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Why mega-pastor Charles Stanley, 81, struggles with rejection (but not death)

At 81, pastor Charles Stanley is an evangelical icon whose sermons are broadcast on more than 2,600 television and radio outlets in more than 50 languages worldwide. - Image courtesy of Icon Media Group
At 81, pastor Charles Stanley is an evangelical icon whose sermons are broadcast on more than 2,600 television and radio outlets in more than 50 languages worldwide. - Image courtesy of Icon Media Group

At 81, pastor Charles Stanley is an evangelical icon whose sermons are broadcast on more than 2,600 television and radio outlets in more than 50 languages worldwide. – Image courtesy of Icon Media Group

When 81-year-old preacher Charles Stanley sat down to think about what he wanted to write about in this phase of life, one word kept coming to mind: emotions. From bitterness to guilt and fear to depression, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta says emotional struggles top the list of maladies he sees plaguing his flock. So the “New York Times” bestselling author whose sermons are broadcast on more than 2,600 television and radio outlets in more than 50 languages worldwide sat down to pen a personal book: “Emotions: Confront the Lies. Conquer with Truth.” Here, I talk to Stanley about emotions, healing, and what he struggles with at this stage of his own life.

RNS: As a pastor, how have you seen damaged emotions impacting folks in your congregation?

CS: Well I have seen it in many ways. Everything from divorce to suicide. And so often it has been the result of things that happened very early in life that they never dealt with. Or didn’t know how to deal with. Often times, they blamed somebody else for their feelings and emotions. And if a person is emotionally unstable, they’re not only miserable but they make everyone around them the same way.

Image courtesy of Howard Books

Image courtesy of Howard Books

RNS: What would you say the divine intention was in God allowing some of the more difficult emotions like rejection, guilt and despair?

CS: Well, I think those emotions are not from God. I think they’re from our fallen nature. In other words, fear is something not of God. How many verses of Scripture say, “Do not fear”? Neither is rejection, for God wants us to accept his acceptance of us, though many do not. Bitterness is certainly not of God; it’s destructive. Guilt is a result of disobeying God. Despair or discouragement–all of these things come as a result of not having a right relationship with God and right understandings of emotions.

RNS: Can you tell us about someone who you’ve seen healed and set free from some of these damaging emotions?

CS: Yes. I think of a lady who came to see me who was blaming her problems on her husband–what he would and wouldn’t do. I kept listening and listening and listening. Finally, I said, “Tell me about your father.” Because I knew where it was coming from. I’ve discovered that if a woman has a poor relationship with her father–rejected by him or abused by him, ignored by him–she will have a  difficult time when she’s married. Because her heart’s desire to build a relationship with a man starts with her father, and if that isn’t right, she’ll have a difficult time in marriage. I see all kinds of trends just like that.

RNS: And how does somebody like that find release and healing, in your opinion?

CS: Well, first of all they have to believe. You keep talking and you help them realize that God placed within a woman a right relationship with a man, and that father image has got to be right because that’s the first big image in their lives. It’s going to be the one that impacts them throughout life. If they can acknowledge that is true and that the relationship hasn’t been right, and if they’re willing to let God change their attitude—and He is certainly willing to—then God will change all of that. He can heal all of that. But it’s a matter of recognizing it, and believing that God heal it, and then asking God to do it.

RNS: Is there an emotion in particular that’s been a thorn in your flesh? Which one have you struggled with the most?

CS: The one that comes to the surface quickly is rejection. Because I grew up in a tough situation. My father died when I was nine months old and my mother married again when I was nine years old. And this man rejected me right up front. And I lived with that through those early teenage years of life. And if somebody would have said, “Well, that didn’t bother you did it?” I probably would have said “no.” But years later, I realized that those years of rejection as a kid really sunk deep into me. Finally, after a lot of praying and having some friends of mine speak with me about it, I was able to get over that rejection. I think that’s one of the worst. And so many people feel it, and it affects every area of your life.

RNS: Thinking about fear, as you look toward the future, do you fear dying?

CS: No, I don’t, for the simple reason that God makes it clear in his Word: “Absent from the body, present with the Lord,” for those of us who know Christ as Savior. And the fact that Jesus died at Calvary, and his blood shed for us paid our sin debt in full, there is no reason to fear death. So I don’t.

>>WATCH: Dr. Stanley shares how he thinks a person should confront rejection:

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • As big a Calvinist as Stanley is, shouldn’t he simply accept all the good and all the bad as proceeding from the sovereign will of God? To Calvinists like him, the books were cooked even before the earth was created. So–live with it Charley!

  • He’s a boring preacher and weird , creepy personality, beautiful church building though with beautiful music.

  • Reading the previous 4 posts, I see people with alot of issues that they fill must be dealt with by maligning someone of great kindness and value. Go ahead plant your negative and repressed views, Dr. Charles Stanley is a great pastor and teacher. I have received great understanding and knowledge from his teaching. He is a man of God and exhibits this quality daily.

  • Charles Stanley is a wonderful preacher and man of God. He loves the Lord Jesus. I’ve been listening to him on In Touch Radio Network, a 24/7 radio broadcast and he has helped me through many things.

