Anna J. Stanley, wife of Charles Stanley, one of the Southern Baptist Convention's top leaders, quietly dismissed her divorce suit in an Atlanta suburb March 14, apparently securing the position of one of the country's most popular television ministers.
The congregation of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church of Atlanta rejoiced at services March 17 when Stanley read a letter from his wife of 40 years. In it, Anna Stanley acknowledged that she and her husband are "not living together at this time," but are "working toward that end." She did not attend services.
Her move ends three years of nervous speculation about the fate of Stanley, 62. His books and tapes sell in the millions, and his autonomous In Touch television ministry is carried by 51 television stations and 500 radio stations in the United States, and is broadcast in 12 languages abroad.
Stanley's church, which does not ordain women, has historically refused to allow divorced men to serve as deacons or pastors. Stanley had promised to resign if a divorce became final, but had repeatedly said he believed reconciliation would occur.
In a telephone interview the day the suit was dropped, Charles Stanley said, "Naturally, I'm pleased and grateful to God for answered prayer."
Anna Stanley first filed for divorce in 1993, saying the couple had lived apart for a year. The only public hints of her reasons came in a letter to the congregation last year in which she said, "Long ago . . . Charles, in effect, abandoned our marriage. He chose his priorities, and I have not been one of them."
The pending divorce caused turmoil in the church, including the resignation of several staff members who expressed dissatisfaction with Stanley's continued leadership in light of his uncertain ...