Say it isn’t so, Joe (or, in this case, Andy)! Did my ears hear what I think they heard? Surely not. Was my mind playing tricks on me? It’s happened before, so I wouldn’t discount it. No way that Andy Stanley — one of Evangelical Christianity’s best communicators — would say something that could be misconstrued as condoning homosexuality. But, that’s exactly what my Student Pastor and I heard after listening to Part 5 of Stanley’s sermon series, “Christian: When Gracie Met Truthy.”(h/t to Peter Lumpkins’ post, “Mark Driscoll, Liberty University, Mitt Romney, Richard Land, Lifeway, Andy Stanley: a bit of potpourri”).
I suppose both of us could have simply misunderstood what Andy Stanley was trying to communicate through one of his sermon illustrations. Believe me. As one who has benefited from reading “Communicating for Change” and “Seven Practices of Effective Ministry,” I have come to appreciate Stanley’s ministerial philosophy, even if I don’t always agree with some of his methodology (multi-site church being the prime example). Even though Andy, the son of longtime Southern Baptist pastor Charles Stanley, no longer considers himself a Southern Baptist, I have never had occasion to question his theological convictions. After watching the aforementioned sermon, I can no longer say that.
Before I address the serious issue I have with Stanley’s sermon, I want to point out some of the more helpful aspects of his message. Using John 1:14 as his main text, Stanley clearly communicated the apparent tension between the Biblical concepts of grace and truth, a tension which Stanley believes is still a reality in our modern world (including within the Church). This tension can be seen in the person of Jesus Christ, who the Apostle John describes as being “full of grace and truth.” I agree with Stanley’s observations. In fact, most conservative Evangelicals would agree with the broad principle that Andy Stanley communicated in “When Gracie Met Truthie,” namely that holding both grace and truth in a balanced tension can sometimes lead to messy results.
However, it is when one begins to translate Stanley’s words into practice that one gets the sense that truth (or the moral law) must somehow take a secondary position to grace, at least in one major area. If you guessed that major area is homosexuality, then you would be a much better guesser than yours truly. Color me completely perplexed, dumbfounded, and otherwise confused by Andy Stanley’s one and only sermon illustration for how North Point manages the tension between grace and truth. If I’m understanding his illustration correctly (which I hope that I am not), then where Andy Stanley and his church land on this issue (his words) is soft. Soft, when it comes to the truth of sin, is not good. And, it’s not grace.
Those of you who have read my blog for any length of time will understand that I am a big fan of God’s grace — His unmerited favor toward sinners. The title of my blog, “From Law to Grace,” reflects my personal experience as a sinner (no, not just because I was a lawyer) who was transformed by God’s grace and who, because of that amazing grace, was transferred from practicing law to preaching grace. However, God’s grace has not abolished the Moral Law (or Truth) of God’s commandments, including His commandments dealing with sexual sin. Therefore, we are not at liberty to downplay or discount that which the Bible clearly labels as sin. And, based upon Andy Stanley’s detailed (including graphics) illustration, I am confused at best as to what he believes about homosexuality within the church, one of three areas he said his church struggles with the tension between grace and truth.
In illustrating one of these areas, he shared the story of a couple in his church who went through a painful divorce 5 1/2 years ago. This particular divorce involved adultery by the husband. However, it was not just any adultery, but adultery with another man. This (among other reasons to be sure) precipitated the divorce. After some time away, the ex-husband and his male partner started attending North Point, but the ex-wife was still mad at the whole situation (you don’t say) and did not want her ex-husband and his gay lover attending the same church as she and her daughter. In so many words, she told them to find another church in Atlanta to attend.
As the story goes, the gay couple started attending the Buckhead campus, which was closer to their home. Their first Sunday at the satellite campus of North Point was “Strategic Service Sunday,” wherein the church recruited people to volunteer to serve. Responding to this vision to serve in ministry, the couple — who were living an open, homosexual lifestyle — signed up to be on the “Host Team,” one of North Point’s Guest Services’ Teams. Do you think that it would be a problem for an openly gay couple to serve on a Host Team for a church? If you answered yes, then you are correct. If you think you know WHAT the problem is that would prevent an openly gay couple from serving on one of North Point’s Guest Services’ Teams, then you are probably as dead wrong as I was.
You see, according to Andy Stanley’s high-tech, graphically supported illustration — which was obviously well-rehearsed and not some off-the-cuff, half-baked story — the problem with the gay couple serving was not that they were in an open, homosexual relationship that had already destroyed one marriage and family and was about to destroy another one. Nope. The problem was that the partner of the ex-husband was still married to his wife and, according to Stanley — and his illustration — he was therefore committing adultery which precluded him from serving. If he would only get divorced, then he could serve because he would no longer be in an adulterous relationship. He would still be in a homosexual relationship, but that apparently was fine and dandy as far as the Buckhead pastor and Andy Stanley were concerned.
After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I had to re-watch what Andy Stanley had just said to make sure that I was not missing something. I really wish I could say that I was making this up, but I am sad to say that I am not. I would encourage you to watch the message for yourself (click here and then click on Part 5 of the sermon series — the illustration starts at about the 24:17 mark) and draw your own conclusions. (UPDATE: The illustration in question has been edited out of the video and is no longer available to view as Andy Stanley originally preached it.)
I fully understand that there will always be a tension between grace and truth. However, we are commanded in Scripture to speak the truth in love and to make sure “our speech is always gracious, seasoned with salt (i.e., the truth), so that we may know how we ought to answer each person.” After watching this message, I am confused as to how Andy Stanley would answer someone who is struggling with the sin of homosexuality. Stanley is a master communicator and I can’t help but think that his illustration was designed to communicate a particular belief about how the Church should apply grace and truth as it relates to the issue of homosexuality (although he went to great lengths to avoid mentioning homosexuality at all in his illustration). Jesus is full of “grace and truth.” When the issues are blurry, we can afford to err on the side of grace. When the issues are clear — and homosexuality is one of those issues – then we cannot afford to sacrifice truth for grace. If we do, the landing will be anything but soft!