His father once hired armed security guards on horseback to keep gay Atlanta pride marchers away from his church. But his son, the founder of one of the largest churches in America, espouses compassion.
That's got to make family gatherings a little strained for Charles Stanley, the anti-gay senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta, and his son, Andy, who has turned Alpharetta-based North Point Ministries into one of the largest churches in the country.
Last month, Charles Stanley was mired in a controversy of his own making when LGBT activists objected to the Jewish National Fund honoring him. The dustup – he finally refused the honor – recycled Stanley's years of nasty, anti-gay rhetoric and antics.
The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity summed them up like this:
Dr. Stanley has a sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions. He has publicly called AIDS God’s punishment for America’s acceptance of homosexuality and called homosexuality “destructive behavior.” He has incorrectly claimed that being gay is a choice and stated that “medical research has proven, absolutely unquestionably, that the person can be free from homosexuality if they want to.” 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.” And at one time, acting on his convictions, Dr. Stanley hired armed guards on horseback to roam the streets in order to keep gay pride marchers away from his church and distant from his congregants.
Andy Stanley was making headlines too, but for advocating that churches stop pushing out their LGBT members and “take a break” from the culture wars.
“We just need to decide from now on in our churches when a Middle School kid comes out to his small group leader or a high school young lady comes out to her parents,” said Stanley. “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. That ends with us.”
Stanley acknowledged that there was a diversity of views on homosexuality and gay marriage among his audience, but felt that regardless of these differences churches, as a collective, can create safe space for gay youth.
“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,” said Stanley.
“We just can't continue to look into the filter of our politics at our spirituality. Its got to be the other way around … and specifically when it comes to this issue.”
The remarks came during Catalyst West, an event series for pastors under 40 that Stanley helped start. But it's not the first time that the younger Stanley has veered from his father's anti-gay preaching. Andy Stanley's recent book, “The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating” avoids directly-tackling LGBT issues, which he chose to do after consulting with LGBT members of his church.
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.
Stanley even suggests that conservatives leave Jesus out of debates over controversial “religious freedom” bills seen in several states, including Georgia.
Evangelical pastor Andy Stanley leads North Point Ministries, the second largest church in the U.S. He told me he finds it “offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law.” He said, “Serving people we don't see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn't see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn't want to sell its products to a gay couple, it's their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”
Christians serve unrepentant murderers through prison ministry. So why can't they provide a service for a same-sex marriage?
Some claim it's because marriage is so sacred. But double standards abound. Christian bakers don't interrogate wedding clients to make sure their behavior comports with the Bible. If they did, they'd be out of business. Stanley said, “Jesus taught that if a person is divorced and gets remarried, it's adultery. So if (Christians) don't have a problem doing business with people getting remarried, why refuse to do business with gays and lesbians.”