DIVORCE AND THE PASTOR
by David Sisler
The marriage of Charles and Anna Stanley is in trouble.
Statistics that is a cold word when you are talking about the lives of two people show that as many as 60 percent of marriages today will end in divorce. If those statistics are correct, many marriages are in trouble.
If you or I have trouble in our home, chances are it will not be picked up by the Associated Press or Christianity Today. But the marriage of Charles and Anna Stanley is deemed newsworthy because this couple, who have lived as one for 40 years and have now lived apart for three years, have prominent places in the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Charles Stanley is an author, television minister, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the 13,000 member First Baptist Church of Atlanta.
None of the news stories with characteristic neglect of the person and ministry of the wife of a prominent man list Anna Stanley's professional accomplishments.
Charles and Anna Stanley have lived apart since 1992. Mrs. Stanley filed for divorce the next year, but three weeks later amended the suit, requesting separate maintenance. In March, she refiled for divorce. Anna Stanley said, "The problems with our marriage go unresolved. The time for, and the possibility of, reconciliation between Charles and me has passed."
Charles Stanley's spokesman said, "His [Stanley's] goal is reconciliation. He loves his wife and has done everything he can to pursue healing."
I write about these events, not to inform my readership Christianity's leading evangelical fortnightly and the Stanleys' hometown newspaper have already done that. I don't believe the old journalistic adage which says, "The people always have a right to know." Translated into modern English that usually means, "I, the writer, can't control myself even if it endangers or hurts individuals or nations, and I want you to know how very clever I am to have learned these heretofore private facts, so buckle up baby, cause here it comes!"
I write about these very private, now very public events, because Charles Stanley has said he will resign as pastor of First Baptist Church if he and his wife divorce. Quoting AP now, "First Baptist Church has historically refused to have divorced men as deacons or pastors."
Where does it say in God's Word that divorce disqualifies a man from God's service? We're not talking about infidelity here. We're not talking about adultery here. We are talking about two people whose marital difficulties have reached the point where, for one of them at least, staying married is no longer the option.
I understand Paul's directions to Timothy were that a pastor must be the husband of one wife. But if the Stanelys divorce, and if Charles Stanley does not remarry, how has he violated Paul's directives?
Let's check the record. What does the Bible say about divorce?
First, through Malachi, God said, "I hate divorce." That's pretty clear.
Second, Jesus was confronted one day by the Pharisees about the question of divorce and remarriage. Please get that! The context of the passage, Matthew 19:3-9, the reason they continued to question Him, was not to learn whether or not a married couple could divorce. They already knew from God's declaration in Deuteronomy 24, the passage to which Jesus appealed, that they could. The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus on the question of whether or not divorced couples could, according to Scripture, remarry.
Jesus said, "God's original plan never included divorce, but because your hearts are hard, he permitted it on the grounds of adultery. If the marriage is dissolved because of adultery, the innocent party may remarry without jeopardy."
Who initially and originally said a husband and wife should not get a divorce? God. Who initially and originally allowed a husband and wife to get a divorce? God. Is there a contradiction there? Yes, there is, and we need to understand what Jesus said. The contradiction is within us you and me not with Almighty God!
Is divorce wrong? It is, unless Jesus lied.
Does it disqualify an individual from ever entering Heaven. It does not, unless Jesus lied, because Jesus said, "Whoever comes to me in faith, I will never cast out.
But where does Scripture say that if a pastor becomes divorced, it disqualifies him from being a pastor? The disqualification comes from remarriage which contradicts the Bible's directives.
Charles Stanley says if he and his wife divorce, he will resign from being pastor. If that is his personal decision, based on his understanding of Scripture, then I applaud his personal integrity and devotion to that integrity. If the decision is based on the traditions of men, then that day will be a sad day, not only for First Baptist Church in Atlanta, but for all of Christianity.
Dateline: ATLANTA, GA, March 18, 1996 Mrs. Anna Stanley dropped her divorce suit against Dr. Charles F. Stanley, pastor of first Baptist Church of Atlanta and speaker on IN TOUCH.
In a statement read to the congregation at First Baptist Church Sunday, March 17, Mrs. Stanley said; "I am pleased to announce that Charles and I are making progress toward reconciling our marriage differences. This past week I canceled my petition for divorce.
"Although we are not living together at this time, we are working toward that end. Thank you for standing by our family during this difficult time. We all feel that the progress made in the past several weeks is due in great part to your prayers."
Dr. Stanley expressed gratitude to God and thanked the body of Christ for their prayers.
"The long-troubled marriage of the Rev. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of Atlanta's First Baptist Church, ended quietly this month in DeKalb County Superior Court."
By Gayle White
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
May 23, 2000
"Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention whose In Touch television ministry spans the globe, stunned his congregation Sunday by telling them he and his wife, Anna, are divorced.
"After Stanley's announcement, the Rev. Gerald Spicer, the church's administrative pastor, told the congregation that Stanley, 67, will stay on as the church's senior pastor, a position he has held since 1972. The congregation stood and applauded.
"Stanley's estrangement from his wife caused strife in the church in the mid-1990s because of a traditional but unwritten policy that First Baptist not allow divorced men to serve as deacons or ministers.
"Stanley's son Andy, now senior pastor of North Point Community Church, left his job as his father's senior associate at the time, citing concerns about his father's leadership. The elder Stanley said at a 1995 congregational meeting, 'If my wife divorces me, I would resign immediately.'
'We hate it that things like this happen, but our church is moving right along,' Jerry Beal, vice chairman of the church's board of deacons, said Monday. 'He is our pastor, and he will remain our pastor.'
"Using initials instead of first names, Anna Stanley filed a petition as 'A.J. Stanley' requesting a divorce from 'C.F. Stanley' on Feb. 16 on grounds that their marriage of 44 years was 'irretrievably broken.' Judge Michael Hancock signed the final decree May 11. According to Hancock's order, the Stanleys executed a property agreement April 5.
"The Rev. Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Monday he is 'deeply sympathetic with the sorrow I know all of the Stanley family must feel over this. It ought to be a wakeup call for America that if something like this can happen to the Stanley family, it shows how much society has lost its bearings.'"
Five years ago, when I wrote the above original column, I urged Charles Stanely to stay on as pastor, if his wife divorced him. Now that the divorce is public and final, I am glad that he will continue in his ministry. Believers everywhere should continue to uphold Charles and Anna Stanley in their prayers!
Original column published in the Augusta Chronicle 9/2/95
Copyright 1995, 1997, 2000 by David Sisler
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