Dr. James Emery White
- 2021 Mar 11
A recent Gallup poll found that 5.6% of U.S. adults identify as LGBT, up from 4.5% in 2017. Further, the majority of LGBT Americans say they are bisexual. One in six adults in Generation Z consider themselves LGBT.
A 1% rise in those who identify LGBT, and most of them bisexual, is not a particularly telling, much less significant, cultural rise. However, the Generation Z statistic – one out of every six identifying as LGBT – is. That is 15.9% of the entire generation, or at least those age 18 to 23. And the vast majority of those (72%) say they are bisexual.
So, what is going on with Generation Z? The reporting by Gallup admits that it is unclear whether there is a true shift in sexual orientation, or whether “it merely reflects a greater willingness of younger people to identify as LGBT.” Actually, I would argue that there is more than that to dissect and to understand. As I wrote in Meet Generation Z, this is the generation that has come of age in the era that has put such things in the mainstream, such as in 2015 when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, and former Olympian turned Reality TV star Bruce Jenner very publicly became Caitlyn Jenner.
Yet it would be a mistake to see Generation Z as simply the byproduct of an abrupt social change related to such headlines. As Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner have noted, when the Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, it was the result of cultural trends that emerged in the context of heterosexual, not homosexual, relationships. “Marriage was not redefined only by the Supreme Court,” they write, “it was also redefined by decades of social practice.” In other words, decades of radical individualism – particularly in sexual ethics – that resulted in a “shift in attitudes, behavior, and laws on divorce, abortion, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, gender roles, and now, decisively, same-sex marriage.”
From this cultural context, Generation Z has become sexually and relationally amorphous. Consider the influential statements by outspoken young celebrities such as Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus or Cara Delevingne. Stewart, when asked about her sexuality said: “I think in three or four years, there are going to be a whole lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re gay or straight. It’s like, just do your thing.” And from Miley Cyrus: “[I don’t] relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”
What is being revealed is an increasing “sexual fluidity” that refuses either the homosexual or heterosexual label. The idea is that both labels are repressive. Sexuality should be set free of any and all restrictions and allowed to follow its desire, moment by moment. Why? Because the greatest value for this generation is individual freedom, which translates into a full-throated moral relativism.
So, don’t read into surveys such as Gallup’s that there is a rising tide of people who identify as homosexual, because there isn’t. Read into surveys such as Gallup’s that there is a rising tide of autonomous individualism.
In reviewing the past 500 years of Western cultural life, Jacques Barzun concluded that one of the great themes is “emancipation,” the desire for independence from all authority. Barzun concludes that for the modern era, it is perhaps the most characteristic cultural theme of all. The value of "autonomous individualism" maintains that each person is independent in terms of destiny and accountability. Ultimate moral authority is self-generated.
Or as the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once observed, “Man is the being whose project is to be God.”
James Emery White
Jeffrey M. Jones, “LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate,” Gallup, February 24, 2021, read online.
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z (Baker).
Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, “The Power of Our Weakness,” Christianity Today, November 2015, pp. 42-46.
Eric Sasson, “Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus and the Rise of Sexual Fluidity,” The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2015, read online.
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I Believe,” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast.
Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.