Charles Stanley is not being honored by Jewish National Fund’s Southeast Region after all.
The senior pastor at First Baptist Church Atlanta decided to decline JNF’s Tree of Life Award “because of his deep love for Israel and his reluctance to be a point of controversy and conflict within the Jewish community,” JNF announced Tuesday, April 21, two days before the 12th annual Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast.
The breakfast was scheduled to go on at The Temple in Midtown at 7:30 a.m. April 23 with JNF’s other honoree, Cantor Isaac and Betty Goodfriend Community Service Award winner Yedidya Haroush, an Israeli paratrooper and representative of the Negev community of Halutza.
“JNF looks forward to uniting all of Israel’s supporters on the country’s 67th anniversary with the JNF spirit, drive and accomplishments,” JNF said.
“I am thrilled that Dr. Stanley recognized the damage he has already done to the Jewish and LGBTQ communities, and I respect that he does not want to continue on that path,” said Robbie Medwed, the assistant director of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity. “We heard from people across the USA and Israel, both gay and straight, Jewish and not, expressing their disappointment with JNF’s choice of honoree, which shows that this wasn’t just a gay issue — it was about what is and is not acceptable behavior.”
JNF had faced increasing criticism from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and its supporters over the decision to honor Stanley, known as much for his strong statements against LGBT people as for his strong support for Israel. Rabbis from several congregations, including the breakfast host, decided to skip the event while maintaining support for JNF.
“We are grateful for the strong support of hundreds of rabbis, community leaders and community members from around the country and in the Southeast,” SOJOURN, which brought the issue to light April 2, said in a statement applauding Stanley’s decision.
JNF argued that it was honoring him strictly for being a loyal friend to Israel, as when he led hundreds of congregants on a mission to Israel last year during the Gaza war, and noted that he didn’t let Israel’s position as a Middle East LGBT haven affect his love of the nation.
“I really hope this opens up a dialogue about who the Jewish community chooses as its advocates for Israel in the future,” Medwed said.
JNF CEO Russell Robinson is scheduled to visit Atlanta and to meet with LGBT representatives and others at The Temple on May 8.
“We look forward to a productive dialogue with JNF in the coming weeks and building our relationship together to support the local Jewish and LGBTQ communities and Israel,” SOJOURN said.