For years I’ve heard the whispers about what happened between Andy Stanley, one of the most famous and influential pastors and leaders, and his father Charles Stanley, equally famous and possibly even more influential. These two famously large preaching personalities had parted ways years back amid a divorce between Charles and his wife, Andy’s mom. Some say that Charles had an affair that broke up his marriage and never even missed a day in the pulpit through the whole thing. Some say that his mom had literally lost her mind and it was all her fault. The truth is something that most of us will never know exactly what broke up the marriage of the two time president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and how it tore apart his family – which is probably right given that it’s not really our business. But I’ve always kind of wondered.
CNN ran a story yesterday that gives a rare peek inside the relationship between Andy Stanley and his famous father, how it played out, and how they stuck together. It’s a pretty moving story and it’s well worth the read. I know that there is always another side to every story, and that this article puts these two leaders in the best possible light. I know from experience how leaders can bifurcate their lives so completely that their rhetoric sounds great, but their actions simple don’t match up. I’m not changing my mind on the megachurch – in fact I cannot help but feel compassion for these two men. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live under the weight of all that pressure, scrutiny, and demand. I do not think the megachurch model is a healthy model. Sadly this sort of implosion seems more like the rule than the exception.
Still I think this is a redemptive story and I’m glad they gave the access to CNN to write it up. Here’s an excerpt:
“Alpharetta, Georgia (CNN) — Andy Stanley walked into his pastor’s office, filled with dread. The minister sat in a massive chair behind an enormous desk. He spread his arms across the desk as if he were bracing for battle. His secretary scurried out of the office when she saw Andy coming. The pastor had baptized Andy when he was 6, and groomed him to be his successor. But a private trauma had gone public. And Andy felt compelled to speak. The minister stared in silence as Andy gave him the news. The “unspoken dream” both men shared was over. After Andy finished, the pastor looked at him as tears welled up.
“Andy,” he said, “you have joined my enemies, and I’m your father.”
‘I understand drive-by shootings’
He won’t wear a suit or a tie in the pulpit. There’s no special parking space reserved for him at his church. Everyone calls him “Andy.” As a teenager, Andy decided he was going to be a rock star after seeing Elton John perform live. Today he has found fame, and infamy, on another stage.
Andy Stanley is the founder of North Point Ministries, one of the largest Christian organizations in the nation. A lanky man with close-cropped hair and an “aw-shucks” demeanor, he is alone as he steps out of his office to greet a visitor to his ministry’s sprawling office complex in suburban Atlanta.
At least 33,000 people attend one of Andy’s seven churches each Sunday. Fans watch him on television or flock to his leadership seminars; pastors study his DVDs for preaching tips; his ministries’ website gets at least a million downloads per month.
“I tell my staff everything has a season,” he says, leaning back in an office chair while wearing a flannel shirt, faded jeans and tan hiking boots. “One day we’re not going to be the coolest church. Nothing is forever. As soon as somebody thinks forever, that’s when they close their hand,” he says, slowly clenching his fist. “Now they have to control, maintain and protect it. … Things get weird.”
At 54, Andy knows something about weirdness. He was swept up in a struggle against another famous televangelist — his father, the Rev. Charles Stanley, a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor and founder of In Touch Ministries, a global evangelistic organization. The experience enraged Andy so much it scared him:
“I understand drive-by shootings,” he told his wife one day. “I was so angry at my dad. I was trying to do the right thing.”
A new challenge for Andy Stanley. The experience wounded his father as well. “I felt like this was a huge battle, and if Andy had been in a huge battle … you’d have to crawl over me to get to him,” Charles Stanley, now 80, says.” I would have stood by him, no matter what. I didn’t feel like he did that.” There’s no father-son preaching duo quite like the Stanleys. Imagine if Steve Jobs had a son, who created a company that rivaled Apple in size and innovation — and they barely spoke to one another. That was the Stanleys. Neither man has ever fully explained the events that tore them apart 19 years ago — until now.
‘I was the heir apparent’
Charles Stanley remembers the first time he heard his son preach. “I was tickled pink,” he says. “I instantly knew that God could use him.” Charles knows something about preaching. Millions of people around the globe grew up with the sound of his sermons ringing in their ears…
“I was the heir apparent,” Andy says. “I know that he desired it.” Something, however, would drive father and son apart.
‘I got that straight from the Lord’
Andy didn’t know his parents’ marriage was in trouble until he was in the 10th grade. Before then, he never saw his father or his mother argue or even disagree. Charles and Anna Stanley seemed to have the perfect relationship. A year after his father appointed him to pastor a satellite church, he knew his parents’ marriage was disintegrating. They had been to every counselor and doctor imaginable. Eventually, his mother moved out and stopped attending church with his father.
“People got used to it, and they quit asking about it,” he says. “It happened so gradually.” Anna Stanley had made her own mark on the church — and on her son. “No matter what I did, I could come home and tell her,” he says. “She never freaked out, never overreacted. She was always a very safe place.” The Rev. Louie Giglio, one of Andy’s best friends growing up, still remembers some of the lessons Andy’s mother taught at summer Bible camp.
“All of Andy’s wisdom doesn’t come from his dad,” says Giglio, now senior pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and a founder of the Passion Movement, a popular outreach effort for young evangelicals. “She was incredibly insightful.”
The quiet exit of Anna Stanley from the pews went public in June 1993 when she filed for divorce. Her action caused a sensation in Southern Baptist circles, where divorce is considered a sin by some based on a literal reading of the Bible. Some pastors shunned Charles; others publicly demanded that he step down. The scandal dragged on for years as the couple attempted to reconcile.
In 1995, Anna Stanley explained why she wanted a divorce in a letter to her husband’s church that was excerpted in the local newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in an article titled “Torn Asunder.” She said she had experienced “many years of discouraging disappointments and marital conflict. … Charles, in effect, abandoned our marriage. He chose his priorities, and I have not been one of them.” The impending divorce didn’t just threaten Charles’ family; it jeopardized his ministry.
He had always preached unquestioning obedience to the Word of God. And wasn’t Jesus clear about divorce in Gospel passages such as Luke 16:18: “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
New Testament passages such as those had prompted First Baptist to institute a policy that prevented divorced men from serving as pastors or deacons. What would the church do when its celebrity pastor — the man who packed the pews and beamed First Baptist’s name across the globe — got a divorce?