"I think I could follow that guy anywhere."
Communion over chips and salsa
Charles Stanley was alone. His marriage was ending. Pastors were publicly calling for him to step down. People within his church were trying to get rid of him.
His enemies were coming after him, and his son wasn't stepping in front of his father to meet the blows.
That's how Charles saw it. He says his son could have prevented some of that pain. He was the one person who could have stopped the congregation from calling for his divorce because he had earned so much respect.
"I forgave him. I couldn't understand it. I would have never done that," Charles says.
The church drama lasted seven years. The divorce became final in 2000, and First Baptist eventually voted to retain Charles as its pastor. He recently celebrated his 80th birthday at First Baptist, and was presented with a large photograph depicting Jesus counseling him as he prepared a sermon. Charles painstakingly posed for the photographer, with a professional model playing Jesus.
"Every Sunday I had to preach, no matter what," Charles says of those days when he was going through the divorce. "I couldn't get up and say I had a horrible day yesterday. It kept me in the Word of God -- praying, trusting God, watching people saved and watching the church grow."
Few would question Charles' toughness, but during that time he revealed another side. He stopped treating Andy as his enemy.
He started treating him as his only son.
Charles fought for his relationship with his son as hard as he fought to stay in the pulpit. Maybe harder. He did it with chips and salsa. He kept inviting his son to lunch at Mexican restaurants.
And Andy kept accepting.
The meals were excruciating. Both men were still angry; they weren't good at chitchat. But it was a way to keep talking. The meals became a ritual, like communion.
Charles then went public with his support for his son.
In 1995, Andy formed North Point Community Church with a group of friends. When Charles heard the news, he interrupted his regular order of service one Sunday morning to tell his congregation.
"And he has my blessing," he said.
Charles did something else that some pastors shy from: He sought professional help. He asked his son to join him in seeing a counselor.
It was just another way in which Charles refused to fit the caricature of a simple "Bible thumper." He had defied Southern Baptist theology by saying women should be able to preach. He installed 12 Step programs in his church and an orchestra. He was a techno-geek who loved computers and photography.
The counseling sessions between father and son were at times explosive.
Emotions spilled out in the open.
One night, Andy invited his father over to his house to see his wife and children. The night ended with both men yelling at each other "like middle-school girls" in the driveway, Andy recalls.
Still, they kept going.
"They weren't too smart, too spiritual or too proud to allow somebody to come in and help them navigate all of that anger," says Andy's wife, Sandra. "Their relationship with one another was more important than their pride."
A pivotal moment came one day when Charles called his son with a request: "Hey, can you preach for me this Sunday?"
Twelve years after he left the church as his father's enemy, Andy returned as his son. His sermon title: "The Cost of Following Christ."
Afterward, Charles invited his son into In Touch's television studio to talk about the sermon. His face lit up with joy as he bragged about his son's church. He told Andy on camera that he didn't have a father growing up so he didn't know how to be a father at times.
He leaned forward in his chair and looked at Andy with a huge smile before saying, "I'm absolutely delighted to have Andy with me again."
Andy sat upright in his chair with his hands folded in his lap. His smile was tight and strained.
"It's great to be back," he said.
Asked today whether he would have ever cut off his son, Charles quickly shakes his head.
"It was the wise thing to do. I loved him and I knew he had great potential for God. I wouldn't have cut off communication under any circumstances."
The same was not true for Andy.
A sobering realization
Critics accuse Andy of being too accommodating. He won't draw theological lines in the sand. His sermons are too self-help, too Christian-lite.
He is an introvert who struggles at times even to make conversation off-stage with members of his church. But he will still invite listeners who disagree with his sermons to contact him afterward. People who have written him scathing letters are sometimes shocked to hear his voice on the other end of their phone line. He was criticized recently for preaching a sermon that mentioned gay people but no explicit condemnation of homosexuality.
"I'm always trying to look for ways to affirm everything, maybe to a fault," Andy says.
Yet there is a toughness about him that's reminiscent of his father.
He has called members of his church to demand that they stop attending when people complained that they were harassing other members. He preaches that people who divorce and remarry are committing adultery even though many in the contemporary church reject that teaching.
He wouldn't allow CNN to photograph him preaching at North Point -- too distracting -- or just hanging out with his staff on an ordinary day. ("It singles me out as being of greater significance.")
That toughness hardened into self-righteousness as he tried to reconcile with his father.