Andy Stanley says divisive politicians are 'terrible leaders,' urges embrace of the 'messy middle'

Pastor Andy Stanley speaks during Catalyst Atlanta at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Georgia, on Oct. 6, 2016.
Pastor Andy Stanley speaks during Catalyst Atlanta at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Georgia, on Oct. 6, 2016. | (Photo: Catalyst)

Megachurch Pastor Andy Stanley gave an invocation before the Georgia House of Representatives Tuesday, urging lawmakers to reject division and polarization and follow the example of Jesus Christ by embracing the “messy middle.”

Stanley, who leads the multi-site North Point Ministries and North Point Community Church based in Alpharetta, served as the legislative body’s “Chaplain of the Day.” He spoke for over 12 minutes and ended with a prayer for the 180-member legislative body. 

Stanley, the author of several books, lamented the division and polarization that he thought had come to define Georgia politics. He encouraged politicians in the state to “walk toward the middle because the middle is where the problems are solved.”

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“The messy middle is where the problems are solved. But to walk toward the messy middle, we all have to get out of our Republican and Democrat bucket and walk toward the middle and that’s not popular,” he said.

Stanley identified the late civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ as leaders from “the middle.”

Stanley recalled that King “talked about standing in the middle” in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

He summarized one portion of the letter as asserting: “When you stand in the middle, you get shot at from both sides.”

“Jesus understood this,” Stanley said. “He stood in the middle. Everybody wanted Jesus to be a part of their thing. Everybody still wants Jesus to be a part of their thing, right? The temple conspired against him. The empire conspired against him. There is no Roman Empire and the temple hasn’t been in operation since 40 years after Jesus was crucified.”

The 63-year-old church leader described the “messy middle” as “the way forward” and “the way you change the world.” He concluded by thanking God for “sending your Son to stand in the middle between us and our sin and our perfect Heavenly Father.”

“Disagreement is unavoidable, but division is always a choice,” Stanley added. “Unfortunately, in your world, there are advantages to division: you can raise more money when things are divided.”

Stanley, the son of longtime First Baptist Church Atlanta Pastor Charles Stanley, expressed concerns about the generalizations that have come to define politics in his state.

He highlighted how Republicans characterize their political opponents as “the corrupt Democrats” and Democrats label their opponents “the racist Republicans.” He told the lawmakers, “that’s not true,” while lamenting how such labeling has become advantageous for politicians. 

“Politically speaking, fear of the other party is an asset. Division makes it easy to demonize and mischaracterize the other folks. So, unfortunately, where you sit, fear and demonization and disunity is to your advantage.”

Stanley described “those of you who pander to and foster division” as “terrible leaders.” He said that “if you need an enemy in order to lead, you’re a poor leader.”

“Jesus says … ‘Just because somebody considers you their enemy, you do not have to return the favor,’” he said.

Stanley believes the “messy middle” will enable politicians to see their opponents in a new light.

The pastor maintained that under the current way of thinking that dominates American politics, a political opponent’s “actions and decisions couldn’t possibly have anything to do with how they grew up, where they grew up, who they grew up around, how they were raised and what they experienced in the world.”

He suggested that people have been taught to believe that their political opponents “aren’t responding to circumstances and experiences” but rather “have character issues” that make them “corrupt from within.”

“It’s hard to raise money in the middle,” the pastor continued. “[I] t’s hard to get people angry enough to vote in the middle. It’s hard to get people to turn out and vote if you’ve not made them afraid of their enemy in the middle.”

“In politics, the goal is to always appear as if you’re losing but not to actually lose,” he proclaimed. “What a terrible way to lead.”

Stanley encouraged lawmakers to try a different approach to political discourse.

“What if, we as a state decided ‘We’re not going to do that anymore?’” he asked. “You can decide that because unity is a decision. Disagreement is helpful and healthy, but disunity just makes a lot of things harder for everybody.”

Georgia has become a hotbed of political controversy in recent years. One area of contention is the Election Integrity Act of 2021, one of many measures implemented at the state level following the 2020 presidential election amid allegations of voter fraud.

Democrats, including President Joe Biden, decried the legislation as an “atrocity,” criticizing the measure as “nothing but punitive” and “designed to keep people from voting.” Biden has gone as far as to call the bill “Jim Crow in the 21st century." 

A Washington Post fact check disputed some of the claims made by Biden and other Democrats, including their insistence that it “ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over.”

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported that “On Election Day in Georgia, polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and if you are in line by 7 p.m., you are allowed to cast your ballot. Nothing in this law changes that.”

Outrage over the Election Integrity Act of 2021 caused Major League Baseball to move its annual All-Star Game out of Georgia despite the fact that the voting laws in the state are comparable to and, in some cases, less restrictive than those in other states.

As Republican Rep. Wes Cantrell noted when introducing Stanley, North Point Ministries consists of 10 campuses in the Atlanta area and has a network of over 180 churches worldwide that serve over 200,000 people. 

“A survey of U.S. pastors identified Andy as … one of the 10 most influential pastors in America,” Cantrell added. “He figured out how to build a church that people who had never been to church or had had a bad experience at church would want to attend. A lot of people didn’t know they wanted to attend church until Andy created the unique model that is North Point Community Church.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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