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LGBTQ+ Conference Hosted by Andy Stanley’s Church Faces Evangelical Criticism 

By Josh Shepherd
andy stanley unconditional LGBTQ conference
Northpoint Community Church Senior Pastor Andy Stanley will be a featured speaker at Unconditional Conference, slated for Sept. 28-29 at his megachurch in Alpharetta, Georgia. (Photos via Facebook)

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley is facing criticism for a conference next weekend billed as the “premier event . . . to support parents and LGBTQ+ children in their churches.”

Some accuse the conference of being gay-affirming, while claiming to offer a middle ground. But one gay-affirming speaker at the conference told The Roys Report (TRR) that the event’s intentions have been misread.

The Unconditional Conference, slated for Sept. 28-29, will be hosted by Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, a multi-site megachurch with weekly attendance of over 37,000. 

It’s organized by Embracing the Journey, a parenting ministry founded in 2015 by Greg and Lynn McDonald. 

Organizers state that, where faith communities have been polarized, the event intends to create a “quieter middle space” to “support parents and LGBTQ+ children.” The conference also seeks to equip church and ministry leaders to address sexuality issues as they “listen, reflect, and learn.” 

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Critics claim that billing is deceptive. In a widely-shared op-ed, prominent Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler wrote, “This event is designed as a platform for normalizing the LGBTQ+ revolution while claiming that the conference represents ‘the quieter middle space.’” 

Similarly, in a sermon on August 27, Gary Hamrick, pastor of Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia, called out the Unconditional Conference by name. “It is a gay-affirming conference,” preached Hamrick at Cornerstone, which has weekly attendance of over 6,400 people. “Every single speaker on the docket is gay affirming and bringing it into the church. It is perverse.”

Featured speakers at Unconditional Conference include the McDonalds, who often share their journey of supporting their son and his gay partner; licensed professional counselor Debbie Causey; and Northpoint Senior Pastor Andy Stanley, a popular author and TV Bible teacher.

In his criticism, Mohler repeatedly references two speakers slated for Unconditional Conference who are married to other gay men. They are Justin Lee, founder of The Gay Christian Network—later relaunched as Q Christian Fellowship, which advocates for LGBTQ+ inclusion in churches and faith communities; and Brian Nietzel, founder of Making Things Right, will be featured in sessions. 

“(Lee) argues for the legitimacy of ‘monogamous same-sex relationships,’” wrote Mohler. “Nietzel presents seminars on ‘restoring LGBTQ+ faith.’ Just to be clear: This is not ‘the quieter middle space’ . . . This is a clear and tragic departure from Biblical Christianity.” 

But in a statement to TRR, Lee stated his intentions have been misunderstood.

justin lee lgbtq
Justin Lee (Courtesy Photo)

“I am not giving a talk to advocate for traditional churches to change their theology of sexual morality or marriage,” said Lee. “I have been speaking to conservative evangelical audiences (and others) for 25 years on the subject of how to show Christian love to someone even if you disagree with them or know them to be sinning in some way.” 

Also among the event speakers is John Ortberg, who resigned as pastor of Menlo Church in central California after admitting he’d allowed his adult son, who’d confessed an attraction to children, to continue to volunteer with minors. 

Criticisms and responses

Some speakers at Unconditional Conference have grappled deeply with criticisms they hear from theological conservatives. 

Breakout session speaker David Gushee wrote in his book Changing Our Mind that he will “grant the historical claim that the Church has believed that same-sex acts and relationships are always wrong.” But Gushee argues in subsequent chapters that the church has been historically wrong. 

Lee, who today leads Nuance Ministries based in Charlotte, N.C., stated: “I believe it’s possible to love one another without compromising your beliefs or moral stands . . . In fact, I am well known for coming to the defense of conservative churches, ministries, and Christian colleges in staying true to their traditional beliefs—even on those rare issues where we may disagree.”

TRR reached out to Embracing the Journey, Andy Stanley, Northpoint Community Church, and Debbie Causey for comment about the conference, but did not receive a response. 

Anne Paulk, executive director of Restored Hope Network, a Colorado Springs-based coalition of Christian ministries that seeks to “help individuals overcome relational and sexual issues,” told TRR she views the conference as an embrace of “revisionist theology.” 

anne paulk
Anne Paulk (Courtesy Photo)an

“Although they may claim to want to hear a variety of views, I do not believe that the Unconditional Conference offers any other views than affirming a gay identity or even monogamous gay relationships,” Paulk said.

Paulk, whose ministry has faced scrutiny and censorship in recent years due to past association with so-called reparative therapy, added: “Andy Stanley has also been unwilling to meet with those of us who work in this arena. That should say something.” 

In recent years, Andy Stanley has faced criticism for comments he’s made about LGBTQ+ individuals.

At a May 2022 Northpoint conference, Stanley said, “A gay person who still wants to attend church after the way they’ve been treated, I’m telling you, they have more faith than I do. They have more faith than a lot of you.”

Popular Christian YouTuber Ruslan KD criticized Stanley’s comments as “murky” on LGBTQ+ behavior. Southern Baptist professor and author Denny Burke claimed Stanley’s comments “valorize(d) the faith of homosexuals as head and shoulders above the faith of straight people.”

This article has been updated to clarify Lee’s affiliation with Q Christian Fellowship.

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.

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Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “What If Jesus Was Serious about the Church?” by Skye Jethani.