Silence is golden.”
Perhaps Andy Stanley’s defenders (and there are many) would do well to remember the above maxim. It seems that the longer Stanley remains silent in the face of questions regarding his use of a confusing sermon illustration during his April 15, 2012 message, “When Gracie Met Truthy,” (click here and then hit Part 5 of the “Christian” Series) the more his defenders speak out on his behalf. However, instead of putting this story to bed, the convoluted defenses only raise more questions about how Andy Stanley and North Point approach the issue of homosexuality. In response to my original post, “Andy Stanley’s Soft Landing On Homosexuality,” and in response to subsequent posts by Dr. Albert Mohler (here), President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Denny Burk (here), Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Southern’s Boyce College, some have argued that we have “misunderstood” Andy and have missed the point he was trying to make with his story meant to illustrate the tension between grace and truth. A typical response can be seen in the comment stream of Scot McKnight’s post, “Andy Stanley, Right and Good,” at his blog, Patheos:
This has been an exercise in missing the point. The point of the illustration is that we are called to love people that are difficult to love. Can you think of a better example of loving a difficult person than inviting your ex-husband and his current boyfriend to your home regularly for meals and family celebrations and to church? The dust up over the details miss entirely the point of the story and in fact confirm the need for the whole series.
This defense, or a variation of this defense, has been offered up as a way to shield Andy from questions arising from his confusing illustration. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Andy Stanley’s illustration was misunderstood and that he was trying to make one point (either about the ex-wife’s reconciliation with her ex-husband and his partner or about adultery being sin), but that his failure to mention the sin of homosexuality was not some intentional shift in his beliefs on the matter. Let’s also give Andy Stanley the benefit of the doubt and assume that his illustration was not meant to be some sort of trial balloon which he clearly and creatively floated to see whether or not a shift in theology and/or methodology on the homosexual issue would get off the ground.
Viewing the illustration in the best possible light, it’s still hard to avoid the rather obvious conclusion that the telling of the well-illustrated story, even if unintentional, has caused confusion and consternation, not only with folks like Drs. Mohler and Burk (not to mention myself), but also with some members of NPCC. For Andy’s defenders to try to argue that no one could have been confused by the illustration is simply not credible. I will admit that I can be easily confused, but when prominent Evangelical leaders are flummoxed and when the story gets picked up by Christianity Today (here), The Christian Post (here), and Baptist Press (here), it becomes harder to argue that the illustration was crystal clear.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have used a story to illustrate a point within my sermon and the illustration came up short. Perhaps I didn’t think through the story and how it would be perceived. Maybe I didn’t finish the story before moving on to another point in my message (it’s happened on more than one occasion). Whatever the reason, when I have spoken or written in such a way that my words were misunderstood, I usually go out of my way to clarify what I meant. That seems like the right thing to do. Why would I intentionally leave people in a state of confusion when I could easily remedy the situation? Wouldn’t it be an act of love and grace to help people better understand the message that God had for folks instead of leaving them hanging with uncertainty. After all, God is not a God of confusion.
That begs the question: Wouldn’t it be fairly easy for Andy Stanley to issue some type of clarification as to how he and NPCC practice grace and truth when it comes to the volatile issue of homosexuality? Wouldn’t it be the right thing to do for Andy Stanley to issue a clarifcation to alleviate the obvious confusion that arose out of his illustration? Would it be better to leave people — including some of his own members — in a state of uncertainty or instead extricate folks from uncertainty and confusion? Perhaps Andy Stanley has not yet decided (at least publicly) how he will extricate himself from the horns of this very delicate dilemma.
I will only reiterate that I hope that I misunderstood what I thought I heard (or perhaps didn’t hear) in Andy Stanley’s illustration. I know which direction that I would like for Andy to go when he comes off the horns that he finds himeslf periously close to being impaled on. I am not a member of NPCC. I do not think that Andy Stanley owes me or any other non-member any explanation of what was, to many people (both members and non-members), a confusing illustration. However, Andy Stanley and NPCC can’t have it both ways on this issue. It is hard to argue that no one outside of NPCC has any right to “question” what Andy said, particularly when his sermons are not only available on the internet, but he makes a point to address those who are watching online and on television. His ministry is public and influential. Andy Stanley opens the door for folks to at least ask questions, even if he doesn’t want to answer. I won’t say that I am “troubled” by Andy Stanley’s continued refusal to offer any clarification. However, his silence is perplexing and far from golden!