Justin Lee, author of “Talking Across the Divide” and “Un-Conditional” and an openly gay man, offered practical insight as he spoke at a fourth main session, focusing on getting along with someone with whom one disagrees.
Smaller breakout sessions covered topics such as “Your Core Beliefs and Why They’re Important,” “The Transgender Journey,” “Understanding Gender Dysphoria,” and “Strengthening Marital Intimacy in the Midst of Crisis.”
McDowell clarified, “This is not a biblical conference. This is not a theological conference. This is a pastoring conference.” He continued, “So, the sessions you mentioned are about loving people, caring for people.”
“There was not any discussion about [the permissibility of same-sex unions]. In fact, they seemed to avoid it on purpose,” Shlemon said. He quoted multiple speakers saying, “This conference isn’t about changing your mind or anyone’s theology.”
Shlemon listed a number of key questions—”What is sex? What is marriage? Is homosexual sex permissible biblically speaking?”—and surmised the leaders were “not addressing these fundamental questions because they don’t believe these questions are fundamental to the conference.”
Conference speakers repeatedly mentioned the “importance of loving our kids who come out and say they’re gay, bisexual, and transgender,” agreed Shlemon.
2 Main Concerns From the Conference, as Stated by Alan Shlemon
Controversy and accusations continue to surround the conference. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Southern Baptist Theological Seminary published an article, “The Train Is Leaving the Station: Andy Stanley’s Departure From Biblical Christianity,” The article, posted soon after the conference, accused conference leaders of taking a position not “consistent with biblical Christianity.”
In his public response to Mohler, Stanley said, “I want to go on record and say I have never subscribed to his version of biblical Christianity to begin with, so I’m not leaving anything.”
To respond to public criticism, Stanley interrupted the church’s regular sermon series and dedicated an entire service to addressing the backlash while reaffirming North Point’s biblical views of marriage, sex, and homosexuality.
Stanley explained that North Point’s approach is to “draw big circles,” not lines. This type of action from our church is “not new. This is who we are, as we’ve always been, and this is why I love our church, and this is why I’m so extraordinarily proud of you. We aren’t condoning sin. We are restoring relationships and we are literally saving lives,” Stanley said.
Mohler responded to Stanley’s message, continuing the argument and accusations against Stanley. “The problem with Stanley’s assertion that Jesus drew circles rather than lines,” Mohler mentioned, is that “the four Gospels consistently present Jesus as drawing both.”
For their part, McDowell and Shlemon focused on two main objections.
Traditional Approach vs. New Approach
Conference leaders presented a concept of the “traditionalist script vs. new script.” Stanley offered that the “traditionalist script has a limited vocabulary.” This “anemic vocabulary is limited to just four words—’homosexuality is a sin.'” Often, in the traditionalist script, parents leave out Jesus and reject their child.
Shlemon agreed that this traditionalist script is unloving and wrong. Conversely, the speakers introduced a “new approach,” including a much larger vocabulary. Parents were challenged to “listen, not just lecture right away.” While the new approach is softer and more loving, Shlemon argued that it’s greatly lacking in biblical truth.
Shlemon introduced the idea of a third approach. When a child comes out, a parent should respond, “Thank you for sharing that with me. Thank you for being vulnerable.” Shlemon continued saying that parents should then “invite them to share their story, lean into your relationship with them. Absolutely reassure them that you love them.”