(Author’s note: I’m starting 2013 with a series of blog posts about the huge changes that are rocking Western society – and their impact on men and the church. I am not advocating these changes; I’m simply trying to explain why they’re happening, to help believers respond with greater understanding to those they may disagree with.)
For five thousand years homosexuality was taboo in virtually every culture on earth. In many societies the penalty for having sex with a person of the same gender was death. As recently as the 1960s, homosexuals were widely reviled even among progressives and liberals.
Most societies have either persecuted homosexuals or turned a blind eye to their activities. This was the case in the United States and Europe until about 40 years ago, when the tide of public opinion began turning. Today, Western elites are openly embracing homosexuality, and the broader society is quickly following suit.
Why have most civilizations been hostile toward homosexuality? Why does the Bible call it “an abomination?” Why is the modern world suddenly accepting this long forbidden practice? And what impact will this have on the church and its men?
Here are several reasons why gay is suddenly becoming OK in Western society:
1. The population explosion has lessened the need to bear children. Until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution (c. 1800) the world was underpopulated. Disease, war and malnutrition routinely wiped entire civilizations off the map. When it came to reproduction, humanity needed all hands on deck.
Against this backdrop, homosexuality was seen as a threat. If men and women were having sex with each other, that meant fewer childbearing unions.
Fast forward to today. For the first time in history the world is widely believed to be overpopulated. Modern medicine and nutrition have greatly extended human lifespan. Experts tell us the world no longer has too few children – it has too many.
In an overpopulated world, homosexuality is no longer a threat – it’s coming to be seen as advantageous. Among urban progressives, childbearing is now viewed as a liability to the earth, straining precious resources and contributing to pollution and global warming. Gay relationships may well become the trendy choice among city dwellers in the next generation. By 2030, many “straights” will come to see same-sex marriages as morally superior to opposite-sex unions because they cannot produce a child. Indeed, some straights will feel pressure to marry partners of the same sex because they are more PC than opposite-sex unions.
2. The decline of all-male institutions. For centuries, society’s most prestigious institutions were all male. The military, the priesthood, the monastery, the University – even the theater were male-only. Homosexuality posed a threat to these institutions.
For example, if two soldiers or monks or professors became romantically involved there was a potential for favoritism. Professors could reassign their pets to choice posts. Directors could cast their boyfriends in choice roles. Monastery love triangles could result in a homicide. Officers could protect their paramours by pulling them off the front lines. Even worse – if a man refused the advances of his superior he could find himself fired, flunked or even sacrificed in battle.
Preferential treatment bred resentment and fueled anti-gay animus in all male institutions. The Catholic priesthood is still cleaning up the mess from a crop of closeted priests who used their positions of power to stalk and sodomize boys. Homosexuality has always been an enormous distraction from the mission of these institutions, so it has always been banned.
Today there are very few all-male institutions left. With the military and the University co-ed, men can fraternize with women. Recently enacted sexual harassment and anti-discrimination laws keep predatory men (both gay and straight) accountable for their crimes.
3. The ascendancy of women’s political power. Women got the vote almost 100 years ago, and as they began voting and winning public office, we’ve seen an attendant increase in acceptance of homosexuality. Women are much more likely than men to approve of gay relationships (although the gap is closing, according to a recent poll.)
Why are women more accepting of homosexuality? Gay men are no threat to them. They make great friends. A straight man may have romantic intentions, but a gay friend’s motives are completely transparent.
And then there’s the revulsion factor. Most straight men find the prospect of sex with another man revolting. But women enjoy the idea of having sex with a man. Therefore, women aren’t “grossed out” by homosexuality the way men are.
4. AIDS and increasing compassion for the weak. Before AIDS the image of gay men was frightening – leather clad, bulging muscles, cross-dressed or wearing makeup. But with when AIDS struck, Americans got a new image of gay men – weak, emaciated, dying in hospital beds. Rock Hudson’s gaunt visage became the face of the disease, and Americans responded with compassion. Compassion has evolved into acceptance.
5. Online dating means gay men can find each other – without harassing straight men. Homosexuals can now discreetly find sex partners without hitting on straights. This has greatly lessened the animosity straight men have felt toward gays.
6. We don’t control adults’ sex lives any more. Fifty years ago we arrested adulterers, controlled pornography and shut down gay bars. Today we don’t.
These are some of the reasons gay is suddenly becoming “OK” in Western society. How do we as Christians respond?
First, we must acknowledge that the scriptures were given to us in a time when homosexuality was a grave threat to society. Childbearing was imperative to survival. All-male institutions were the backbone of civilization. In this context it’s not difficult to see why sex between men was seen as an abomination.
In fact, this is the very argument liberal theologians use to interpret the Bible’s prohibitions surrounding homosexuality. They believe that if Jesus were to walk among us today he would accept committed, same-sex relationships. After all, God is love, and if two men love each other, who are we to say no?
But even if you accept the notion that homosexuality is not the societal threat it once was, it’s another thing entirely to assume that God has changed his mind on the issue. Maybe God has other reasons for restricting sex to a monogamous, male-female relationship. Humans are famous for embracing practices that seem benign in the micro but produce unintended consequences in the macro. (Who would have thought driving your car to the grocery store could lead to a global warming apocalypse? Who would have thought a tiny pill could lead to the depopulation of entire nations?)
On the issue of homosexuality, Christians find themselves defending a shrinking island. They no longer have the culture on their side. Their position seems illogical to more and more people. Society can’t understand how Christians can love gays without accepting their lifestyle. Gay rights activists have convinced the press that disagreement = hate.
It’s a near certainty that the church will come under increasing pressure to accept same-sex relationships in the coming years. Our “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach will draw increasing fire. Polls show that one of the main reasons young people dislike the church is the perception that “Christians hate gays.” Some Christians may conclude that it makes sense to embrace homosexuality as a way of being more welcoming to the next generation.
Yet this is a fool’s approach. Those churches that have opened their doors widest to homosexuality are hemorrhaging members and money. They have very few young people. Men are leading the exodus from these liberal congregations.
So what do you think? How should the church approach this issue? If the church becomes more accepting of same-sex relationships, will this drive men away, or are men’s attitudes changing? Comments are open.