Charles Stanley, pivotal SBC president and TV preacher, dies at 90

ATLANTA—Charles Stanley, a former Southern Baptist Convention president and one of the nation’s foremost television and radio preachers, passed away peacefully at his home on Tuesday, April 18, at age 90.

Stanley presided over the two largest annual meetings in SBC history — 45,531 messengers in 1985 in Dallas and 40,987 in 1986 in Atlanta — when conservatives faced the most pronounced opposition to anchoring the convention in biblical authority.

As senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Stanley was elected in 1984 in the sixth year of the conservative advance toward majorities on the trustee boards of the convention’s seminaries and other entities. Conservatives rose to the challenge in 1985 and 1986, with Stanley receiving 52.18 percent of messengers’ vote in Dallas over two nominees and 55.3 percent of the tally in Atlanta over a single nominee.

Stanley transitioned to pastor emeritus in September 2020 at age 87, having led First Baptist for nearly 50 years. Anthony George, senior associate pastor since 2012, succeeded Stanley.

“My election [in 1984 in Kansas City, Mo.] infuriated the opposition,” Stanley wrote in his 2016 autobiography, “Courageous Faith,” “and ultimately revealed many of the underlying problems that had existed in the convention for a long time but had either been ignored or denied. … All the liberal and moderate political forces of the Southern Baptist Convention were against me, which included seminary presidents and state convention newspapers.”

Even so, “I knew I was in the center of His will, so I never felt anxious or angry even when the conflicts were at their very worst.”

Beyond what became known as the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC, Stanley developed an extensive television and radio audience through his In Touch Ministries and was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame in 1988.

Stanley’s broadcast ministry began in 1972 as “The Chapel Hour” on two Atlanta TV stations and a radio station, subsequently expanding to TBS (Turner Broadcasting System) and to CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network). He renamed the outreach In Touch Ministries in 1977, stirred by the title of a devotional book in his office, “to get as many people as possible in touch with Jesus Christ and His way of living.”

Today, Stanley’s In Touch messages are broadcast on a myriad of TV and radio stations and satellite networks as well as via shortwave in more than 100 languages across 150 countries. In 2007, the ministry also began distributing pocket-size In Touch Messenger solar-powered audio devices that contain the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and several dozen of Stanley’s sermons in a variety of languages. In addition to distributing hundreds of thousands of the units to U.S. soldiers and to missions efforts worldwide, the devices have been adapted for placement at refugee camps and on water towers in various parts of the world for listening by cellphone.

More than any other SBC president, Stanley’s personal life had been on public display, beginning when his wife Anna filed for divorce in 1993. After a period of reconciliation, a divorce ensued in 2000, after 44 years of marriage. Anna Stanley died in 2014 of pneumonia and other health issues at age 83.

In SBC life prior to his presidency, Charles Stanley was the 1984 president of the Pastors’ Conference that precedes the convention’s annual meeting, and he was the 1983 chairman of the Committee on Nominations (then called the Committee on Boards), which was pivotal for the Conservative Resurgence in nominating trustees for the SBC’s seminaries, mission boards, and other entities.

As SBC president, Stanley served on the 22-member Peace Committee that was established and named by a motion approved at the 1985 annual meeting. The committee was tasked with identifying “the sources of the controversies” within the SBC and making recommendations for reconciliation and cooperation in “evangelism, missions, Christian education and other causes … all to the glory of God.” In its 6,450-word report, issued in 1987 after 15 meetings, the Peace Committee stated that “the great number of Southern Baptists” believe the Bible “speaks truth in all realms of reality and to all fields of knowledge. The Bible, when properly interpreted, is authoritative to all of life.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

TEXAN Correspondent
Art Toalston
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