The Unconditional Conference hosted by Andy Stanley and North Point Community Church concluded last Friday, and details are beginning to emerge about what was taught across the two-day event.
The conference was billed as a chance “for parents of LGBTQ+ children and for ministry leaders looking to discover ways to support parents and LGBTQ+ children in their churches.” It appears fulfilling that promise was the focus as, in Stanley’s words, the event was more “pastoral” than theological in nature.
Yet, as someone who attended the conference described, underlying that guidance was a consistent assumption that the best response to those who identify as LGBTQ+ is “affirming them for who they are, in order to retain ‘influence’ and a relationship with them.”
And while it is difficult to speak to specifics since video and audio recordings were strictly prohibited, Stanley spent Sunday’s sermon explaining the church’s stance and speaking to the controversy that surrounded the event.
“We don’t draw lines—we draw big circles”
While the sermon, like the conference, was not broadcast, recordings were made by some in attendance. North Point has said they will release the full recording this week—until then, it can be found in the link below—and it’s worth listening to when made available. While there is much with which I disagree regarding the implications of Stanley’s message, hearing the heart with which he said it is helpful for responding to it in a way that is fair and honors God.
In the sermon, Stanley stated, “Every instruction in the Bible regarding marriage references or assumes a husband and a wife, a man or a woman. So biblical marriage, biblical marriage is between a man and a woman. We’ve never shied away from that.”
However, he went on to say that while many LGBTQ+ attendees of their church “pray that God would change them so they can experience that” kind of biblical marriage, “for many, that is not sustainable. So they choose a same-sex marriage. Not because they’re convinced it’s biblical . . . [but] for the same reason many of us do. Love, companionship, and family.”
To his credit, Stanley described well the practical difficulties many LGBTQ+ individuals face in following Christ and adhering to the biblical view of marriage. Giving credence to those struggles is an area where many of us could do better.
However, he didn’t stop there.
Stanley went on to declare, “This is the important thing I want you to hear me say—it’s their decision. Our decision is to decide how we respond to their decision. . . . And we decided 28 years ago: we draw circles; we don’t draw lines—we draw big circles. . . . We aren’t condoning sin, we are restoring relationships and we are literally saving lives.”
Ultimately, saving lives and restoring relationships sounds good. And much of what he discussed on Sunday is biblical. The problem is that if you take his stance of affirming a biblical view of marriage as the ideal while minimizing the practical significance of diverging from that path—even if the goal is to help people accept Jesus—then you end up in a dangerous place.
Holding each other accountable
Eight years ago, I wrote this:
I want to affirm homosexuality. I really do. I want to tell people who have struggled their entire lives with the feeling that they were attracted to someone of the same gender that it’s alright to embrace those emotions. That it’s alright to live the life that feels most right to you. I want to say the same to the people who feel like they were born into the wrong bodies. I want to tell them that the surgeries and the hormone therapies will make their lives better and allow them to find the peace and sense of belonging that they want so badly. I want to say all of those things, and I think every Christian should. But I can’t. We can’t. At least, not unless someone can show us how our understanding of God’s word is wrong.
I still feel that way. And I’m still just as confident today as I was then—if not more so—that God’s prohibitions against any kind of sexual activity except that between a husband and wife are clear and remain just as relevant today as when they were first given.
And it is crucial that we hold not only ourselves to that standard but other believers as well.
You see, there should be a difference in how we speak about issues like biblical sexuality with non-Christians and the way we speak about them with other followers of Christ.
When Christians choose to speak about biblical sexuality without regard for the degree to which the other person accepts the Bible as a source of authority, we’re likely to do more harm than good. However, when that fear causes us to either ignore the conversation altogether or move outside of a biblical view of sexuality to the place of affirming what the Bible condemns, the results can be just as problematic.
Biblical relevance isn’t dependent on cultural acceptance
What we see in the example of Jesus—the “big circles” approach, as Stanley calls it—is someone who meets people where they are and does not expect the lost to act like a person who is saved. However, what Stanley either ignores or does not give enough credence to is the way that Jesus also held those who should know better accountable for that knowledge.
In describing the religious leaders of his day, Christ quoted the prophet, Isaiah, saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8–9).
I want to believe that Andy Stanley and those who agree with his teachings on this subject have hearts that are not far from the Lord’s. And I do think Stanley genuinely believes that he’s helping people get closer to Christ by lowering the standards of the faith to something more easily embraced by those who struggle to accept a biblical view of sexuality. But it doesn’t change the fact that his teachings on this subject are still far closer to the commandments of men than the commandments of God.
Biblical relevance isn’t dependent upon cultural acceptance, and Jesus was clear that we don’t get to pick and choose the parts of God’s word that we will follow.
That’s true for megachurch pastors like Andy Stanley, but it’s equally true for you and me as well. So while we should not be afraid to point out when other believers stray from the truth of God’s word, we must be sure not to make the same mistake in our own lives.
It may not be in the context of biblical sexuality, but all of us have some area where we tend to stumble. And when we do—which is inevitable this side of heaven—let’s embrace the accountability meant to draw us back into a right relationship with the Lord.
Photo Courtesy: ©Pexels/Sharon McCutcheon
Publish Date: October 3, 2023
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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