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The Cultural Momentum of the Homosexual Movement–And the Church’s Response

Over the past thirty years, the homosexual movement has coalesced into a powerful force for cultural change. In fact, momentum for the normalization of homosexual behavior and relationships is now recognized in large segments of the society as a legitimate interest group. Though the identification of homosexuals as an organized political group was born in 1969 with the Stonewall riots in New York City, it really did not gain any kind of cultural momentum until the 1990s.

As evidence of this, look at the acceptance and promotion of homosexuality and homoeroticism in the mainstream media. Magazines, television programming, and Hollywood movies now feature positive representations of homosexuality and homosexual relationships. Without doubt, homosexual behavior did not begin in 1969. Nevertheless, until recent years, there has been no celebration of homosexuality and no attempt to bring it into the cultural mainstream. Even in the 1990s, it was only in the last years of that decade that the acceleration really arrived in force.

Columnist Maggie Gallagher has noted, “We have not always been so woefully dependent upon the sexual act itself. Two hundred years ago, for example, homosexuality did not exist. There was sodomy, of course, and buggery and fornication and adultery, and other sexual sins, but none of these forbidden acts fundamentally altered the sexual landscape. A man who committed sodomy may have lost his soul but he did not lose his gender. He did not become a homosexual–a third sex. That was the invention of the nineteenth century imagination.”

This argument is debatable, but it is also very interesting–and it comes from both the right and the left. On the right are observers like Maggie Gallagher, who bases her argument on the natural law; while on the left one finds theorists like the late Michel Foucault, the French postmodernist philosopher. Both of these argued that, while there were men who committed homosexual acts and women who committed homosexual acts, there was no third species of “a homosexual” until Victorian times. Even in the twentieth century, homosexuality still was not well-accepted as an interest group until the late 1990s, when it became a part of popular culture. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders only in 1973, and that was the result of political pressure rather than any kind of scientific or medical evidence. It took from 1973 to the late 1990s for this change to enter the popular consciousness.

Our engagement with the issue of homosexuality is no longer merely at the theological or theoretical level. It is being lived out in popular culture, where the homosexual agenda now has as one of its central aims to make homoerotic images, literature, language, and relationships as acceptable as heterosexual relationships. And this is not just a matter of Ellen DeGeneres, Brokeback Mountain, and other developments on television and the movie screen.

During the 1990s, the work of photographer Bruce Weber, whose images have been a staple of homosexual pornography for many years, became a major turning point in the mainstreaming of homosexuality and homoeroticism. Weber’s work came into great prominence in a series of advertisements he did for clothing designer Calvin Klein. Placed prominently in New York’s Times Square, at bus stops and on billboards all over the city, these were the first advertisements to use the male physique in explicitly sexual images for the purpose of commercial gain. Rather than shocking the nation, the controversial pictures actually proved to be commercially productive.

Today, this kind of imagery is being targeted at younger and younger audiences. Eventually Abercrombie and Fitch, a major retailer to teenagers and young adults, hired Weber as its photographer, and his homoerotic images began decorating shopping malls across the country. In essence, the photographs were hardly short of pornographic. What has changed so fundamentally is this: Less than twenty years ago, most young men would have run from such images of barely clothed males in erotic poses. Now they have become so mainstream–and even so commercially successful–that homoerotic imagery has come to be recognized as one of the most effective advertising means of reaching young people.

It is hard to fathom what an enormous moral and cultural reversal this really is. The world today’s children inhabit is a world fundamentally different from the world their parents knew. By the time these children reach elementary school age, they are likely to be confronted with books like Heather Has Two Mommies, Daddy’s Roommate and others. Moreover, homosexuality is being presented on popular television and in other media as an acceptable lifestyle.

All this raises the question, Does gender matter any more? It is a question which cuts right to the very structure of creation and the fact that we are embodied and gendered in God’s created order as male and female. Admittedly, that is a rather restrictive categorization. It runs against modern physiological and therapeutic theory. According to the prevailing academic opinion, there is a continuum running from male to female and from heterosexuality to homosexuality. So we end up with newly invented categories such as the transgendered and transsexuals. The fact is, when a culture gives itself over to something this fundamentally in rejection of the created order, what results is an entirely new order which brings mass disorder. That is exactly where we find ourselves in today’s culture. We see it pervasively in the images which constitute mass media.

The question is how the church will respond to this challenge. Our failure thus far to engage this issue with significant energy and conviction has left the evangelical movement largely in a state of reaction. If we are to give a positive response to the homosexual challenge, we must first establish our own understanding of human sexuality. At the same time, we must be very clear and candid about what Scripture reveals concerning homosexuality, not only in terms of genital acts, but in terms of spiritual rejection. We do so with confidence that the incarnation of the Son and the divine revelation of Scripture is superior to any other claim of authority. We must neither cringe nor surrender in the face of secularism, nor in the face of all the arguments given in defense of homosexuality.

With this in mind, Christians ought to use in this argument the tools that have been given to us by our Creator and not tools of our own invention. In other words, evangelicals do not argue from the standpoint of psychology, sociology, medicine and other fields. To do so is to surrender the one authority we are given from God–biblical authority. It may seem awkward to take the argument of Romans 1 into a culture like ours, but the truth is, it was just as awkward for Paul to write it in the first century.

The most urgent need is for the church to take up this challenge–and to present a clear and cogent defense of human sexuality as defined by the Creator. Our main concern must be the positive presentation of God’s perfect purpose in creating us male and female and as sexual beings. Nevertheless, we must also confront the confusions and distortions of our age, knowing that the rejection of God’s pattern and order for our sexuality leads inevitably to human misery and to God’s judgment. In a very real sense, we now find ourselves in a position much like that of the Christians in the first century. We are called to confront our culture with the revolutionary message of Christian truth applied to every dimension of life.