Our Youth Are Swimming in a Sexually Fluid Culture

Generation Z: The hand they’ve been dealt, Part 4

The lights dimmed in the old auditorium. The audience quieted. Only the crunching of popcorn could be heard. We had gathered that evening for a film festival of sorts that featured 12 Public Service Announcement videos our daughter’s language arts class had created.

The topics varied from drinking and driving to global warming. But what surprised me most was that out of the 12 videos, three focused on how to think about, treat and celebrate gay or transgender peers.

The students featured in them were passionate, articulate and at times witty. They were also only in sixth grade.

Generation Z is used to talking about sexuality at young ages. And they are strong supporters of gay marriage and transgender rights, because their highest value is that of individual freedom. You can’t put anyone in a box if there is no box.

As a result, inclusivity is everything to them. So they are predisposed to be judgmental, defensive and even closed off to anything that sounds, looks or smells like exclusivity. For many in Generation Z, to accept someone is also to affirm the person’s ideology, lifestyle and behavior not only as true for them but worthy of celebration.

The problem, of course, is that to elevate every idea as worthy of affirmation—to be celebrated as true—is to commit intellectual suicide.

The way we interact about cultural and social issues is as important as the depth of our theological moorings.
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Where have young people picked up these cultural values? According to Walt Mueller, founder of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, media is both a mirror and a map. As a mirror, media reflects and affirms values and beliefs we already hold. By doing so, it reinforces our beliefs and values. But more often for young people, media functions as a map, showing them what to become, what to value and what is normal.

So, what has Gen Z seen in the media throughout their most formative years?

  • The hit TV show “Modern Family” premiered on ABC in 2009, featuring an older divorced man with his trophy wife, a “traditional” two-parent family and a gay couple—all depicted as normal forms of family.
  • In 2014, Lavern Cox appeared on the cover of Time magazine. She is best known for her portrayal of Sophia Burset on the Netflix TV series “Orange Is the New Black,” for which she became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category.1
  • Later that same year, Facebook updated its different gender options to about 582 (with 71 choices in the United Kingdom3).
  • Nearly overnight in 2015, 26+ million people changed their social media profile pictures to a rainbow flag when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.4
  • Just a few months later, former Olympian-turned-reality-TV-star Bruce Jenner very publicly became Caitlyn Jenner.
  • In 2017, Disney portrayed its first gay character, in Beauty and the Beast.

This is the soup our kids have been swimming in since their earliest days—an increasing sexual fluidity that refuses either the homosexual or heterosexual label, because such labels feel repressive.

How as the church ought we to engage this young generation?

Admit cloudiness

As parents and pastors, you are in a place of authority; but you don’t have to be an expert on every cultural issue. It’s OK to admit that while there are many things we can know clearly, other things are cloudy. I appreciate the words of a gay-identified psychiatrist who, when asked about gender confusion, responded, “The truth is we actually don’t know what it is. Is it a mental disorder or does the cause of gender dysphoria lie somewhere else?”5

Clarify convictions

We must first ground ourselves, our people and our children in biblical convictions that flow from our commitment to God and to His Word. Two good places to start are “A Church Statement on Human Sexuality”6 and “Biblical Sexuality and the Covenant of Marriage,”7—both created by the EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee.

While some things may be cloudy, from a biblical perspective, other things are quite clear. To name a few:

  • We are made male and female (Genesis 1:27,5:2; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6).
  • Sin entered the world and distorted everything, including how we see ourselves (Matthew 15:19; Romans 3:23,5:12-13).
  • Marriage is about becoming “one flesh” and signifies the union between Christ and the Church (Genesis 2:23-24; Ephesians 5:22-23).
  • Some people get really hurt and confused as they grow up (Romans 1:19-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
  • God sent His Son to rescue us from the penalty, power and presence of sin (John 1:1-14, 29; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:2).
  • God can bring healing and truth to those who hurt (Romans 6:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Model compassion

The way we talk and interact about these cultural and social issues is as important as the depth of our theological moorings. Several years ago, I realized that I was more full of truth than I was of grace. Listening to Wesley Hill’s personal story, which he shares in his book Washed and Waiting, stirred fresh compassion in my heart. Wesley helped me to see beyond an issue to a person. What good is it if we “understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but have not love” (1 Corinthians 13:2, English Standard Version)?

Have multiple conversations

When I was growing up, parents used to talk about having “the talk.” The idea was that just as a child hit puberty, his or her parent should sit down and talk about sex. I’m not sure it was effective then, but having a single talk with our children about sexuality in today’s culture is like bringing a single cup of water to a raging house fire.

You can’t put anyone in a box if there is no box.
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Starting as young as possible, we need to cast a strong biblical vision for marriage and the value of being male and female. In age-appropriate ways, we must help parents talk about sexuality both reactively and proactively.8

When Generation Z thinks of what the church has to bring to this conversation, they only hear a resounding “No!” This “no” is interpreted as more than forbidding a certain behavior but as also denying identity, intimacy, community, family and status.

Gen Z needs us to be a faithful community that brings a powerful and meaningful “Yes!” For in the gospel we find that Christ’s life, death and resurrection provides a resounding “yes” to a renewed identity (2 Corinthians 5:17), real intimacy (Proverbs 18:24), an expanded family (Matthew 12:48), a status that transcends any title this world can give (Ephesians 2:6) and a living hope (Romans 8:23-25).

Learn more about the ministry of EFCA ReachStudents.

Start at the beginning to read parts one, two and three of this series.

2“Here’s a List of 58 Gender Options for Facebook Users,” by Russell Goldman, Feb. 13, 2014, ABC News. The author notes, “The social media giant said it would not be releasing a comprehensive list.”

3"Facebook’s 71 gender options comes to UK users,” by Rhiannon Williams, June 27, 2014, The Telegraph.
5“What ‘transgender’ means, and how society views it,” by Sharon Jayson, Sept. 5, 2013, USA Today.
7“Biblical Sexuality and the Covenant of Marriage,” approved by the 2017 EFCA One conference.
8 There are a growing number of resources available for initiating age-appropriate conversations about sexuality, such as: "Equipping Parents to Respond to Gender-Confusing Messages in Schools" and "How to Talk to Your Children About Homosexuality," both from Focus on the Family; "Gender Confusion and Sexual Identity" (for teens), from Axis Virtual Training; and Sexual Integrity Initiative, from the Center of Parent and Youth Understanding.

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