For the past few days, an out-of-context clip from Pastor Andy Stanley, the leader of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, has been circulating online because he appears to welcome gay people in his church in a way that seems unusual among evangelicals.
… [If we could] figure out how to get straight people as excited about serving and engaging as the gay and women I know, we would have a volunteer backlog. That’s my experience in our churches.
… A gay person who still wants to attend church after the way the church has treated the gay community, I’m telling you, they have more faith than I do. They have more faith than a lot of you. A gay person who knows, “You know what? I may not be accepted here, but I’m gonna try it anyway,” have you ever done that as a straight person?
Where do you go that you’re not sure you’re gonna be accepted, and you go over and over and over and over? [Joking] Only your in-laws’ house. That’s the only place you go where you know you’re not completely accepted, but you go over and over and over, and it’s because you have to. But other than the in-laws, what environment do you continue to step foot in knowing that, any moment, you may feel ostracized? No place!
I’m telling you: The gay men and women who grew up in church, and the gay men and women who’ve come to faith in Christ as adults, who want to participate in church? Oh my goodness.
I know 1 Corinthians 6 and I know Leviticus and I know Romans 1. It’s so interesting to talk about all that stuff. But just, oh my goodness. A gay man or woman who wants to worship their Heavenly Father, who did not answer the cry of their heart when they were 12 and 13 and 14 and 15—God said “No” and they still love God? We have some things to learn from a group of men and women who love Jesus that much and who want to worship with us.
And I know the verses. I know the “clobber passages”… We’ve gotta figure this out. And you know what? I think you are [ready].
His message seems pretty clear to me: Straight evangelicals could learn a lot about commitment to their churches by taking a cue from gay Christians who’ve been demonized and traumatized by church leaders yet remain devoted to the faith. Stanley’s not wrong on that point. (MAGA cultists who claim the mantle of “patriotism” could learn something similar by looking at the way many Black Americans love the country despite the countless indignities they’ve suffered.)
But to take that point and pretend Stanley is saying anything unique about gay people is a stretch that’s not backed up by anything.
The sermon in question was delivered during the “Drive Conference 2022” last May. While the full video is not available online, some context can be deciphered from public notes about his sermon. It’s nothing special if you’ve seen megachurch pastors speak before. Stanley warns everyone about how young people aren’t as religious as they used to be, and it’s up to his Christian audience to help turn that around. For example, he tells them to pin their faith on the story of Jesus—as opposed to, say, culture war issues. He also urges people to follow Jesus instead of merely believing in Jesus. (As an atheist, I can safely say none of that addresses the actual reasons so many people want nothing to do with Christianity.)
And then he tells the crowd to “acknowledge” gay people (and not claim they’re just “straight people with a sin problem”) because it’s not the role of a church to decide someone’s salvation for them.
Letting gay people be a part of your church is not novel or interesting.
Notice the language he uses, too. It’s the same wishy-washy rhetoric we’ve seen in those pathetic “He Gets Us” ads.
Stanley never says he’s okay or even comfortable with homosexuality.
He doesn’t say his audience should support same-sex marriage or that his church will perform those weddings.
He doesn’t say faith-based adoption agencies should welcome gay parents who would like a child.
He doesn’t even say gay people in legal marriages are permitted to have sex.
All of that tracks with how many conservative churches and many Christian denominations have treated gay people in recent years. It’s fine to be gay, but it’s a sin to ever act on it.
If you’re gay and you’re a member of Andy Stanley’s church, you may be welcome inside and they’ll gladly take your tithe money, but the expectation is that you remain single and celibate forever. The best thing we can say about his sermon is that he refrained from calling gay people “groomers” like a lot of other conservative bigots.
The website Church Clarity tracks this very issue. It says Stanley’s church doesn’t publicly state their LGBTQ policy, which suggests they prefer to hide it from prospective members. They claim to welcome everyone… but you have to be a Level 8 Operating Thetan to learn the church’s true feelings. Church Clarity notes, however, that in 2018, a form for potential church volunteers required them to say they were not in a same-sex relationship. So it’s not even a well-kept secret.
That’s why Andy Stanley’s sermon isn’t a step forward. It’s the same bigoted bullshit we’re used to hearing from evangelical preachers. He just delivers it with a smile, as if he’s doing gay people a favor by complimenting their devotion.
He’s just couching his bigotry in the language of religion to make it all sound better. Just because he’s not preaching fire and brimstone doesn’t mean he doesn’t harbor the same views as every other evangelical who routinely condemns homosexuality.
His sermon is no different from when Pope Francis said of gay people, “Who am I to judge?” People celebrated that, too, foolishly so in some cases, but the pope is still Catholic! He still thinks homosexual acts are “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law,” while homosexual “tendencies” are “objectively disordered.” He opposes same-sex marriage even if he supports civil unions.
The pope is not an LGBTQ ally and you’d be foolish to think otherwise. Andy Stanley isn’t your ally either. And if you think that guy has changed his views on gay people, you have been duped by a guy speaking Christianese.
Don’t fall for it.