(RNS) — Charles Stanley, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, Atlanta preacher and longtime presence as a religious broadcaster, died Tuesday (April 18) at age 90, his ministry announced.
“We are saddened to share that our beloved pastor, Dr. Charles Stanley, has passed away,” reads a statement on the website of In Touch Ministries. “We are forever indebted to him for his godly example, biblical teaching, and devotion to the gospel. Please join us in prayer for the Stanley family.”
The Dry Fork, Virginia, native felt called to ministry as a teenager and, after pastorates in North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, led First Baptist Atlanta as its senior pastor starting in 1971. The next year, he began his broadcast ministry with “The Chapel Hour,” a 30-minute program on two Atlanta television stations.
It was renamed “In Touch With Dr. Charles Stanley” and became a nationwide broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1978.
By the 1980s, “In Touch” reached more than 1 million households, his website said. At the time of Stanley’s death, his messages were heard in more than 127 languages on TV and radio, making him one of the longest-serving pastors with a continuous weekly broadcast program.
“Dr. Stanley leaves behind a lasting legacy as a torch-bearer and trailblazer of Gospel ministry and Christian broadcasting,” said Troy A. Miller, president of National Religious Broadcasters, in a statement. “We were blessed to have such a faithful servant of the Lord as a veteran NRB member and a faithful supporter and encourager of the work of NRB. Our condolences and prayers are with Dr. Stanley’s family. Although we mourn his loss in this life, it is a joy to know that he is with his Lord and Savior.”
Stanley was inducted into the NRB Hall of Fame in 1988.
A couple of years before that, he served two consecutive one-year terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, presiding over its largest meetings and helping to lead the so-called conservative resurgence, when conservative leaders took control of the denomination from moderates.
Current Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber tweeted about Stanley’s longtime influence.
“Condolences to the family of Charles Stanley, former SBC President, Conservative Resurgence leader, nationally-known preacher, and successful author,” Barber wrote. “As a teenaged preacher, I was reading Charles Stanley resources.”
Added evangelist Greg Laurie in a tweet: “Charles Stanley went to Heaven today. He made his mark on this world for the Gospel and his incredible teaching of God’s Word. I like so many others was blessed by hearing his messages on the radio and TV and he was a trusted voice we have all been encouraged by.”
Younger and older Christian leaders weighed in about Stanley’s prominence, with evangelist Nick Hall calling him a “hero of the faith” and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson calling his colleague “an effective evangelist.”
“Stanley had a straightforward take on how to live the Christian life — trust Scripture and obey God,” Dobson added. “That simple mantra undergirds his legacy and no doubt is reflected in the faith of countless Christians who have been impacted by his ministry.”
The author of dozens of books was recognized by people in the grassroots as well as in the highest echelons of American society.
“I read every morning, the Bible and Scriptures and Charles Stanley devotionals,” President George W. Bush said in a 2003 interview with Ladies’ Home Journal. “It matters a lot to me personally.”
Stanley’s rise in influence came after a difficult young life. When he was 9 months old, his father died. Young Stanley’s mother remarried when he was 9, but he said her new husband spurned him.
“And if somebody would have said, ‘Well, that didn’t bother you did it?’ I probably would have said ‘no,’” he told Religion News Service in a 2014 interview about his book “Emotions: Confront the Lies. Conquer With Truth.”
“But years later, I realized that those years of rejection as a kid really sunk deep into me. Finally, after a lot of praying and having some friends of mine speak with me about it, I was able to get over that rejection.”
In 2015, Stanley, whose views criticizing homosexuality and same-sex marriage mirrored that of many Southern Baptists, declined an award he had planned to accept from the Jewish National Fund in Atlanta. After many Jews opposed him receiving the honor, Stanley chose to turn down the award, citing his love for Israel and the strife the award was causing in the Jewish community, according to the JNF.
As recently as 2010, Stanley ranked among the most influential preachers, behind evangelist Billy Graham and pastor and author Charles Swindoll. He and Rick Warren, then pastor of Saddleback Church, were each listed third in a Lifeway Research survey.
In 2000, Stanley and his first wife, Anna, divorced after 44 years of marriage. Chuck Colson, then chairman of Prison Fellowship, decried the acceptance of Stanley’s “moral failure,” but the Rev. Gearl Spicer, administrative pastor for First Baptist Atlanta at the time, said, “It is my biblical, spiritual, and personal conviction that God has positioned Dr. Stanley in a place where his personal pain has validated his ability to minister to all of us.”
Stanley, known as a spokesman for conservative family values, at one time had told his congregation he would resign if he divorced, but later he determined he’d continue to be its leader.
“The love you have shown me and the love I have for you have encouraged me to remain faithful to God’s call on my life,” Stanley told his congregants.
Among his survivors is his son, Andy Stanley, founding and senior pastor of North Point Ministries, who like his father has been a popular Christian author and an influential pastor in the Atlanta area.
Charles Stanley became First Baptist Atlanta’s pastor emeritus in 2020, after serving the megachurch for 50 years in its top role.
“As much as I love being your pastor, I know in my heart this season has come to an end,” the senior Stanley said at the time.
“I’ll continue to preach the gospel as long as God allows, and my goal remains the same: to get the truth of the gospel to as many people as possible as quickly as possible in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God.”
When he spoke with RNS in 2014, Stanley, who was known for his photography as well as his preaching, said he did not fear death.
“No, I don’t, for the simple reason that God makes it clear in his Word: ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord,’ for those of us who know Christ as Savior,” he said, citing a verse from the New Testament Book of 2 Corinthians. “And the fact that Jesus died at Calvary, and his blood shed for us paid our sin debt in full, there is no reason to fear death. So I don’t.”