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Nov 24, 2021

Z-ers Identify as LGBT.” That was a significantly higher number than reported in previous years. Then, last month, a new survey released by Arizona Christian University reported that about 39 percent of 18-24-year-olds claim the label.  

Even granting that polling data should always be taken with a grain of salt, that’s a shockingly high number. And, in addition to challenging Christians about how much the culture around them has changed, these numbers also challenge the way people have been taught to think about sexuality and, specifically, cultural assumptions about sexuality. 

For years, a main idea driving activism around sexual orientation was that gay and lesbian people were “born this way.”  Since, went the argument, no one is attracted to someone of the same gender through any fault of their own, we must let them be who they truly are and love who they want to love. And we must, the argument continued, erase any notion that heterosexuality is “normal” and homosexuality is not. 

The idea proved persuasive, especially the more it was portrayed in song, film, and television. Millions went to research looking for the genetic causes of same-sex attraction. Though it was never found, professional activists did successfully conflate sexual decisions with the already protected classes of race, sex, and disability. Even as it has become increasingly common to claim that sexual orientation is fluid, the old idea that it was an innate, unchangeable component of identity already served its purpose, shifting the moral norms of society.

So, today, most Americans either believe that sexual orientation is something none of us get to choose or is something nobody should question. However, polls like this one should make us question what many in our culture now take for granted about sexual orientation. Otherwise, how can anyone account for the explosion in self-identified LGBTQ youth? 

The obvious answer is: we can’t. We either have to keep foolishly pretending that nearly 40 percent of young people have always been gay, lesbian, bisexual, or (especially now) transgender, or we must admit that our ideas about sexuality have consequences for others. After all, it didn’t take long for the other letters in the ever-growing acronym to jump on board this remarkably successful strategy. So today, anyone who defies traditional “sexual norms” is given elevated moral status, considered to be “experts” on all kinds of things, and given a free pass. Is it any wonder young people want to join those ranks, at least on a subconscious level? 

As one of my colleagues pointed out the other day, a teen who identifies as “bisexual” doesn’t have to do anything different to gain a status boost. They can keep dating people of the opposite sex or not date at all. They can be sexually active or not. It’s the label that does the magic. It’s no accident that the B and the T in the acronym have seen the most growth. 

Even if the social costs of these ideas are lower than ever, the consequences for young people who adopt them are severe. For one thing, young people are constantly being taught to see every relationship they have as potentially sexual. This robs them of platonic friendships, especially with members of the same sex. CS Lewis famously wrote that “few value (friendship) because few experience it.” This has become even more true today, with the loneliest generation on record

To be clear, people’s sexual desires almost never feel “chosen.” The research has not fully eliminated all biological or genetic factors in same-sex attraction, though there’s no justification for treating it as immutable, much less treating gender dysphoria that way. However, given all of the cultural pressure to assume such, it’s foolish to think that simply believing the right things about sexuality could eliminate someone’s same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. To put it differently, this generation has been thoroughly catechized into anthropological confusion, literally changing the definitions of normal and abnormal, of moral and immoral, of who we are and what we do.

In turn, the choices young people make create, reinforce, and amplify their sexual feelings. It’s a vicious cycle that mirrors the Apostle Paul’s words, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” 

Though the Gospel doesn’t promise instantly repaired sexual desires, it does tell us to “be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.” In a culture obsessed with sex, drowning in loneliness, and careening towards self-harm, it’s good news that renewing our minds is even possible. We must point a generation of confused youth toward the compassion and clarity of this much better story as if their lives depend on it. Because they do.