I’ve been catching myself up on Pastor Andy Stanley’s recent comments regarding the issue of homosexuality. They’ve created a little stir in liberal media circles, who are triumphantly running pieces that contrast Andy’s more relaxed approach with Stanley Sr.’s hard-line rhetoric. Andy Stanley has a wide following, particularly in the South, and so far he’s managed to tiptoe around hot-button social issues without saying something outright heretical that would alienate his fan-base. (This fan-base includes a number of relatively conservative Christians, including readers of this very site, and it clearly includes the same kind of people who attend Gaither events, since Gaither has invited him on their latest cruise.) While not all the remarks being quoted on leftist sites are taken from the same context, it’s not hard for us to look at the individual pieces and notice a leftward drift that should concern Christians who follow Stanley Jr.’s ministry. I’ve already mentioned his remarks in a USA Today piece dissing the Kansas religious freedom bill, where he said that he found it “offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law” and continued, “Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”
1. The local church should be the safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything, including same-sex attraction.
2. The church must stop expecting outsiders to act like insiders while insiders act like outsiders.
3. The church must capture and keep the hearts and minds of students.
You can probably tell already that there are a lot of directions he could go with all of these points, and some of them are not good at all. And you’d be right.
I went and listened to pretty much the entire message from the beginning of his first point on to the wrap-up. (You can too, on this site. The title is “Change Makers.”) I’m going to encourage you to read a response post by Bible scholar Michael Brown, as well as a follow-up post where he tried to get clarification from Stanley himself. I don’t want to re-hash everything Brown has to say, because he says it so concisely and well, but I did want to unpack the message a little more and explain why I find it so troubling, especially in conjunction with his remarks on the Kansas bill. (I find it amusing that when Stanley reached out to Brown for a personal dialogue, Stanley was mainly concerned that Brown thought all these quotes were coming from the same context, when the real problem is their content, not their context!)
The problem with this approach is that even though Stanley himself may still personally believe homosexual acts are sinful, he is a fool to think anyone can just wave away such a theological rift in any church. “What people think about this topic” lies at the very heart of how to respond to such young people! It’s nonsensical to croon, “Let’s all come together for the children” when “coming together for the children” means encouraging them in sin for one half of your congregation and ushering them away from sin for the other half. There’s another issue Brown didn’t point out, namely that we eventually do want heterosexual young people to begin thinking (sensibly, maturely, gradually) about romantic relationships. We encourage activities that bring young men together with young ladies. We encourage the ultimate fruition of romance in marriage. The approach Pastor Stanley describes fails to draw any sharp distinction between heterosexual and homosexual romance. If by a “broader” view of sexuality than the act itself he means to include physical attraction, romantic interest, etc., then I’m sorry, but in a heterosexual context, those things can actually be good up to a point, even in teenagers, whereas they are completely tragic and toxic in a homosexual context. Stanley hasn’t given any clear sign that he groks this.
By itself, all of those things are laudable. The problem is that in Stanley’s address, they were inextricably intertwined with a palpable disdain for Christians actively involved in the culture wars, and they were hammered home with the assertion that Christians have “forfeited their moral authority” to talk about marriage (including, presumably, what it even means), because… some Christians, somewhere, are cheating on their spouses. Or something. In fact, Stanley framed this whole “spend a year fixing x, y and z” proposal as “taking a year off from the culture wars.” His entire rhetorical thrust was a bifurcation of things like fighting the homosexual agenda on the one hand and personal holiness on the other. And no, throwing in a passing, “And we should be concerned about those things but…” doesn’t make it all okay. It’s almost enough to make one re-evaluate even the nominally good things he was saying earlier in this point. If you take it as a piece, it looks less like righteous indignation and more like “any stick with which to beat a dog.”
Well, since Pastor Stanley is so concerned about context, maybe we should look at the context of this verse in Paul. We could start with Paul’s cultural context, where “judging” manifested itself as a refusal to have any kind of interaction whatsoever with a person. (i.e., total social ostracism). In the context of this particular letter, Paul is dealing with a nasty in-church case of incest. He’s clarifying a previous injunction of his never to associate with immoral people by saying he didn’t mean all immoral people, because that would mean you couldn’t interact with the outside world at all. (This is a very Rabbinic sort of thing. Paul is constantly clarifying fine points and making reductios like this.) However, he does teach that people within the Church who embrace sin should be shunned. It is in this context that he says “What business is it of mine” or “What have I to do with” judging “outsiders.” Paul was a missionary. He was pounding the pavement with the gospel. Obviously, he was going to carry it as far as he could, including pagan Athens. Of course he wasn’t going to refuse so much as to eat with pagans. But somehow, I don’t think the Apostle Paul meant by this that we shouldn’t utter a peep if the highest court in our land decides to redefine the whole institution of marriage.
Pastor Stanley also doesn’t seem to care about the bullying tactics that people on the left are practicing towards Christians. He waves his hands around and vaguely wags his finger at conservative believers who are “expending all their energy” just “telling the world how bad they are” (slight paraphrase). He doesn’t seem to realize that we’re past the point of trying to convince such homo-fascists that they’re sinners. We’re grateful to God if we can just keep our children from being corrupted by their agenda. We’re grateful if even one baker or florist who refuses to lend active participation to a mock wedding can manage to escape a lawsuit without being financially ruined.
Anyway, to sum up, Stanley has yet to go full Rob Bell and abandon the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality altogether. But his ignorant contempt for Christian culture warriors (many of whom, by the way, are not being hypocritical at all but are raising godly families in the admonition of the Lord), does not bode well. It does not bode well at all.