“Unhitching” our doctrine from our pastoral care makes sense if the goal of the Church is simply to help people live better lives. Reducing the Church this way only elevates the self. Ministry, once unhitched from doctrine, devolves into idolatry. Like the golden calf worshiped in the time of the Exodus, it is possible to claim God’s name while losing all moral direction.
For the last few weeks, all eyes, at least evangelical eyes, have been locked on Atlanta. When North Point Community Church announced the “Unconditional” conference, held this past weekend, many noted that two of the speakers were men “married” to other men. Many of the rest were on the record as “affirming” same-sex relationships, recognizing LGBTQ as legitimate categories of human identity, and describing their work as hoping to convert Christians to their ideas about sex, identity, and marriage. Would this conference mark Andy Stanley’s final departure from historic Christian teaching on human sexuality?
Stanley, who is among America’s most prominent pastors, defended the conference and choice of speakers due to the focus of the event. In his Sunday sermon, he responded to the criticism, stating that this conference was not about the theology of human sexuality, or even about talking someone out of an LGBTQ identity. Rather, he said, it was aimed at “parents of LGBTQ+ children and ministry leaders looking to discover ways to support parents and LGBTQ+ children;” in other words, parents who had already tried (and failed) to talk their children out of these identities and now only wished to stay in relationship with them.
Even if the conference was intentionally designed to not address the questions of the morality of same-sex relationships and alternate sexual identities, as apologist and “Unconditional” conference attendee Alan Shlemon noted, it answered these questions “by virtue of who they platformed, their resources, their recommendations. It’s a confusing message at best, and at worst it’s … saying that homosexual sex would be permissible, (and) satisfying transgender ideations would be permissible. (To hear more of Shlemon’s perspective, watch his interview with fellow apologist professor Sean McDowell here.)
On Sunday, Stanley maintained that the conference successfully met its stated goal without implying any kind of moral or theological shift. This is possible because of something Stanley has said both about this conference and about the overall work of the Church.