Dr. Charles Stanley and his son, Andy – both well-known Georgia pastors – have each caught attention this week for their views on homosexuality.
The elder Stanley, 82, is the long time pastor of First Baptist Atlanta and founder of In Touch Ministries. This week, he declined to accept an award from the Jewish National Fund in Atlanta – an event he was slated to attend tomorrow. Criticism swelled over the selection of Stanley due to his Biblical views on homosexuality – pulled from his sermons and many written works -which had become a “concern” for members of the local Jewish and LGBT communities.
According to JNF spokesman Adam Brill, Stanley informed the organization that due to “…his deep love for Israel, and his reluctance to be a point of controversy and conflict within the Jewish community, he has declined to be recognized at the Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast in Atlanta.”
On Friday, the younger Stanley – pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia – spoke at the Catalyst West event at Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif., where he stated that the local church should be the “safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything, including same-sex attraction.”
Catalyst – described on its website as “a community of change makers” – was founded by Andy Stanley and a small group of church leaders, with a focus on reaching pastors under the age of 40. The Atlanta-based organization holds annual events locally, as well as in Orange County, Calif. and Dallas, Texas.
At the Catalyst event last week, Stanley, 56, stated that he knew there were a variety of views on homosexuality and gay marriage among those in the audience.
“There is not consensus in this room when it comes to same-sex attraction. There is not consensus in this room when it comes to gay marriage,” he said.
But his father, Charles, has preached for decades that consensus isn’t relevant – it’s the Word of God that is true and unchanging. His dedication to accurately preaching God’s word is what caused his recognition to come into question, and ultimately, caused his forfeiture of the JNF award.
In a letter to the JNF earlier this month, the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) called on the organization to reverse their decision to honor Stanley, whom they called an “anti-gay Baptist preacher.”
“Dr. Stanley has a sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions,” the letter reads. “He has publicly called AIDS God’s punishment for America’s acceptance of homosexuality and called homosexuality ‘destructive behavior.’ Dr. Stanley is an offensive and unsuitable choice for the Tree of Life Award.”
The elder Stanley has been preaching in Atlanta since 1971, and for over half a century has dedicated his life to the spreading of the gospel. After founding In Touch nearly 40 years ago, his sermons are broadcast world-wide, he has authored more than 60 books and reaches many through his ministry’s website. But according to SOJOURN, his life’s calling amounts to nothing due to his Biblical stance on homosexuality, and the JNF choosing him as the recipient of their Tree of Life Award was a blunder.
“Please do the right thing and acknowledge the mistake that was made, make amends with the LGBT/progressive Jewish community that is so invested in JNF’s success, and use this as an opening for meaningful dialogue,” the letter ends.
While Dr. Stanley remains dedicated to the Biblical principles that have guided his ministry for many years, his son treads lightly while gaining cultural acceptance through his “Your Move” television show – which airs 20 minutes after Saturday Night Live in Atlanta – and his new book “The New Rules For Love, Sex and Dating.””One of the reasons I wrote this book was to challenge singles to at least consider, ‘Maybe I need to prepare,'” Stanley said. “My purpose in writing this book was not to push a religious or even my Christian agenda on people. Obviously, I’m a Christian I take the New Testament so seriously, but I think there are some broad principles that increase everyone’s relational experience.”
While both father and son preach and minister under the belief that God’s word is without error, the younger Stanley has gained popularity as he moves further into the mega-church spotlight. His congregation has surpassed 30,000, and he continues to seek opportunities to become part of the mainstream.
His organization, Catalyst, has a very vague approach to the spreading of the gospel, stating that “We must advance from a current reality to a desired state. We are the leaders, doers, influencers and storytellers, innovators, cultural architects and social entrepreneurs….You’re invited to join this community of change makers.”
And his comments on homosexuality leave out Biblical references or concern for the soul, and instead focus on acceptance.
“We just need to decide, regardless of what you think about this topic – no more students are going to feel like they have to leave the local church because they’re same-sex attracted or because they’re gay,” he said at last week’s conference. “That ends with us.”
As the winds of cultural change howl through the American church, the interpretations of father and son on the Biblical view of homosexuality, as well as the ministerial path each is on, is parting like the Red Sea.