How did we end up here? Historical Perspectives on the LGBTQIA Movement

End up here

In this series, we have been looking at the question of human identity and sexuality as it relates to the Bible and the LGBTQIA movement. We previously examined some of the biblical teachings and their implications for our God-given identity and role as human beings and sexually dimorphic creatures.

However, one of the consistent themes of the LGBTQIA movement has been either the rejection of the biblical narrative on human sexuality, or, at best, a significant revision of it. To better understand many of the reasons behind this revision and/or rejection, we must trace some of the history and ideology driving the LGBTQIA movement forward—or backward, depending on your perspective.

Although it roots run deeper, for our purposes we need only look back to the Enlightenment period of the late 17th and 18th centuries to trace some of the major sources of our struggle to adequately understand ourselves. It was here that widespread skepticism toward and even outright rejection of the biblical accounts of creation became more common. There was a growing emphasis on the rational power and capacity of the individual alongside a strong tendency to question all authority, especially religious tradition and authority.

Especially in the west there was a cry for a new way of knowing and for liberation from past conventions and constraints. It was thought that such a move would result in the ascent of human beings out of the mire of religious backwardness and absolutism, ushering in an age of rationality and human greatness. Protagoras’ famous phrase, “mankind is the measure of all things” became the modernist mantra of the educated elite in opposition to “God is the Master of all.”

Detached from a divine mooring, it was not long before all kinds of new proposals for defining human nature were offered in the halls of academia. Descartes suggested our affinity with autonomous reason, Hegel suggested our affinity with the inexorable Spirit, Darwin suggested our affinity with the apes, and Nietzsche suggested our affinity with the will to power. All of them suggested the absolute autonomy of the self.

Without a divine reference point, it was only a matter of time before everyone agreed that no one could agree on a basic definition of who we really are. With this growing confusion came the revision of moral standards, especially in the powerful arena of human sexuality.

If God is most clearly revealed in the appropriate functioning of both sexes in relation to one another, it is no surprise that Satan would work hard to confuse and distract us from a clear notion of who we are and how to follow God’s template for human flourishing. Sexuality cuts at the heart of our identity. Long before we define ourselves through family, personality, and actions, we are declared to be either “male” or “female,” even from the womb.

This undercurrent of looking to the self for a definition of the self still runs deep in contemporary culture where any appeal to a transcendent source of truth, justice, and authority is immediately suspect and often becomes the object of derision. But again, if we choose to reject a divine explanation for who we are and what that identity entails, there are a limited number of places we can go to find answers to our quest. We can turn to our families and social networks to find our sense of self through our relationships with other selves, we can look to the history and cultural traditions of our society, or we can gaze more intently at ourselves, looking within to find answers to our deepest queries of being and doing. Most of us do all of these in varying degrees, but when divine resources (like the Bible) are removed from consideration, we are only left with a conflicting proliferation of human answers in an attempt to discover who we are. We are fortunate that God’s image, though marred and distorted by sin, still offers echoes of the divine, keeping us from spinning off into unbridled foolishness. But without divine correctives, merely human answers become deeply distorted by sin and fraught with the limitations of our built-in finitude.

As the family further disintegrates and the social consensus of the nation continues to splinter and fall apart, this problem is further exacerbated. People are no longer given a clear explanation from parents and grandparents concerning who they are or where they can turn to find answers. Contemporary pop philosophy tells us we can decide for ourselves. This initially feels like liberation: No one can tell me who I can or cannot be! I can become anyone I want to be! But the resources found in the self are ultimately inadequate to tell us who we are. God designed us to need Him, alongside a healthy family and community, to help us understand both who we are and who we are meant to be. And notice, these are not necessarily the same thing.

The assumption that being “authentic” and “true to oneself” is the goal of human existence is only partly right. Authenticity has to be understood in a way that underscores not only the God-imprinted good in us, but also our inherent limitations and the sin-induced evil and foolishness we exhibit. If we deny these complex multiple realities, we will very likely end up expressing many authentically wicked and unwise notions of what it means to be human without even knowing it. In the area of human sexuality, we may lose sight of our identity as male and female and how we should express and live out our gender because we fail to embrace our status as sin-marred divine image-bearers, either in ignorance of or overt rebellion toward the God who created us.

In the end, rather than actively pursuing and conforming to a set pattern or template of what it means to be good, wise, and “normal,” we are told that true and meaningful existence stems only from the free choices we make and the experiences we encounter while making them. We exist not to conform to an external reality, but to transform our current experiences through the uninhibited decisions we make.

Again, a huge part of the problem, especially for non-Christians, is that they have very little beyond either themselves or their social networks to use as reference points for determining questions of right and wrong, good and evil, normal and abnormal. And the reference points they are receiving input and feedback from are increasingly detached from any sort of genuinely biblical perspective. If we are without external standards and are merely the sum of our choices, then our identities have the potential to be infinitely malleable. And if our gender is centrally related to our changing identity, it must be equally malleable.

Far more grievous than this, however, is the growing number of Christians abdicating to the spirit of the age regarding human sexuality. Of all the voices in the cacophony of perspectives on human nature and sexuality, Christians should offer and exhibit a biblically informed, thoughtful, clear, compelling, and unified story of who we are: We are male and female creatures created to reflect God’s nature. We are loved by Him and meant to know, obey, and worship Him.

What our fellow human beings decide to make of that glorious narrative is not our responsibility, but if we fail to let them know and see it through our lives, we deeply dishonor both them and the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

In the next installment, we will examine more closely some of the tragic (and often unforeseen and unintended) results of rejecting God’s perspective on human identity and sexuality.

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