An illustration by North Point Senior Pastor Andy Stanley in his April 15 sermon has been raising questions on where the megachurch pastor stands on homosexuality.
"His message was troubling," said Dennis Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College. "It was ambiguous at best. It was a total capitulation to the spirit of the age at worst."
Stanley's message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus' love was. "At times [Jesus] seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable," Stanley said in the sermon. "At times he points out sin and at times it's like he ignores sin altogether."
That tension can be seen at North Point after sermons on remarriage after divorce, which people hate to hear but are glad they did, he said. It also exists for gay members, who have left predominantly gay churches for North Point because they want more Bible teaching, but are nervous about how welcome they'll be, he said.
In trying to love like Jesus does, the church can also seem inconsistent and leave people wondering what they're really about, Stanley said.
The illustration that drew attention came toward the end of the message, when Stanley offered a real-life example. 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.
But some took issue with Stanley's silence over the sin of the homosexual couple.
While a pastor doesn't have to say everything that is true about everything in every sermon, Stanley missed a key opportunity to address homosexuality, Burk said.
"He mentions adultery as a sin," Burk said. "But he never calls homosexuality a sin. When he issues the sanction from leadership, it's only about adultery. That just sends a message."
That ambiguity from Stanley was stunning, Southern Baptist pastor D. Howell Scott said.
"I could not believe it," he said. "Hopefully that's a misunderstanding."
Stanley is a master communicator, and the illustration was well-prepared, and even had graphics to make the relationships clear, Scott said. "The conclusion a lot of folks have drawn is that there is an intentional message in the illustration."
It's premature to make judgments on Stanley's view of homosexuality, Catalyst Leadership senior editor Skye Jethani said.
"People are trying to make an argument from silence," he said. "Sometimes our illustrations can overshadow our message. That's a simple, practical lesson to take away from this."
Stanley declined repeated requests for comment.
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The sermon is available at North Point's website. The section that prompted the debate begins about 24 minutes in.
Albert Mohler's article about Stanley's sermon prompted a response from Rick Warren, including a demand for an apology. Mohler responded, and Warren later said he agreed with the article but called the title "a public hurtful slur against 1000s of faithful pastors."