Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley has staunchly defended his church's decision to host the Unconditional Conference, held at the North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, after it was criticised for welcoming speakers who affirm LGBTQ+ lifestyles.
The conference, which aimed to provide guidance and support to parents of LGBTQ+ children and ministry leaders seeking ways to embrace and support LGBTQ+ individuals within their congregations, challenged traditional Christian perspectives, and included two gay men among the speaker list.
Revealing a longstanding commitment to supporting parents of LGBT-identifying children and teenagers, Pastor Stanley urged his critics not to condemn but to learn from their experience. While he did not mention theologian Albert Mohler by name, it was clear that his comments were a response to Mohler's critique, which had said the conference was a deviation from historic Christian teachings.
Stanley emphasised that his church's approach has been cultivated over years and suggested that this model should be one that's embraced more by evangelicals and conservative churches.
Stanley also said that Mohler's version of biblical Christianity "is why people are leaving the church because they "can't find Jesus" within it. Stanley claimed that Mohler's theology "draws lines where Jesus drew circles".
However, the pastor did affirm that "biblical marriage is between a man and a woman", but that gay Christians at his church had chosen same-sex marriage out of "love, companionship and family", and that it was up to the church to "respond to their decision".
Denny Burk, director of the Center for Gospel and Culture at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, was critical of Stanley conflating the two. He said Stanley’s reference to “biblical marriage” conflicts with the rest of his words. Burk wrote a column for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, he said:
“This message is crafted to lead Christians to believe that as long as they give lip-service to the Bible’s definition of marriage, they can affirm unrepentant homosexual sinners as Christians,” Burk wrote, quoting 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Ephesians 5:5-6. These verses describe how the "immoral" or "sexually immoral... will not inherit the kingdom of God." Ephesians 5:6 also gives the instruction: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient" (NIV).
“Indeed", says Burk,"Stanley argues that critics should stop criticizing and come and ‘learn’ from North Point to see how pastoral ministry should actually be done.”
Stanley’s sermon is “subversively anti-Christian,” Burk charged, because it is “designed to sound like authentic Christianity.”
“Indeed, it’s designed to try and persuade the consciences of Christians that they can affirm unrepentant sinners as brothers and sisters in Christ,” he wrote. “It’s designed to convince listeners that churches should affirm the unrepentant as followers of Christ.”