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Is Andy Stanley affirming?

Another case of studied ambiguity on LGBTQ issues

Andy Stanley Wikimedia Commons

Is Andy Stanley affirming?

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley began trending on Twitter this week after a video surfaced of his teaching about homosexuality and the church. This is not the first time his teaching on homosexuality has come under scrutiny, but it is the most recent. The video comes from a longer message that Stanley delivered to the 2022 DRIVE conference hosted by his church last May. In the message, Stanley exhorts church leaders about how they are to pass on the faith to the next generation. He has six exhortations, but the video circulating on the web is a small part of his third point, which is about 11 minutes long and focuses exclusively on the issue of homosexuality.

In that third point, Stanley drives home the message that “The faith of the next generation is worth leading our churches to acknowledge there are gay people, not just straight people, with a sin problem.” By this, Stanley means that both gay people and straight people need the ministry of the church. Stanley contends that churches have so mistreated and excluded gay people that churches have damaged their credibility to the next generation. The next generation of Christians accepts and loves gay people and cannot comprehend how Christian churches could possibly refuse to do the same.

So Stanley contends that churches must adapt and learn how to include gay people in the life of the church. After all, we should be in awe of the self-sacrifice of gay people whose prayers God did not answer and yet who still love God. In spite of the “clobber” verses from the Bible that condemn homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11), Christians have a lot to learn from gay men and women “who love Jesus that much and who want to worship with us.” If churches want to have a future, then they must be more like Jesus who—when ministering to sinners—never “started with theology” but “started with the people in front of him.” Furthermore, Stanley argues that “If your theology gets in the way of ministry—like if there’s somebody you can’t minister to because of your theology—you have the wrong theology.”

Stanley’s message comes across as a straightforwardly affirming position on homosexuality in the church. He valorizes the faith of homosexuals as head-and-shoulders above the faith of straight Christians. He says, “the men and women I know who are gay, their faith and their confidence in God dwarfs mine. And so not only is there room, there's plenty of room” for them in the church. He brushes aside what the Bible says about homosexuality as “clobber” verses, as if those texts somehow harm gay sinners. He even suggests that a change of theology is in order if churches can’t welcome gay people into their midst. That’s affirming, right? If it isn’t affirming, what is?

If Stanley means something different than the affirming impression this message leaves, then he owes it to listeners to say so.

It turns out that Stanley’s message is as slippery as it is misleading. On the one hand, his remarks seem to focus not on gay people in general but on those who experience a true conversion to Christ. On the other hand, his remarks do not mention repentance from homosexuality or that homosexuality is even sinful at all. Nor is there any suggestion that a gay lifestyle might be incompatible with following Christ. Rather, his words suggest that gay people are extra-righteous for being willing to love a God who would deny them the desires of their hearts. In so much of what Stanley says, there is more insinuation than clarity. And that is the problem. It’s no wonder so many have interpreted his words as affirming homosexuality, even though he himself might blanch at the suggestion.

In any case, pastors owe their listeners clarity and biblical fidelity, both of which are absent from Stanley’s message. The apostle Paul says it this way: “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

The moral status of homosexuality in the church is one of the most contested issues of our time. Indeed, that issue is at the leading edge of the church’s interface with the culture. There is no ducking the question. Faithful pastors must be ready to speak to the matter with clarity and conviction. There are false teachers abroad insisting that the church’s confidence in Scripture and its 2,000-year-old consensus on the moral status of homosexuality are all wrong and need to be changed. They contradict the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 by claiming that gay people don’t need to repent of homosexuality and can indeed inherit the kingdom of God as impenitent gay sinners. These false teachers are making their case forcefully from every platform they can find, and they are seeking to mislead even the elect if possible (Matthew 24:24). They are leading people away from Christ, not to Christ.

Stanley doesn’t challenge any of this, but instead adopts some of the very same rhetoric from “gay Christianity” to confuse the issue. Stanley isn’t serving anyone either inside or outside the church by speaking this way. At best, he vaguely signals to insiders that “gay is not okay” while signaling to outsiders that perhaps it is okay after all. And he does this in a way that conceals from the outsiders what he’s signaling to the insiders. This is not an open statement of the truth commending itself to every man’s conscience. This is studied ambiguity and playing with words.

If Stanley means something different than the affirming impression this message leaves, then he owes it to listeners to say so. As it is, he can hardly complain when listeners hear the message and conclude that this teaching stands in direct contradiction to the Bible and the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Denny Burk

Denny serves as a professor of Biblical studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of numerous books, including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).


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