One of the more surprising developments (at least to me) in recent weeks was the apparent equivocation of megachurch pastor Andy Stanley on the issue of homosexuality’s sinfulness. Stanley is the senior pastor of North Point Community Church (according to Wikipedia the second-largest congregation in the country) and related campuses and ministries. I heard him speak at North Point quite a few years ago, though I have to admit that my ears were recovering from the pre-sermon worship music and I may have missed a few things. I do remember Stanley asserting that North Point, unlike most American churches, was “relevant.” I found that claim unnecessarily boastful. More recently, it’s made me wonderful whether Stanley has concluded that evangelicals need to change their position on homosexuality in order to remain relevant.
In an April 15 sermon, Stanley told the story of a family that separated and came together in different ways at North Point. Several national publications reported on the sermon — here is Christianity Today’s summary:
A family at North Point fell apart when the husband left his wife for another man, he said. The gay couple began to attend North Point together, but the estranged wife asked them to leave since she wanted a drama-free space to worship.
The couple then headed to another North Point campus and became involved in leadership there. But when Stanley found out, he asked them to step down since the partner was still married to his wife.
“This is just good old fashioned adultery,” Stanley told the other man. “You’re in a sexual relationship with someone else’s husband.”
The man protested, saying his partner was almost divorced.
“You can’t be almost divorced,” Stanley told him. “You’re married or you’re not. As long as he’s married, you can’t serve on a guest services team.”
The gay couple left the church, but returned later after the first man’s wife chose to show them grace and move toward a relationship with them, Stanley said. The resulting relationships—the ex-wife, her daughter, her boyfriend, his daughter, the ex-husband and his partner—are a messy, marvelous, painful microcosm of the church, of truth and grace, he said.
Stanley did not suggest any condemnation of homosexuality in the sermon. He has thus far refused opportunities to clarify his remarks, though has indicated he may do so in the future.
Stanley and his team are among the sharpest evangelical leaders in the country, and one can presume that they deliberated carefully in advance of the April 15 sermon. Whether or not Stanley’s views on homosexuality have changed or have simply moderated, at the very least he wanted to emphasize that Christian love toward gays and lesbians is much more important than condemning their sexuality.
While reports of the sermon dismayed many evangelical leaders, it is almost certainly a sign of things to come. In a very helpful survey on the topic, Christianity Today notes that evangelical opposition to same-sex marriage has dropped dramatically over the past two decades. In 1988, nearly all (85%) of evangelicals expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. Only 59% do so today. That’s still a large number, and note that a different poll in the same article puts the number at 75%.
Had Andy Stanley equivocated over or endorsed same-sex marriage during the early years of North Point, it would almost certainly have resulted in a much smaller church. The trend documented in the previous paragraph suggests there might be space for him to do so today. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Further developments in this quarter will undoubtedly prove interesting and will have an influence on the national evangelical trajectory on this issue.