect to someone of the same sex. And I think we can all agree that the female form is beautiful by nature. In addition, if we accept the misguided assumption that masculine girls and effeminate boys are actually gay, then it would make sense that they would identify as such. Such charitable responses allow for more opportunities to be candid about biblical truth.
Fourth, concede that all sexuality is fallen. People with same sex attractions are used to being called out for their perversity while a host of other sins—sexual promiscuity, pornography, infidelity—go largely unaddressed. All of us by nature weaponize our sexuality against God and our neighbor. There is no one who is righteous in this area—no, not one. Sexuality is the last thing we want to identify ourselves with—it is volatile and self-seeking without the ongoing work of God’s Spirit to subdue our unwarranted passions and consecrate them to God.
The reality in our culture is that we trust sexual impulses more than we do genuine love. Unfettered sexual desires give us moments of fleeting pleasure, creating momentary sparks in the midst of our dark, nihilistic night. They might not give us joy, but what can? Love has fundamentally failed and betrayed us in this Age of Abandonment. Sexual freedom is not a goal to champion—it is the mark of a cynical heart that no longer believes in real love.
What better way to encounter this basic heart need than exploring the hollow nature of sexual identity and drawing people toward the very love of God—a love that fills the heart for eternity rather than entices it for a night? Sexuality is no longer the taboo we avoid in church or the battle we wage in culture. It represents the untamed heart of human rebellion, a key form of discipleship, and the entry point into conversations about the love that makes life worth living—the very love of God in Christ.
Presenting a Vision of Love
We’re so used to saying “no” to alternative sexualities that we sometimes struggle to communicate what we’re saying “yes” to. Our instinctive response to alternative sexualities should not be to tell people what real marital love is not, but what it is.
God has called us to direct our love to a member of the opposite sex, culminating in marriage and sex. This means that sex with anybody outside of marriage is against God’s design for marriage. And while dating does not always lead to marriage, God’s design for marriage means that romantic relationships should always be conducted with the possibility of marriage in view.
You will notice at this point that I have not used the term “sin,” though that term is obviously a key term throughout Scripture and used often with regard to sex outside of God’s design. I am not averse to the term or the concept, but am trying to correct for the moralistic way in which we’ve often treated sexuality. While we must obey God’s law regardless, God’s law regarding marriage is not arbitrary. It is in fact connected to the heart of the biblical storyline—God’s love for His bride, the Church.
We should not be talking simply about obedience without sharing the beauty of God’s design. You see, only monogamous heterosexual marriages model the love of God for His people. When we lift up these (healthy) marriages before a watching world, we witness to the nerve center of the biblical narrative—culminating on the cross.
A great picture of this is found in the Song of Solomon. Here we find an Edenic picture of marital love—Edenic not only in that all of the imagery reminds you of the original garden, but in the fact that the marital love is rooted in the eternal love of the Lord. “Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord” (8:6). The beauty of marital love is derived from the love of God for his people.
This theme is repeated in the book of Hosea, where God calls the prophet to wed a prostitute—picturing God’s own love for his unfaithful bride. When Gomer departs, God tells Hosea to go after her because that is what he does with his people. Expanding further, the Lord says “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (3:14). “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (3:20).
When God calls men to love their wives as Christ loved the church, it is with this storyline in view. The flame at the heart of marital love burned brightest at the cross, where God bore an unimaginable cost to secure his unfaithful bride to himself. We love because he first loved us. Marriage is not meant to be a mirror of our attractions and desires, but a window onto the love from which all other sanctified love flows.
This is why we don’t engage in same sex relationships or any sort of sexual relationship outside of marriage. When we do so, we obscure the reality of God’s love for His people in our own hearts and in the eyes of the watching world. His call to obedience in this realm of life is not arbitrary or even peripheral—it reflects the most beautiful and sublime concept that mankind will ever know. No matter what your attractions are before or during marriage, they must be consecrated to God’s beautiful design.