ATLANTA, May 23--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.
Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and 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 does 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 February 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 wake-up call for America that if something like this can happen to the Stanley family, it shows how much society has lost its bearings." Patterson would not comment on whether Stanley should remain in the pulpit. "I have such tremendous confidence in Charles as a man of God that I think he will think it through and pray it through very carefully," he said.