Pastor Andy Stanley responds to his description of President Obama as 'pastor in chief'

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013 6:20 a.m. MST

President Barack Obama prepares to speak during the 67th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012.

Seth Wenig, Associated Press

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Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley created a stir last week among evangelicals when he described President Barack Obama as "pastor in chief."

Stanley used the term as a compliment to Obama during a pre-inaugural sermon Monday, according to The Washington Examiner:

"President Obama’s recent response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., convinced the pastor who preached at (the) pre-inaugural church service that the president has the cleric’s touch. Obama should be called 'pastor in chief,' said Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., after he 'thanked (the president) for work after Newtown shooting tragedy when he spoke to mourners.'”

Writing for the conservative Christian website Worldview Weekend, Erin Benziger said Christians "bristled" at the statement.

"Ironically, it is the very fact that a vote for a presidential candidate is not a vote for a "pastor in chief" that allowed many Christians to support the Republican candidate, Mormon Mitt Romney, in November's election. There is little doubt that many would have preferred that, rather than complimenting the president in this manner, evangelical pastor Stanley would instead have called him to repent for his support of the sins of abortion and homosexuality, among others."

On Friday, Christianity Today gave Stanley an opportunity to respond to the criticism being leveled at him for the statement.

"I talked with (Stanley) by phone, and asked him about the context of this remark, as well as the content of his sermon and the Christian's public responsibility toward presidents with whom we disagree on crucial issues," wrote CT editor Mark Galli in a preamble to his wide-ranging Q-and-A with Stanley.

In response to his pastor in chief remark, Stanley said he understands why some people would be upset. He said the accounts of his sermon were based on a pool reporter's description that didn't provide the entire context of the pastor in chief statement.

In an attempt to make a connection with the powerful politicians seated in St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House, Stanley related his reaction to Obama's visit to Newtown, Conn., a month earlier when he visited with grieving families and then gave a moving speech to the press.

"So I said something like, 'Mr. President, I don't know the first thing about being president, but I know a bit about being a pastor. And during the Newtown vigil on December 16th after we heard what you did — just want to say on behalf of all of us as clergy, thank you.' And I added, 'I turned to Sandra that night and said, 'Tonight he's the pastor in chief.'

"So that's the context. I wasn't making a declaration that he's our pastor in chief. But I can understand how that got reported."

Christian blogger Todd Rhoades said Stanley's critics should lighten up.

"Is it possible that he was giving the president a compliment? Is that not allowable? Is it possible that many are reading into whatever Andy ... said as a blanket acceptance of his policies? Is it possible that Andy did a much better job in that speaking role than you or I would have?

"I’d say YES to all three of those statements. So … I say … cut him some slack."

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