NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Charles Stanley said he unequivocally supports the newly revised Baptist Faith and Message while charging that a Charlotte, N.C. newspaper reporter “twisted and distorted” his position on the BF&M and female pastors.
“I absolutely support the Baptist Faith and Message,” Stanley told Baptist Press, referring specifically to language that reserves the role of pastor for a man. “We don’t even have women deacons in our church. I wouldn’t have that. Our church wouldn’t tolerate that.”
Stanley, 67, is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Church, Atlanta. His In Touch radio and television ministry is seen and heard around the world.
A story in the June 28 edition of the Charlotte Observer reported that Stanley disagreed with the SBC for taking a stand against women leading the church.
Stanley’s comments were made following a luncheon with Charlotte pastors to promote an August In Touch Rally. “I haven’t given an interview in 15 years,” he said. “I learned my lesson.”
“I thought we were going to talk about the upcoming rally,” Stanley said. “But he asked me about the SBC’s vote on women pastors. I told him ‘yes’ I would vote with the rest of the presidents.”
“And I also told him that I would not be a member of a church with a woman pastor,” Stanley added.
Stanley acknowledged he told the reporter, “There are some godly women out there … I would never say that a woman could not preach.”
However, he noted there is a difference between being a pastor and a preacher.
The Charlotte account told the story of Stanley’s conversion by a “fiery female preacher in 1944 in Danville, Va.”
Stanley said the newspaper’s account was wrong. “The lady was not a pastor. She was an evangelist,” he said. “And she wasn’t fiery. She was quiet.”
He also took the newspaper to task for its interview with James Merritt, president of the SBC and pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga. In the story, Merritt responded to Stanley’s alleged comments.
“It was evident that he [the reporter] was trying to pit the two of us against each other,” Stanley said. “Dr. Merritt is a good man and I agreed with his election. If I had been at the convention, I would have voted for him.”
In a follow up story that appeared in the July 1 issue of the Charlotte Observer, Stanley’s observations about his divorce were aired.
According to the May 23 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Anna Stanley filed a petition as “A.J. Stanley” requesting a divorce from “C.F. Stanley” on Feb. 16 charging their marriage of 44 years was “irretrievably broken.” An Atlanta judge signed the final decree May 11 following the execution of a property agreement by the Stanleys April 5.
The Stanleys troubled marriage was made public in the 1990s and caused some struggles in the church because of an unwritten policy that First Baptist not allow divorced men to serve as ministers or deacons.
Stanley told the congregation in 1995, “If my wife divorces me, I would resign immediately.”
However, during a May 21 service, Gerald Spicer, the church’s administrator, told the congregation Stanley would remain as senior pastor. The congregation overwhelmingly approved the decision.
Some religious leaders and pundits have taken Stanley to task for what they perceived as a change of heart on the issue of stepping down.
Stanley concedes he made the statement. “When I said that I was in the midst of the most painful time of my life,” he told Baptist Press. “We were going through great difficulty in the church and some people tried to take over the leadership of the church.”
“I did make that statement,” he added. “But it was for that particular time and that circumstance. I did not mean that I would necessarily do that [resign] in the future.”
“The whole issue is one of obeying God,” he said. “I made that statement based on the circumstances of that time. I explained it to the congregation and they were satisfied with that.”
“I would never make a decision today about events in years to come about which I did not know the circumstances or the will of God,” he added.
While Stanley is bound by legal stipulations and cannot talk about the particulars of the divorce, he maintains a good relationship with his former wife. “We aren’t angry at each other,” he said. “God has given me unusual grace to walk through all this. She’s been gone for seven years and God has sustained me, strengthened me, and blessed me.”
As far as attacks from the media, both secular and religious, Stanley suggested that Satan will “take advantage of anything to disrupt the ministry.”
He said that the last four years of his ministry have been the greatest in his 31 years as pastor at First Baptist and he excitedly shared results of the church’s spiritual harvest.
“We baptized 275 people so far this year,” he said enthusiastically. “Every area of the ministry is increasing and I couldn’t do anything but praise the Lord for what is happening. The same thing is happening at In Touch. In Touch is available to over 3 billion people in the world. Naturally, Satan will do anything to try and shut us up.”
Still, he doesn’t harbor bad feelings towards those who’ve criticized his decisions.
“I hold no ill will for people who disagree with me or the things I say,” he said. “I do what God wants me to do and move on. That’s my perspective on things.”
As for the future, Stanley said he has no plans to retire. “My purpose is to get the truth of the gospel to as many people as possible. That’s what I’m living for and as long as the Lord will give me the strength and energy, that’s what I will do.”