The pastor of one America’s largest churches is peeling back the covers on topics that might make some Christians squirm. Andy Stanley, pastor of the 30,000+ member North Point Ministries, addresses a range of issues from human sexuality to pornography in his latest book, The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating. While the broader culture continues to fight over what “sexual morality” means, one thing is certain: Andy Stanley is determined not to sit this one out.
RNS: If these are the new rules for love, sex, and dating, what are some of the old rules that you don’t think work anymore?
AS: I don’t know that they are rules so much as assumptions. One of the big assumptions I challenge is: As long as I’m in love and the chemistry is right, then everything is going to turn out right. The average person would hear that and say, “That’s not true.” But that is the approach most people take to romantic relationships. The new rule is: don’t assume that just because you feel right, everything is going to be alright. We have to become the type of person that the person we’re looking for is looking for.
In every other arena of life, we prepare. But somehow when it comes to love and romance, there is an assumption that we don’t need to prepare, but just commit ourselves. That somehow commitment will trump the needs for preparation. This is more about getting ourselves ready for the time when we meet someone that there’s chemistry with and we’re falling in love with, we’ll actually be prepared to keep the commitment we’re making.
This is not simply a book for people who want to get married; it is for anyone who wants to have successful, long term relationships. I hope the primary takeaway of these teachings is that: [tweetable]people should focus on becoming someone instead of finding someone.[/tweetable]
RNS: You say that “you are sexually compatible with far more people than you’re relationally compatible with.” What are you getting at?
AS: When it comes to romance, people put a premium on the romantic part as if that is the litmus. But when that begins to wane, the relationship can go in the same direction. This principle calls a timeout. It says that the relational part of the relationship should take precedent over the sexual or physical component of the relationship. [tweetable]If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, put the relational component ahead of the sexual one.[/tweetable]
RNS: How can a history of sexual abuse impact the way these rules function in your life?
AS: Sex is not just physical even though that is the way the culture and media often treat it. When a woman is raped or a child is sexually abused, they don’t just shake it off and go on as if they were merely mugged. Our sexuality goes way beyond what is physical, and we see that especially in the realm of sexual abuse.
RNS: Word on the street is that your church is becoming “gay-friendly,” whatever that means. Knowing you as well as I do, it struck me as odd that you would write an entire book on the subject without addressing the LGBT community. Was that an oversight or on purpose?
AS: That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked. When I taught this content to our churches, I met with about 13 of our attenders who are apart of the LGBT community. I met with them to ask lots of questions, including their response to the series because I did not address the LGBT community directly. It was unanimous that they thought it was helpful and shared some of the stuff they learned.
But I asked them if they wished I would have addressed them specifically since all of my illustrations and teaching assumed heterosexual relationships. These men and women unanimously said “no.” They said that in the LGBT community, when they attend church, they are accustomed to contextualizing all the relationship teaching anyway.
RNS: Is it true that when you taught this content to your church, you talked about “bitches” and “hos” on Mother’s Day. Did people get up and leave?
AS: Twenty years ago, most of us considered pornography a pastime, not a pathway. There was not that much information about the addictive nature of porn. This is especially prevalent with men. For the guy who says, “This is just entertainment, and there isn’t anything morally wrong with that,” then I say, “You apparently think that a real body isn’t enough for you. And your girlfriend’s body or your wife’s body is not enough for you.” If you’re going to get married, you should tell your fiancé that. It sounds absurd, but if porn is going to be part of your life, you need to tell the other person that. I challenge guys face to face and have told our whole congregation this, and they are aghast. But why not be honest? Men don’t want women to bring secrets into the relationship, why shouldn’t we be open as well.
RNS: You say that “love is unnatural.” A lot of people would say love is inherent to who we are as humans and one of the most natural things we can feel or express or do. What do you mean by that phrase?
AS: Love is natural in terms of a feeling, but not in terms of doing. You used them in the same sentence, but they are different things. The natural part of love is the feeling and chemistry part, but the doing part of love is unnatural. The feeling part is “we love the same music and restaurants and we can talk for hours.” The doing part of love is patience, self-control, and selflessness, and putting others first. The kind of love that goes the distance doesn’t come naturally to us.