Twenty years pass in the blink of an eye. If boy bands and the Star Wars prequels seem like the recent past, you’re not alone. But the world of twenty years ago lived in a different context when it comes to a fundamental understanding of marriage and sexuality.
That context matters, as humans are masters of adaptability. Our adoption of the latest fashions, hairstyles, music, home styles and food trends speak to an ever-present tendency to fit in. The church and the culture’s views on homosexuality used to mirror each other. Prior to 2012 (give or take a year or two in either direction), the American public did not hold a favorable view of homosexuality as a lifestyle. Same-sex marriage did not have wide support. It didn’t matter if you were religious or irreligious, the statistics showed Americans generally agreed with the biblical / historical standard for the definition of marriage. And it’s not just that perceptions have changed, as we’re now more aware than ever of what others believe about homosexuality. Pride flags have now become ubiquitous on storefronts and advertisements each June, while social media encourages Pride-themed posts and backgrounds.
The church has universally held homosexuality as a sinful behavior and lifestyle. Prior articles on "What God Says About Homosexuality" and "Objections to Biblical Texts on Homosexuality" have shown how scripture teaches that this violates God’s design for human sexuality, and is not something professing Christians can condone or participate in. This hasn’t been disputed or contested. Historical Christianity from the beginning has upheld this position. But that has changed over the last decade.
There are now many professing Christians who are pro-LGBTQ+. They support people who live in a homosexual lifestyle. Entire denominations have come out as for same-sex marriage, ordination of homosexual pastors and priests, and LGBTQ+ causes. Christians who previously held to traditional biblical views of sexuality have changed their position. Churches that once called homosexuality a sin now celebrate it as beautiful in the eyes of God. Some even decorate their sanctuaries in LGBTQ+ flags and symbols.
Why has this change happened? Why have many Christians and churches shifted their views on a topic that went uncontested and undisputed for two thousand years of Christian history, and an additional several thousand years of Jewish history?
A couple of years ago, a young man who graduated from our student ministry started wrestling with his beliefs about LGBTQ+ issues, particularly homosexuality. He went to college at a Christian university. He arrived holding historical biblical views on sexuality. But those views soon eroded. He found a pocket of friends at school, all of whom were affirming of homosexuality, and one who identified as gay. Slowly, his beliefs shifted. Now he was questioning why Christians believed what they believed. It baffled him why one of his new friends, whom he really liked and found pleasant, could be considered a sinner living outside of the will of God. He didn’t want it to be true that this friend was living in direct rebellion against God’s commands, and under His wrath.
What caused him to doubt and struggle with his previously held beliefs? Why did those beliefs no longer feel compatible with his context? Was it because he reread the Bible and found teaching on homosexuality to be absent? No. Had he found reasons to reinterpret the texts of Scripture that forbid homosexuality and reveal God’s disgust at it? No. None of that happened.
So, what changed?
One, he is friends with someone who professes to be gay and he’s hanging out with friends who all affirm homosexuality as compatible with Christianity. Knowing someone who’s gay, especially someone you love and care about, makes it hard to emotionally (and from a compassionate side) criticize their life. It is even harder to say they are living in blatant rebellion against God.
Second, the culture has changed. Our culture today doesn’t even blink at homosexuality anymore. Same-sex marriage or someone coming out as gay doesn’t even raise an eyebrow for most people. We’ve been inundated through media, politicians, activists, movies, music, and television to see homosexuality as normative. Beyond positive advocacy for homosexuality, the culture now shames, threatens and “cancels” those who hold to a biblical / historical view of marriage and sexuality. This is how a once solid Christian young man who held historic biblical beliefs about sexuality was now wavering.
His experience of wrestling with his beliefs, even changing them, is parallel to the storyline of American Christians and churches. Why have so many American Christians become affirming of homosexuality? Why have so many churches changed their views on homosexuality?
Because they are more influenced by the culture’s views than they are the Scriptures.
The Bible hasn’t changed. God doesn’t change. So, the will of God regarding human sexuality hasn’t changed, despite how many people in our culture say it has. The problem for many Christians is they are more shaped and influenced by what the world around us is doing and believes than by what the Scriptures teach. It is no coincidence that many Christians found their views changing at the same time as the culture did. The culture evolved on homosexuality, and Christians followed.
This reveals an interesting revelation: Many Christians hold the beliefs they hold because they’re cultural beliefs, not because they are committed to Christian teaching. Many Christians held historic Christian beliefs about sexuality, not because they were committed to the Bible, but because they happened to align with the culture’s views. When the culture changed, they changed with it. It was never the Bible driving their beliefs. Their convictions were never anchored to Scripture. They were anchored to acceptance.
The culture’s view on homosexuality won’t likely shift back to a biblical view in our lifetime. This means Christians who hold a biblical view of sexuality will walk upstream from the culture. Christians must resist the urge to conform. We need convictions and beliefs that are shaped by the Bible and not by what is acceptable to the world. The next time your heart feels conflicted about believing something the Bible teaches, be sure the conflict isn’t with wanting to be accepted by the world. Because you might find yourself in conflict with God.