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Charles Stanley, whose Christian broadcasts spanned the world, dies at 90

ATLANTA — Charles Stanley, a prominent televangelist who once led the Southern Baptist Convention, died Tuesday at his home in Atlanta at age 90, In Touch Ministries announced.

No cause of death was announced.

Born in rural Dry Fork, Virginia, Stanley was senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta for 50 years. The church grew rapidly after he became its leader in 1971, moving from central Atlanta to a suburban campus in 1997 to accommodate a growing flock in the sprawling urban area.

"We are forever grateful for his enduring legacy of faithful leadership and spiritual guidance," the church said in a social media post.

But his greatest fame came from his role in hosting "In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley," a Christian teaching program that began airing on the newborn Christian Broadcasting Network in 1978. That led to the creation of a separate nonprofit, In Touch Ministries, that sent Stanley's broadcasts across the nation and world through radio and television. It even created solar-powered audio players containing the Bible, some of Stanley's sermons and other materials that are available in more than 100 languages. Stanley also wrote more than 40 books.

When Stanley stepped down from First Baptist as senior pastor in 2020, he said he wasn't planning to stop preaching, instead focusing his energies on In Touch Ministries.

"I'll continue to preach the gospel as long as God allows, and my goal remains the same: to get the truth of the gospel to as many people as possible as quickly as possible in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God," Stanley said in a video message to the church when he took on the title of pastor emeritus.

Stanley led the Southern Baptist Convention during a fight between conservatives and moderates

Stanley served two one-year terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1985 and 1986, at the peak of a time when theological conservatives were fighting to oust more moderate leaders from leadership roles in the convention and its seminaries, saying the church needed to be truer to Biblical authority.

"My election infuriated the opposition 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," Stanley wrote in a 2016 autobiography. "All the liberal and moderate political forces of the Southern Baptist Convention were against me, which included seminary presidents and state convention newspapers."

In his first term, Stanley helped stop congregations from ordaining women. His second election in 1985 was bolstered by a last-minute telegram of support from famous evangelist Billy Graham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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

Stanley was also a devoted photographer of nature and the outdoors, with many of pictures reproduced by In Touch publications.

Stanley separated from his longtime wife, Anna, in the 1990s, before divorcing in 2000. Although First Baptist had barred divorced men as ministers, and Stanley had once said he would resign if his wife left him, the church affirmed him remaining pastor.

Some other evangelical Christians panned the decision. Dissenters included his son, Andy Stanley, who said he wanted his father to offer to quit and let the church decide. Instead, it was Andy Stanley who left the congregation and founded Northpoint Ministries, a network of eight evangelical Christian churches in Atlanta and its suburbs. He and his sister Becky survive Charles Stanley,

Despite the split, Andy Stanley told WAGA-TV that his father was a role model for pastors.

"Not just how to preach or how to build a church," said Andy Stanley. "But how to get to a finish line with integrity and to be able to look back and be proud of everything that came before, and unfortunately that's increasingly rare."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press