Award to Charles Stanley angers Jews who support LGBT rights

Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, and founder of In Touch Ministries, thanks U.S. Soldiers and their families for their service to the nation during his speech at the All American Chapel of Fort Bragg, N.C., on Nov. 6, 2013.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

(RNS) Decrying Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley’s “sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions,” a gay Jewish group is protesting the Jewish National Fund for plans to bestow a high honor on Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Atlanta and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Stanley, who rose to national prominence in the 1980s with his “In Touch” television series and books that sold millions of copies, “has publicly called AIDS God’s punishment for America’s acceptance of homosexuality and called homosexuality ‘destructive behavior,’” reads a letter to JNF Southeast region leaders from the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN).

Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, and founder of In Touch Ministries, thanks U.S. Soldiers and their families for their service to the nation during his speech at the All American Chapel of Fort Bragg, N.C., on Nov. 6, 2013.

Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, and founder of In Touch Ministries, thanks U.S. Soldiers and their families for their service to the nation during his speech at the All American Chapel of Fort Bragg, N.C., on Nov. 6, 2013.

“He has said that ‘God does not agree with the lifestyle of the homosexual’ and that accepting gay people is ‘an act of disobedience to God,’” the letter continues.

The controversy reflects the sometimes awkward embrace between American Jews and evangelicals — fervent partners in support of Israel but also outspoken opponents on many domestic social issues, including homosexuality and abortion rights.

Though not known as a culture warrior in the mold of the late Jerry Falwell or televangelist Pat Robertson, Stanley, 82, nonetheless recently joined an amicus brief at the Supreme Court that warned that nationwide legalized gay marriage would result in government actions to “silence religious dissenters who continue to hold to their millennia-old definition of marriage.”

Stanley led the Southern Baptist Convention from 1984 to 1986, and his son, Andy Stanley, leads the 30,000-member North Point Ministries in Alpharetta, Ga., ranked last year as the nation’s largest megachurch.

The award to be given to Stanley at an April 23 breakfast in Atlanta is coming from the group’s Atlanta office, not the JNF’s national headquarters in New York. JNF national spokesman Adam Brill defended the Atlanta chapter’s right to award it and said he has heard from both supporters and opponents.

“Not everybody is going to agree with what we do at all times, but what we do at all times is for the benefit of the people in the land of Israel,” Brill said.

The elder Stanley, who has led First Baptist since 1971, has taken many in his flock to Israel and is frequently a featured speaker at events sponsored by Christians United for Israel.

In a statement provided by Brill, JNF said Stanley “represents one of the largest Christian communities in the South which has always supported the Jewish people in times of peace and conflict.”

Stanley’s ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last summer, during the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the statement continued, “when few would travel to Israel, hundreds of congregants from the First Baptist Church Atlanta went to stand united with the people of Israel. For such heroic actions, we honor this esteemed community, our neighbors in love.”

Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director of Atlanta-based SOJOURN, said that most of Atlanta’s Jewish community is “incredibly supportive” of LGBT rights and that the JNF’s decision stands in stark contrast to that consensus. More than 50 people have signed the SOJOURN letter, Stapel-Wax said.

At the same Atlanta breakfast in years past, JNF has honored Holocaust survivors and Israeli diplomat Reda Mansour, a Druze who served as consul general in Atlanta.

JNF, in addition to ecological work, sponsors Zionism education programs, promotes tourism and helps build Jewish communities in Israel. Some pro-Palestinian groups say JNF has been complicit in Israeli appropriation of Palestinian lands, a charge JNF has denied, pointing to conservation projects with Israeli Arabs.

Video courtesy of In Touch Ministries via YouTube

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


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  • While praise may not be necessary for Stanley, he stands with the entire Scripture which condemns homosexuality in no uncertain terms.
    If those who call themselves religious believers don’t agree with Scripture or Stanley, they are lying to themselves. And we know who the father of lies is! They choose to believe what they wish, regardless of Scriptural evidence to the contrary. In short, homosexuality is wrong, brothers and sisters. It may stem from a variety of sources, but it’s still wrong to act on it. Celibacy is demanded.

  • Nice try, but the Jewish National Fund’s focus is and should continue to be on supporting the continued survival of the State of Israel, especially today, when Israel’s traditional supporters on the left are getting weak-kneed because a Democratic president is insisting that a terrible deal with Iran trumps the security concerns of the majority of Israelis.

    So maybe if the gay protestors would tell their left-wing comrades at the White House and elsewhere to stop bullying Israel and quit making insane agreements with her mortal enemy, they will get a hearing on why folks like Stanley should not be invited. Until the left gets its damned act together in supporting Israel, you had better believe Israel and her friends will not hesitate to partner with people with a life-time’s worth of dedication to Israel, even though they disagree on domestic issues.

  • It is difficult to believe that people still believe in Charles Stanley. His own son, who has built a huge church does not agree with his father. Since there are people who are so interested in him maybe someone should write a well documented book about this character. Frankly, it would probably not help those who have been so well manipulated by him for over fifty years.

  • Rev, how would you like it if someone wrote a book about your character? Most people instinctively recognize that “tell-all” books often tell us more about the author than about his or her subject.

  • I agree with Sr.Geraldine’s comment 100%. People against homosexual acts needn’t be so “over the top” with their hellfire condemnation of it, or calling AIDS a curse from God, etc.

    Stated simply, it is sin…..aggravated even more by blessing same sex couples as “married”. Loving the homosexual person is our duty from God, but acknowledging their union as a marriage is beyond comprehension. It should never be a debate in any credible religion. Giving in to social pressure is heretical and an insult to God.

  • So do we all, Reverend. I just have a gut-level distaste for the kind of book you’ve suggested, no matter who the subject is.

  • Well, one thing’s for sure, James. The willingness of radical activists not to stop at gay marriage but to go on to assault the heart of the First Amendment is a “teachable moment” for the nation.

    This totalitarian move suggests that once again, what motivates the radical Left is not any one issue per se, but a broader assault on constitutional liberty and its eventual replacement by a government that knows few bounds or limits.

  • ..and this is why Christian Zionists are such strange bedfellows at American Jewish political gatherings.

    They always seem to forget that Israel’s and (generally Jewish) interests are far more than just the right wing and Haredi. Christian Zionists can usually barely contain their contempt for religious beliefs besides their own. They have a tough time dealing with the fact that different faiths, even ones who are working with them, have different ideas about the same subject.

    Yes political interests align many times, but not much more.

  • There is no hellfire or place of eternal torment forever, just the common grave of mankind, where those “sleeping on death” are not aware of anything at all (Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10; John 11:1-44). Nothing to worry about there!