Charles Stanley, well-known preacher and evangelical broadcaster, dies at 90

The Rev. Charles F. Stanley, who used his skills as an orator and the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Atlanta to launch an evangelical global broadcasting empire, died Tuesday at his Atlanta home.

Stanley was the founder of In Touch Ministries, a global evangelical broadcasting powerhouse, and for more than 50 years pastored at First Baptist Church, considered one of metro Atlanta’s leading megachurches.

His sermons are produced by In Touch Ministries and are broadcast in 180 nations and translated into 55 languages.

“Our hearts are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Charles Stanley,” according to a statement from First Baptist Church of Atlanta. “In this time of loss, we are comforted in knowing that his faith has now become sight. The glories of heaven are now his, a reality he taught us and millions of others around the world throughout his years of faithful preaching.

Stanley was “a broadcasting legend,” said Troy Miller, president of the National Religious Broadcasters Association (NRB), an association of Christian broadcasters.

In 1988, Stanley was inducted into the NRB Hall of Fame.

Also a prolific writer, Stanley authored more than 70 books, several landing on the New York Times bestseller list. He brought many closer to their faith with daily devotional readings, prayers and practical advice.

“No one can deny his worldwide influence,” said the Rev. James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth. Merritt, like Stanley, is a former Southern Baptist Convention president. “He’s always been known as a man who preached the Word of God. His message was centralized around knowing and doing the will of God.”

Despite his successes, the stalwart conservative Stanley faced controversy in his ministry and personal life.

He served two terms as SBC president from 1984 to 1986 and led the denomination during one of its most turbulent times, the so-called “conservative resurgence.” Theological conservatives swept moderates out of leadership position and moved the nation’s largest Protestant denomination further to the right on many cultural and political issues.

Stanley was elected in 1984, but it was his second election in 1985 that is considered a watershed moment.

The 1985 election was bolstered by a last-minute telegram of support from Billy Graham.

“After Stanley’s election, the battle subsided and eventually the moderates moved on from the fight or away from the denomination,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois.

A very public separation from his wife of more than 40 years, Anna Stanley, in the 1990s and, divorce in 2000 drew shock and condemnation among some Southern Baptists, who considered divorce to be a sin.

On another front, Stanley stuck to his conservative beliefs about marriage, drawing criticism from some for his public stance against same-sex marriage and his comments describing homosexuality as “destructive behavior.”

Stanley decided to step down as senior pastor at First Baptist in September 2020, around his 88th birthday. He was named pastor emeritus and told the church he wasn’t retiring but rather than dividing his time between the church and In Touch Ministries.

“We were right in the middle of COVID, and every time I prayed, I felt a conviction that God was going to open many doors for ‘In Touch’ and that my focus should be there,” he said in October 2022. But even at 90, Stanley continued to come into the office once a week to check in with the leadership team. He had not recorded a new full sermon since 2020, although he did record shorter messages.

“I’ve found that at any age, and especially when you are my age, you have to keep planning and having goals,” he said.

Before coming to Atlanta, Stanley was pastor at churches in North Carolina, Ohio and Florida. He came to First Baptist in 1969 as associate pastor and was elected senior pastor in 1971. But he wasn’t a shoo-in. Some members of the executive committee opposed Stanley’s elevation to the top spot.

At one point, a member of the committee suggested a cash offer to Stanley to leave, he wrote in his book “The Source of My Strength.”

He declined. The fight dragged on for months, even sinking to a moment when one member struck him in the jaw. Eventually, though, the majority of members voted to confirm him as senior pastor.

His popularity skyrocketed on the strength of his preaching and the church grew, eventually drawing in more than 10,000 members

Stanley was born Sept. 25, 1932, in Dry Fork, Virginia, near Danville during the height of the Great Depression.

Times were tough, money was tight for the small family, and then tragedy struck. His father, the son of a Pentecostal evangelist worked in a textile mill but died of kidney disease when Stanley was nine months old. He was raised by his mother, Rebecca, a factory worker. They moved 17 times in the first 16 years of his life. He wrote about spending time with his grandfather and their conversations about obeying God.

By the time he was 12, Stanley said he recognized what God was calling him to do.

“I consider the gift Jesus has given — dying on the cross to forgive our sins and restore our relationship with God — the greatest gift ever given,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Why wouldn’t I want to give my life sharing that with others?”

Stanley earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Richmond in Virginia and a bachelor’s of divinity degree from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He later went on to earn additional degrees from Luther Rice Seminary in Georgia.

In 1972, he made his first move into broadcast ministry with a program, “The Chapel Hour,” which aired on two Atlanta television stations. The show was later renamed “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley,” and went nationwide in 1978 after the Christian Broadcasting Network contacted Stanley, looking for a practical, Bible-teaching program for its new satellite distribution network.

The broadcast grew from 16,000 local viewers to a nationwide reach in just one week.This led to Stanley incorporating In Touch Ministries as a separate non-profit in 1982 to carry his broadcasts, according to information supplied by In Touch.

Stanley had another passion — photography. He loved particularly photographing nature.

Tim Olive, a professional photographer and a longtime member of First Baptist, called Stanley a natural. Olive’s father was a pastor and photographer, so he understood what photography meant to Stanley.

“We wanted to do something he could really concentrate on so he could refresh himself and recharge. It was a retreat for him.”

Stanley is survived by his son Andy Stanley, founding and senior pastor of North Point Ministries; daughter Becky Stanley Brodersen; six grandchildren; and half-sister Susie Cox. His former wife, Anna Johnson Stanley, preceded him in death in 2014.

Memorial services will be a private, family-only gathering. For the public, Stanley will lie in repose from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church Atlanta, 4400 North Peachtree Rd.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to In Touch Ministries.

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