This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on October 5, 2023.
“Farewell, Andy Stanley.” So seems to be the response from Al Mohler, Christianity Today, and many other evangelicals to Stanley’s defense of North Point Community Church hosting the Unconditional Conference for LGBTQ Christians and their parents.
Sam Allberry, writing for Christianity Today, argues Stanley “seriously undermined” a “New Testament sexual ethic.” As a single man, Allberry claims Stanley was “saying the very same thing to me that the Devil says.” Because Allberry believes “eternity is at stake,” he accuses Stanley of “nothing short of sending people to hell.”
Allberry serves as associate pastor of Immanuel Nashville and is the author of Is God Anti-Gay? and You’re Not Crazy: Gospel Sanity for Weary Churches. Russell Moore, editor of Christianity Today, serves as minister in residence at Immanuel Nashville.
For Allberry and Christianity Today, it is not simply enough to call out the conference or Stanley. Instead, they claim, “North Point as a whole is implicated” and the megachurch “invites the censure of Christ himself.”
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees, calling Stanley’s sermon “a subversion of the gospel,” a “first-order crisis,” and “a departure from the faith once delivered to the saints.”
“This is not biblical Christianity. It is Andy Stanley’s own invention, and it is not plausible,” Mohler warns. “The train has indeed left the station, and my guess is that even Andy Stanley has no assurance of where his logic is headed.”
Let’s clarify where Andy Stanley is headed
One wonders if Mohler even listened to Stanley’s Oct. 1 sermon given how dishonestly he mischaracterized it. The sermon was preached after Stanley and his Atlanta church were denounced by Mohler and others for hosting a conference to help parents of LGBTQ kids.
“He did not really clarify his personal convictions on LGBTQ issues, nor did he really clarify the position or policy of his church,” Mohler claimed.
Contrast that with Stanley’s own words from the sermon itself.
“We teach what I refer to as a New Testament sexual ethic,” Stanley said. “If you’re going to follow Jesus, here’s what it looks like sexually to follow Jesus:
- Honor God with your body.
- Don’t be mastered by anything.
- Don’t sexualize a relationship outside of marriage.”
To clarify even further, Stanley said: “We affirm all three of the Apostle Paul’s statements on the topic of same-sex sex — Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1 — he references this. And we affirm exactly what the Apostle Paul says. In other words, what the Apostle Paul called sin was sin then and it’s sin now.”
But what about same-sex marriage?
“We talk about and teach about marriage the same way Jesus and the apostles do,” Stanley explained. “Every instruction in the Bible regarding marriage references or assumes a husband and a wife, a man or a woman. So biblical marriage is between a man and a woman. We’ve never shied away from that. We don’t change the words in order not to offend people.”
And lest Christianity Today or Mohler claim North Point’s logic is heading toward affirming same-sex marriage, Stanley said, “We’re not going to blink on this.”
North Point’s relationally driven circles
Despite North Point’s clarity in its commitment to marriage being between one man and one woman, the church’s ultimate goal is to move toward one another in relationships. Or as Stanley puts it, they are “relationally driven.”
Stanley uses the metaphor of a circle to demonstrate how he relates to people who are different than he is. Jesus “drew circles so large and included so many people in his circle that it consistently made religious leaders nervous.”
One of those religious leaders today would be Mohler. Without mentioning Mohler by name, Stanley discussed Mohler’s previous article about him and the church and the conference.
“In my opinion, just my opinion, his version of biblical Christianity is the problem.”
“The author is actually accusing me of departing from his version of biblical Christianity. So I want to go on record and say that I have never subscribed to his version of biblical Christianity to begin with,” Stanley declared. “In my opinion, just my opinion, his version of biblical Christianity is the problem. His version, this version of biblical Christianity is why people are leaving Christianity unnecessarily. It’s the version that causes people to resist the Christian faith because they can’t find Jesus in the midst of all the other stuff and all the other theology and all the other complexity that gets globbed on to the message.”
Mohler fired back: “Stanley represented my understanding of biblical Christianity as drawing lines. The problem with Stanley’s assertion that Jesus drew circles rather than lines is that the four Gospels consistently present Jesus as drawing both.”
But Stanley’s circle metaphor wasn’t meant to say North Point has no convictions. He made it quite clear that they do. Instead, Stanley’s circle metaphor was about how they prioritize relationships.
“We aren’t condoning sin,” he said. “We are restoring relationships. … Our message is come and see and come sit with me.”
As Stanley’s sermon concluded, he shared the vision of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-29, stating, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest … rest for your souls.” Then he highlights the word “all,” and emphasizes, “All — that’s a big circle.”
North Point’s recognition of unhealthy parenting
Rather than speaking in generalities about how churches haven’t been perfect in their responses to LGBTQ people, Stanley recognizes and names specific ways in which Christian parents and the church have failed.