(This post, originally published on April 26, 2012, was updated on September 21, 2023.)
The plane has crashed! Eleven years after I wrote “Andy Stanley’s Soft Landing on Homosexuality?” (see the original post below), critiquing a sermon in which the popular Atlanta-area pastor appeared to give tacit approval to an openly gay lifestyle as compatible with Biblical Christianity, that tacit approval has now been replaced by a crystal clear embrace of the LGBTQ+ as normative for faithful Christians.
The Unconditional Conference
Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (my alma mater), recently wrote about an upcoming conference that Andy Stanley and North Point are hosting. According to the website, the “Unconditional Conference,” taking place on September 28-29 at North Point Community Church’s Alpharetta campus, is:
“This two-day premier event is for parents of LGBTQ+ children and for ministry leaders looking to discover ways to support parents and LGBTQ+ children in their churches. You will be equipped, refreshed, and inspired as you hear from leading communicators on topics that speak to your heart, soul, and mind. We deeply desire this time will bring about healing and restoration. No matter what theological stance you hold, we invite you to listen, reflect, and learn as we approach this topic from the quieter middle space.”
If approached from a Biblical perspective, this might be helpful for those families — parents, teens, and children — who are struggling with sexuality or gender issues. Every church in America, including the church I pastor, continues to face these issues. Trying to model both grace and truth is not easy to do. However, it appears that the “Unconditional Conference” will not tackle these issues from a traditional Biblical perspective, but rather from a progressive interpretation of sexuality, marriage, and gender. That is unfortunate, but not entirely surprising given Andy Stanley’s trajectory on these issues for over ten years.
The Unconditional Conference and “The Quieter Middle Space”
As Dr. Mohler makes clear, this conference is not designed to equip families using Biblical truth (at least as the Church has defined it for over 2,000 years):
The promise of “the quieter middle space” might appear attractive, given the volatility of cultural discourse on LGBTQ+ issues, and a conference designed to help parents of LGBTQ+ children and ministry leaders work through these issues in clearly Biblical terms would be a welcome development. But the advertising for the Unconditional Conference indicates clearly that this event is designed as a platform for normalizing the LGBTQ+ revolution while claiming that the conference represents “the quieter middle space.” In truth, there is no “middle space” on these issues, and it is no longer plausible to claim that such middle space exists.
Scheduled speakers for the event include two men who are married to other men, at least according to current civil law. Biographical background on speakers Justin Lee and Brian Nietzel indicates that both men are in what are now described as “same-sex marriages.” Lee is well known as a platform speaker who argues for the legitimacy of “monogamous same-sex relationships.” Nietzel presents seminars on “restoring LGBTQ+ faith.” Just to be clear: This is not “the quieter middle space.”
I wish I could say that I’m surprised by where Andy Stanley has piloted the plane when it comes to the issues of sexuality, marriage, and gender. But, seeing where Stanley began to steer the plane of Biblical fidelity eleven years ago and, how he has all but eliminated the Old Testament as part of a vibrant Christian faith, the only surprising thing is how long it took him to crash it into the ground. The only question remaining is how many other pastors and churches, following Andy Stanley’s lead, will similarly crash their own planes into the ground after they turn off the engine of Biblical fidelity?
Andy Stanley’s Soft Landing on Homosexuality?
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.
Modeling Grace AND Truth
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.
From Law to 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.
Andy Stanley’s Gay Couple Illustration
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.
Andy Stanley’s Confusing Message On Homosexuality
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 24:27 mark) and draw your own conclusions.
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!