These days, Christian speakers have to carefully consider not just what they say—but those they say it alongside.
From packed-stadium conferences and denominational events to church retreats and ministry webinars, evangelical audiences pay attention to the names and faces getting platformed. These lineups can serve as organizational endorsements and offer followers an introduction to new voices worth paying attention to.
But today’s evangelicals are also sensitive to theological shifts among the leaders they follow. If they notice a popular speaker appearing alongside someone with a notably different stance—on same-sex marriage, women in ministry, spiritual gifts, prosperity gospel, salvation, sacraments, Scripture—is it a sign of softening views or compromising convictions?
These questions can get adjudicated online, as when Francis Chan defended sharing a stage with Benny Hinn because, he said, “it seems more effective to speak where there is less Bible teaching” than at an event where all the others agree with him.
Bible teacher Jackie Hill Perry didn’t realize how big a deal it would be for evangelical followers when she appeared with charismatic leaders, including from Bethel, at an event in 2019. Thinking back on the criticism, she emphasizes how the message communicates more about where a person stands than the fellow speakers do.
“You will see some people that become less honest, less bold, less biblical, less courageous, less plain when they go into particular spaces. You see that they’re actually coddling the environment instead of confronting the environment. I do think that’s a concern that we should have,” she told CT.
“I think we have to ask better questions before we make broad assumptions. And I don’t think that a lineup is the best framework for trustworthiness. I think it’s the content of the message and the life of the person. You know a tree by its fruit, not necessarily what fliers they are on.”
Some of the scrutiny today’s speakers face may be genuine curiosity and discernment, and some may come out of social media callout culture. But as speakers seek to preach the gospel in all corners, to build bridges across the body of Christ, they find themselves having to consider what they communicate to their followers by where they choose to appear.
CT asked six Christians, including Perry, about when and whether they’d speak alongside Christian leader who come from a different theological tradition or stance.
Karen Swallow Prior, writer and professor
I’m quite comfortable participating in Christian conferences and events in which the lineup includes those with whom I disagree. In fact, this is probably true of most of the events where I speak. But framing matters. If the context is such that different views are the nature of the conference, then I wouldn’t hesitate to take part. In fact, I’m usually eager to present my own convictions in such places.
Where it can get tricky is a context in which my presence comes with the added weight of legitimizing an organization that has problems beyond mere theological disagreement. I have learned I need to be discerning about the difference between being heard and being used. It can be a fine line.
Years ago, I appeared on a panel on faith and sexuality. I was asked to come to speak for the traditional view. People who didn’t attend or do any research on the matter used my presence there to misrepresent and malign me. That experience opened my eyes about the current state of the church and public discourse but did not alter the way I make decisions about where I speak. It rather made me more determined to speak in spaces where views are not uniform.
Jackie Hill Perry, Bible teacher and author
It’s not even just the speakers that are invited but also the church or conference that is inviting the speakers. If it’s a trustworthy organization, I’m more gracious in being able to share platforms with particular people. Yet, at the same time, there are some people who … stray from biblical orthodoxy in such a way that I don’t even want to affirm their position by being on the same lineup.
I did have a recent situation where I was invited to speak, and it was something that I would not necessarily go into because everybody on the platform is dishonest about the Bible. I prayed and I asked people’s counsel and wisdom. I had an older woman say, “How many minutes did they give you?” I said, “10 minutes.” “How many minutes did they give everybody else?” “45.” “So they’re not even giving you space to actually teach the gospel in a way that would be authentic to what God has called you to do.”
If they have given me the space in the room to make God’s truth as I see it available, then I’m gonna take full advantage of those opportunities to preach in spaces that would not otherwise hear that kind of communication. … I have never been one to want to—what’s the saying?—preach to the choir. I don’t think God has called me to just be a truth teller or a communicator to one denomination or one tradition or one ethnic group. Everybody needs to hear the truth.
Christine Caine, founder of A21 and Propel
When it comes to speaking at evangelistic events globally … more often than not I’m the only woman speaking in such contexts, and because it is important to me that young women have role models, I am willing to take the platform alongside people who have a different perspective on women’s roles in the church. This is a secondary issue for me. The major consideration is that we agree on the gospel message we are proclaiming.
When it comes to Christian conferences, I really depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit to guide me on what invitations to accept. I speak at events that span the breadth of the church, including evangelical, Pentecostal, nondenominational, and charismatic spaces. … For me, I’m happy to differ on secondary issues with speakers at the same event, but it is important to me that there is no confusion about our agreement on doctrines that are essential to salvation—these are gospel issues: creedal beliefs, the normative divine inspiration of Scripture, the explicit moral law taught in Scripture.
I feel a responsibility toward those I’m impacting and do not want to cause any confusion about where I stand in these primary beliefs. I also believe they are so important that I would be unlikely to accept an invitation to speak at a Christian conference focused on discipleship where there were other speakers who did not hold the same primary beliefs.
Jessica Hooten Wilson, author and Pepperdine University professor
Did Jesus sit at the table with tax collectors? Yes. Did Jesus dine with Pharisees? Yes. But Jesus publicly denounced the latter and accepted the penitence of the former.
When I am considering people with whom I am speaking alongside at an event, their witness must match their lives. If they proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord in one word but then uplift American exceptionalism, white supremacy, or male preeminence, then I will not be standing beside them on a stage.
However, there are those who have come to different conclusions from me about scriptural interpretation on sexuality, women’s roles in leadership, or transubstantiation, just as a few examples. I have no issue with walking alongside fellow sinners as we humbly try to figure out God’s Word together and how to live it out well.
All that to say, I’m a repentant “tax collector.” I don’t want to endorse or become a Pharisee.
Sean McDowell, apologist and Biola University professor
It can be healthy and strategic to speak alongside others with different views. Yet I consider a few questions before accepting such invitations. First, what is the purpose of the conference? If it is on leadership, for example, then worldview differences might not matter. I want to be sure I can support the larger goal of the conference.
Second, are my differences with other speakers critical or noncritical to the faith? If there are critical differences, then I would only share a stage if I can articulate my views freely and clearly. I have been in situations where I am in the minority theological view on consequential issues. My goals are to be winsome, gracious, firm, and to break down assumptions many may have about me so they might re-think their positions.
Third, who are the other speakers? If I am confident they will be fair and charitable, even though we differ significantly, I would be far more likely to accept.
Matthew Lee Anderson, author and Baylor University professor
Christians desperately need to recover “scandal” as a category for understanding how to make these sorts of decisions. In 1 Corinthians 8:9, Paul suggests that eating meat sacrificed to idols ought not be done if it will be a “stumbling block” or scandal to a fellow believer—that is, if eating meat will incline them to think that the gods are real and so participate in pagan worship.
A speaker who objects to women pastors might communicate that the question is not important if they speak alongside someone who endorses them, and so weaken their congregations’ adherence to that particular conviction (scandalize them, that is).
Such a framework means that such decisions cannot be made in the abstract: the stakes for scandalizing a community always depend upon what the conference is about, how forcefully a speaker has communicated their convictions in advance, and what they intend to say from the stage.