How I Feel About Charles Stanley

How I Feel About Charles Stanley April 19, 2023

My first encounter with Charles Stanley was when I read his book, The Wonderful Spirit Filled Life. I was a young adult looking for direction and the book seemed very clear to me. After reading it, I understood the role of spirit (something I couldn’t see) that somehow helped with things that seemed impossible. Oddly enough, it probably informed my focus as a mystic more than anything.

I would later tune in to, and in many ways, Charles Stanley provided a fatherly figure that was stern, but also seemed to have grace for the listeners. His message was clear, but meaty and I absorbed many hours of his “biblical” teaching. A little later in life, I often would listen to his son Andy for some similar reasons.

Just like Dr. Stanley’s teaching touched something in me, the church at times had some valuable impact on my life. I have fond memories of other teachers who inspired me to do more with my life and to get over my shyness to the point that I eventually became a preacher.

But the rest of the story is not quite as inspiring. Twenty something years ago, Charles Stanley’s wife, Anna, left him after repeated appeals to her husband, that taught so many others, to pay attention to her and nurture her. He was also apparently at odds with his son, Andy, and I don’t want to argue about any of that.

The story of Charles Stanley reminds me so much of the story of the Western church in America. After my deconstruction, looking back, I understand that the inconsistencies and failures of evangelical leaders are exactly the same things that I hold the church accountable for.

What comes first?

In Charles Stanley’s world, his listeners always came before his wife and son. I know that is just my opinion, but there’s a lot of evidence to support it. I know people like him blame it on God, and say “I was doing the Lord’s work,” but usually it has a lot more to do with loving the applause of people and being successful more than God having some kind of holy mission for them.

It’s no different than what many entertainers find when they finally experience fame. The machine of their industry, whether it is music or ministry, demands their attention and time and they find it hard to focus on the individuals in their life. The organization always comes first, before individuals. It’s why Charles Stanley’s denomination, the SBC, is famous for covering up abuse in their churches. The show must go on.

In my opinion, many pastors have deep emotional needs that never get addressed. In a broken kind of way, people resonate with other broken people, but when that person is telling you what to think and believe and how to solve problems, it causes all kinds of issues.

Churches repeat toxic behavior, because it’s easier, and the demand of the system or organization beckons them to move forward. “Get on the bus,” they say, “God will handle All those insignificant problems you have.” What matters is the Lord’s work.

The Hypocrisy

I’m not an expert, my assumption is that everyone that abuses someone else has a unique excuse for why they did it. Charles Stanley was quoted as saying that a pastor should step down if he is divorced. But then, when his church gave him a standing ovation for staying, he assumed this was a special circumstance. And, it also proved that the applause of people mattered most to him.

Every church that I was involved with, when accused of hypocrisy, just claimed that they understood but they weren’t very interested in doing anything about it. When people in the church can claim that God is telling them to do something, or that their work is really important and God is on their side, they can justify almost anything (including sexual abuse and misconduct).

Toddlers In Charge

Charles Stanley had a very comforting way of speaking and a unique way of teaching. It is what drew people to his ministry. Like I said before, in many ways brokenness of the leaders sometimes draws other broken people towards them. But this popularity, even in smaller churches like I pastored, make it almost impossible for people like Dr. Stanley to ever get better.

Then, the demands of the organization don’t allow for much time off, especially for driven people. Also, there is the problem of not being able to tell anyone or have many close friends. I have done so much work since leaving the ministry, but while I was pastoring small churches I never felt like I ever really got better.

This is the story of every pastor I have ever known that stepped down from ministry. Although we were all preaching that God heals, we discovered the reality that it never really happened that way. Just like you can’t get in shape sitting in a recliner, healing and recovery most often require hard work and commitment.

So, leaders like Dr. Stanley and many of the other pastors I know, remain at an infantile level of maturity. Yet because they’re good communicators, they are all but worshiped in their churches and/or organizations. Mark Driscoll is one of the most public examples of this disaster playing out.

Get Out of Jail Free

Something about us as human beings loves being entertained. We love it when a movie or a speech or concert touches us emotionally or spiritually. So, not only do we admire these people, but most of them have staffs that work tirelessly to protect them from allegations of abuse and neglect.

Millions of people excuse away the criminal and sociological misconduct of someone like Donald Trump, exclusively because something about him resonates with them and makes them feel empowered. It’s something about the greater good, or the path of least resistance or something like that.

In my opinion, we need to grow up as a society and in our spiritual practices. We need to know for sure how we feel about ourselves and our integrity and how we treat the rest of humanity. Then, if leaders or entertainers or teachers emerge, we can interact with them, but not at the expense of our authenticity.

A primary thing to do is to nurture our own intuition and inner knowing. We have to give up the notion that people that alter our emotions are in some way superior to us or chosen by God. In most cases, they are simply outstanding communicators that love our applause and need the “fix” themselves. They foster the notion that they care about you, but usually the primary reality is that they need you to fill a void in them.

I will avoid or block anyone that goes to the mantra of “our church is better” or “our pastor is not like that.” If we look closely, we can see it all throughout history. One source of understanding this issue in evangelical Christianity is the book “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin DuMez.

I’m glad that I resigned as a pastor about 6 years ago. Laura now tells stories about my ministry where people treated me with way too much admiration. It didn’t help them or help me to behave this way, but it is the systemic norm and just like our trauma, it won’t go away through thoughts and prayers. All of us have to do the work.

So let’s be honest when we talk about the dead. And let’s be more realistic about the way we handle celebrities, especially the religious ones. While we are at it, let’s take a good hard look at organized religion in the 21st century.

We can do better!

Be where you are,
Be who you are,
Be at peace.

Karl Forehand

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