By HEIDI HALL, CHRISTIANITY TODAY

Megachurch pastor Charles Stanley has turned down an award from a pro-Israel Jewish group, citing controversy over his views about homosexuality.

The Atlanta-based chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) had planned to honor Stanley this week with its prestigious Tree of Life Award for his long support of the state of Israel. But a number of local rabbis and other Jewish leaders had protested the decision.

At issue are Stanley’s past statements that homosexual sex is immoral and a comment he made to a newspaper in 1986 that AIDS was a sign of God’s judgment.

Those views are “incompatible with Jewish ethics and values,” said the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, in a letter protesting the decision to honor Stanley.

In general, Stanley has not been known for his involvement in politics or culture war debates. He did, however, sign on to a recent brief asking the US Supreme Court to uphold state bans on same-sex marriage.

And at Atlanta’s First Baptist Church, in his In Touch media outlets, and elsewhere, he teaches traditional Christian sexual ethics.

“Some proclaim they are living a gay lifestyle, but nothing is happy or gay about the destructive behavior of homosexuality,” he wrote in his 2007 book, Landmines in the Path of a Believer. “Anything that opposes the principles written in God’s Word leads to one ending—the end Solomon mentioned, a place of extreme emptiness where wind and sorrow breach the soul. Ultimately it ends in a place of extreme emotional sorrow and separation from God.”

Stanley isn’t the first Atlanta minister to experience controversy over past remarks about homosexuality. In 2013, Louie Giglio of Passion City Church turned down an invitation to give a prayer at President Obama’s inauguration after an old sermon of his surfaced online.

The Stanley controversy broke at a time when Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage faces a legal challenge. Meanwhile, state legislators tabled a religious freedom law amid debate over whether it (and a similar law in Indiana) would allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Several Atlanta-area rabbis had announced they would skip the JNF event. Rabbi Fred Green of Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, Georgia, called on the JNF to rescind the award.

Leaders at the JNF had defended their decision to give the award to Stanley.

“Our honoree represents one of the largest Christian communities in the South which has always supported the Jewish people in times of peace and conflict,” national spokesman Adam Brill told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

On Tuesday, the JNF’s Atlanta chapter released a statement saying Stanley would not attend the award ceremony:

Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta, has informed Jewish National Fund that because of his deep love for Israel, and his reluctance to be a point of controversy and conflict within the Jewish community, he has declined to be recognized at the Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast in Atlanta.

The controversy over Stanley may reveal cracks in the complicated relationship between Jews and evangelicals.

Jews and evangelicals disagree sharply about homosexuality. More than 8 in 10 (82%) of Jews say homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to the Pew Research Center. (One significant exception is Orthodox Jews—whom Pew says have “a level of disapproval [toward homosexuality] similar to that expressed by white evangelical Protestants.”) Read more…