Late last month, North Point Community Church hosted the Unconditional Conference, billing the gathering as an event “for parents of LGBTQ+ children and for ministry leaders looking to discover ways to support parents and LGBTQ+ children in their churches.” It would stake out a “quieter middle space” on a contentious topic, the organizers said.
As critics were quick to note, the Atlanta-area conference featured speakers who are either in same-sex relationships or supportive of those who are, and on Sunday, North Point pastor Andy Stanley preached a sermon responding to criticisms of the event. That message is now available online. (Stanley delivered it twice, and outside recordings of both services have been posted elsewhere.)
Stanley spent much of the sermon providing the backstory to the conference, which was developed to meet pastoral needs both of young people in the church wrestling with same-sex attraction and parents in the church whose children (who themselves were often—but not necessarily—adults) were coming out to them. He argued that this pastoral purpose warranted involving these particular speakers, outlined what he teaches about sexual ethics, and spoke to how churches can move forward on this issue. Unfortunately, though Stanley articulated a commitment to a New Testament sexual ethic, he also seriously undermined that very teaching.
Stanley outlined his understanding of Christian sexual ethics with three directives:
- Honor God with your body.
- Do not be mastered by anything.
- Do not sexualize any relationship outside of marriage.
Biblical marriage is between a man and a woman, he said, noting that every New Testament text addressing homosexuality teaches that it is a sin. “It was a sin then,” Stanley said, “and it is a sin now.”
This is what has always been taught at North Point and will continue to be taught there, he added. But both before and after this portion of the sermon, Stanley contradicted that ethic.
The most controversial conference speakers were Justin Lee and Brian Nietzel, whom Stanley described as “two married gay men” who are also “Christ-followers today.” They were invited to speak—and had spoken at previous North Point gatherings—he said, because their stories of growing up in church environments while experiencing same-sex attraction would be “instructive and inspiring.”
But to be in a same-sex relationship (whether recognized by the state as a marriage or not) is to disobey Jesus, not to follow him. Jesus defined marriage as being between a man and a woman (Matt. 19:3–6) and the sole permissible context for sexual behavior (Matt. 15:19–20 and parallel references, where “sexual immorality” in our English editions is a translation of the Greek word porneia, an umbrella term for all sexual activity outside of marriage).
This teaching is consistent throughout Scripture, and a same-sex union clearly contradicts it. By being in such a union, Lee and Nietzel are living in ongoing, unrepentant disobedience to Christ. And, “If we claim to have fellowship with [God] and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:6).
The decision to invite these speakers fares no better when examined through a pastoral lens.
Lee and Nietzel were invited because of their stories, Stanley said, because they’d been where many church kids now are. That may well be true—but is that a good reason to invite them? Why not invite speakers who grew up in church, recognized their attraction to the same sex, and then went on to live in obedience to Jesus, whether through faithful singleness or faithful biblical marriage? Speakers with that story could offer the same personal insight about their childhood experiences without implicitly validating a trajectory toward same-sex relationships.
And the invitation of Lee and Nietzel isn’t the only way Stanley and the Unconditional Conference imply an acceptance of same-sex relationships. Some people attracted to the same sex may live “a chaste life,” Stanley said, but “for many, that is not sustainable, so they choose same-sex marriage—not because they’re convinced it’s biblical. They read the same Bible we do. They chose to marry for the same reason many of us do: love, companionship, and family.”
Parents and churches can’t control that decision, Stanley said, but can only “decide how we respond.” North Point’s response, he continued, is that “if someone desires to follow Jesus—regardless of their starting point, regardless of their past, regardless of their current circumstances—our message is come and see and come sit with me.”
Stanley argues that this response is not “condoning sin” but “restoring relationships.” But that comes after he apparently accepts the premise that chastity is “not sustainable”—which is to say that the teaching of God himself is not sustainable (Rom. 1:24-27).
Granted, some churches make life more challenging for singles than it needs to be, and how to change that is an urgently needed conversation. Any church where being unmarried (for whatever reason) means living a life without love is failing to be a New Testament church. The love between a husband and wife is a unique form of love but hardly the only form of love: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
But to accept that a biblically prohibited relationship is permissible—or the least-bad way forward—is to contradict the biblical sexual ethic Stanley affirmed in this very sermon. I have always been single. On the whole, it has been deeply joyous. But I am not immune from temptation, and when any leader suggests to me that chaste obedience to Christ in singleness is not sustainable, he is saying the very same thing to me that the Devil says.
Two New Testament texts show us the seriousness of all this. The first is one of the three passages that directly address homosexuality:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9–11)
Homosexuality is listed here as one of the behaviors characteristic of a life that will not inherit the kingdom of God. And while it is entirely right to point out that homosexuality is not the only such form of sin, it is still—clearly and unavoidably—one of them.
It is a behavior requiring repentance. Eternity is at stake. To say or even imply that it is possible to persist in this sin is nothing short of sending people to hell—and a profound failure of pastoral responsibility. One would be unable to say with Paul, “I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26–27, ESV).
But there is a dimension to this that goes beyond pastoral failure. In his letter to the church in Thyatira, Jesus rebukes not only the person whose teaching leads his people into sexual sin; he rebukes the church that tolerates such teaching. “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet,” he says. “By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:20).
This means that the problem at the Unconditional Conference is not just that inappropriate speakers were platformed or that Stanley gave (at best) mixed messaging about sexual sin. North Point as a whole is implicated. If the church continues to tolerate such things, it invites the censure of Christ himself.
Stanley’s stated goal here is love. This is the right goal, and love involves doing all we can to understand what our brothers and sisters are going through. It requires kindness and compassion for those who are hurting. But love involves much more: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands” (1 John 5:2).
Disobedience does not only fail God; it fails his people. It is not only a lack of discipleship; it is a lack of love for others. To love young people wrestling with homosexuality and to love their parents requires obedience to God. Only then can we point others to the one who is love incarnate, in whom alone is found true life.
Sam Allberry is associate pastor of Immanuel Nashville and the author of Is God Anti-Gay? and You’re Not Crazy: Gospel Sanity for Weary Churches.