  • I have been in ministry of one kind or another for more than 40 years and sat under the preaching of a wide variety of men and women. I’ve been attending First Baptist Atlanta for 12 years. Charles Stanley is one of the most humble and self-effacing preachers or speakers of any kind I’ve ever heard.
    If there is a class of people who share egotism sickness, it would certainly be people that egotistically post comments online that don’t have any personal knowledge of what they are talking about.

  • Thank you for standing up for Charles Stanley!!! He is an awesome pastor and he does alot of great things spreading the Word throughout the world!

  • I agree Penny. Such slanderous and hateful comments have no place here. Nothing Dr. Stanley said is heretical or goes against scripture. He is a wise man of God who has a passion to see people all around the world come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

  • You seriously have no idea what you are talking about! Just because someone pastors a large church does make them cult leaders. You should really examine the content of what is said rather than attacking the person based on your personal opinion!

  • If you knew the slightest thing about Charles Stanley, you would know he is not a Calvinist. Check your facts before posting your opinion!

  • That’s true!!! To all critics of Dr. Charles Stanley..They don’t how God used him to many Christians and Pastors here in the Philippines… I learned a lot from this man of God. His faithfulness, truthfulness and eagerness to share the Word of God in every season…More like Dr. Charles Stanley to come to this Christ rejecting world.. So that many lost people will get the chance to hear and response to the Word of God which center to the message about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that saves and gives hope to this dying world…

  • When I need guidance and encouragement, I know I can always find a timely bible based sermon to find peace and clarity through Pastor Charles Stanley. I wouldn’t label him as a Calvinist or an Arminian. Let’s not get too entangled in something like that. He is a wonderful teacher and a wise pastor, a man of God.

  • My worst birthday ever, was the sunday afternoon i tried attending Stanley’s
    ‘Cookout For The Community’ (1ST BAP. ATLANTA) which was advertised to the public. Being a part time crossdressing male & realizing that their BAPTISTS, i decided to “tone it down; wayyyy down”. I didn’t crossdress at all, but i did wear a Jamaican dreadlock wig (i’m a WASP) Anyway, i was in line for the free cookout, when their head of $ecurity rudely came up to me DEMANDING MY NAME. Being a U.S. law abiding citizen, i was of course highly offended & asked why? I was informed that i was “acting suspectious” even thought i wasn’t harassing or hindering anyone’s rights; i wasn’t even talking to anyone! Because of the rude way he asked, i refused to give my name, in which i was told i would be escorted off church property by the DEKALB POLICE & also informed that if i ever stepped foot on their property, that i would be arrested! BTW, this happend 7 years ago, on my BIRTHDAY; since then , after sharing my ‘wonderful’ experience on THEIR YOUTUBE VIDS, i noticed that they never did have another ‘cookout for the community’. And 4 years ago, i discovered that i wasn’t the only person to be ‘BANNED BY THE BAPTISTS’; the Wall Street Journal did a story “BANNED FROM CHURCH” about other innocent victims across the country. (… Even more shocking is that Stanley’s “church” harassed 3 ladies who stood ON THE PUBLIC SIDEWALK, protesting BAPTIST PREDATORS: ( Personally, the real criminal is ‘Dr.’ Charles Stanley himself, for employing a BAPTIST PREDATOR FOR 18 YEARS, without informing parents: (

  • I have great respect for Charles Stanley simply because of his desire to preach the truth of God’s Word. This, of course, comes from the Holy Spirit, living deep within his soul. I don’t see him as a mega-pastor, and I don’t believe he sees himself that way. He is a gentle man who has laid his life down and taken up the cross of Christ. If ever there was a true messenger of Christ, I believe Charles Stanley is true. The writer “gilhcan” can’t help the words he speaks, simply because he has been blinded by the one who holds him captive. May we who have been freed from that captivity pray that God will open his eyes to the truth, lest he perish without ever knowing the love of Christ.

  • Cody, I am praying for you because I think you have some deep hurts in your life. Dr. Stanley mentioned how a hurtful relationship with an earthly Father can damage a woman’s emotions–but of course it is true of men as well, like with his own stepfather. When we are damaged, we tend to project that onto others and look for ways they are hurting us further (I know I struggle with this, as do many others). Perhaps a place to start is listening with an open heart to the message on forgiveness which is embedded in this article, meditating on the scriptures provided (like Ephesians 4:26-27), realizing no one is perfect (including “BAPTISTS”–lol), and extending forgiveness even to insensitive security officials. Talk to Jesus about it, let Him hold you and be your TRUE father and comfort you. If you ask Him, He will come into your life and help you be the person he made you to be as you walk with him daily. Maybe call the church (or another bible-based one; I personally go to a local, small Calvary Chapel) and ask if you can speak to someone on staff about who Jesus is. No person is perfect (which means we mess up and hurt others, sometimes without meaning to): But God/Jesus is perfect. He was there on your birthday (he knew you before you were born)—He was there on that horrible birthday you mentioned, which may just be a beginning. He accepts you, Cody, and he wants to teach you. He loves you with an everlasting love! If you become His child, quiet your spirit to listen to Him (allow him to teach you), you become his true son. Then he says he will NEVER leave you nor forsake you and he will be with you till the end of the age (see Mat. 28:20).