Andy Stanley’s controversial Unconditional Conference

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Andy Stanley’s controversial Unconditional Conference and how to live biblically in a post-Christian culture

September 22, 2023 -

Two microphones on a pulpit in front of an LGBTQ+ rainbow flag. By niyazz/stock.adobe.com.

Two microphones on a pulpit in front of an LGBTQ+ rainbow flag. By niyazz/stock.adobe.com.

Two microphones on a pulpit in front of an LGBTQ+ rainbow flag. By niyazz/stock.adobe.com.

As Andy Stanley’s church and public profile have grown, the pastor has become an increasingly controversial figure in Christian life. His attempts to make the gospel attractive to the lost appear to come from a genuine desire to help people know the Lord, but too often he crosses boundaries that end up drawing people to a god that stands in contrast to the God of Scripture. As such, perhaps it should not come as a surprise that he and his church are in the news once again in the buildup to the Unconditional Conference that they will host next week.

The Unconditional Conference is an event “for parents of LGBTQ+ children and for ministry leaders looking to discover ways to support parents and LGBTQ+ children in their churches.” They promise that those who attend “will be equipped, refreshed, and inspired as you hear from leading communicators on topics that speak to your heart, soul, and mind,” adding that “no matter what theological stance you hold, we invite you to listen, reflect, and learn as we approach this topic from the quieter middle space.”

How they define that “middle space” has been the primary point of contention for many.

“Normalizing the LGBTQ+ revolution”

Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Seminary, remarked that “the promise of ‘the quieter middle space’ might appear attractive, given the volatility of cultural discourse on LGBTQ+ issues, and a conference designed to help parents of LGBTQ+ children and ministry leaders work through these issues in clearly Biblical terms would be a welcome development. But the advertising for the Unconditional Conference indicates clearly that this event is designed as a platform for normalizing the LGBTQ+ revolution.”

Mohler went on to point out that many of the event’s speakers—such as David Gushee, Justin Lee, and Brian Nietzel—have made clear their stance on this issue. As such, Mohler argues that “this conference is not really ‘quiet,’ nor is it ‘middle space.’ It is structured as what most evangelicals would quickly recognize as a departure from historic normative Biblical Christianity.”

And it is difficult to disagree with his assessment. While the list of breakout sessions and description of the event make it seem as though the event truly is focused on giving parents and ministers advice on relating to LGBTQ+ youth, it also appears that such advice will be given from a foundation of acceptance for that lifestyle.

Still, it would be presumptuous to pass firm judgment on the content of an event that has yet to take place, and both Andy Stanley and the group behind the conference have not spoken clearly on the details of those sessions to this point.

It’s possible that we will address the conference once again after it takes place, but for today I would like to focus instead on the way these conversations tend to occur and how we can engage with this subject in a way that does the greatest good for the kingdom.

How do you speak biblically to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible is true?

One of the most common mistakes Christians make when discussing LGBTQ+ issues is speaking the same way to non-Christians as we would to fellow believers.

When writing to other Christians, as Al Mohler was doing, grounding our argument for a biblical view of sexuality in the truth of Scripture is both right and relevant. We should be able to assume—though it is, unfortunately, not always the case—that those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior will give weight to his word. We can have honest disagreements about how certain passages should be interpreted and applied to a modern context (see “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”), but a basic foundation of biblical authority should provide common ground for discussion.

With non-Christians, however, that is not the case.

The lost are unlikely to be convinced by an argument for a biblical view of sexuality that is based primarily in Scriptures that they do not see as relevant or authoritative. Moreover, it should not come as a surprise when God’s truth is difficult to accept for those whose minds “the god of this world has blinded” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

We should be prepared to speak the truth about what the Bible teaches regarding sexuality and to do so with the confidence, love, and grace that Christ showed throughout his ministry, but we also shouldn’t linger on the subject any longer than we have to.

The truth is, until a person embraces God, they have little reason to care about what his word says on this—or any—subject. As such, helping them to know and accept Jesus needs to be our primary focus.

So how can we do that?

A true test of your (digital) character

The most important step we can take in helping people come to accept Christ as their savior is to live a life that draws people to him.

Maintaining such a witness doesn’t mean achieving a perfection that is, ultimately, impossible this side of heaven, but there are steps each of us can take that could help and blind spots we must address.

Take social media, for example. We may like, share, and post content with little thought to how it might impact the way other people see us. The truth, however, is that our digital persona is often the primary expression of who we are for most of the people we know. After all, how many magnitudes more friends do you have on Facebook than you interact with in real life?

To better understand the impact of your digital profile, ask a friend or family member to spend a few minutes going through your Facebook page, X (Twitter) feed, or other social media as if you were a stranger to them. Then ask for an honest assessment of how they would characterize the person whose content they’d just read.

How easy would it be for the person they described to tell someone about the love and grace of Christ? What would the gospel sound like coming from them?

Whether it’s issues of sexuality, politics, or any other controversial topic, endeavor to make sure that the person you present to others—either in person or online—is someone who could present the good news of Jesus without the words sounding foreign or hypocritical to those who need to hear them. And while we must never shy away from defending biblical truth, we also need to recognize that we can’t have those discussions the same way with people who don’t care about the Bible.

So the next time you’re given the opportunity to comment on
or discuss a topic where the biblical view stands in contrast to the culturally acceptable perspective, take some time to recognize with whom you’re talking and who else might be around to hear or see it. Then ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to the path best suited to helping others come to know the God of Scripture.

Helping others know Jesus—the real Jesus—must remain our highest priority.

Is it yours?

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