Baptist Pastor Accused of Expelling Kerry Voters Quits

Nearly three dozen parishioners join Chan Chandler in exiting East Waynesville Baptist ChurchAfter national media attention over a confrontation with church members who supported Democrat John Kerry for President, East Waynesville (N.C.) Baptist Church pastor Chan Chandler resigned yesterday.
“For me to remain now would only cause more hurt for me and my family,” he said at a special business meeting last night. “I am resigning with gratitude in my heart for all of you, particularly those of you who love me and my family.”
“Remaining church members said they sat in silence for a long time after Chandler and 35 of his loyal followers left the sanctuary—a silence broken when one of the members stepped forward and began to play hymns on the piano,” reports the Raleigh News & Observer. The paper says he will continue his M.Div. studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Chandler didn’t speak to the media, but his lawyer explained, “He feels like in light of everything that has taken place, instead of continuing to fight with the various factions, he feels it’s in the best interest of everyone concerned that he resign.”
Actually, Chandler did speak to one media outlet. Baptist Press scored a coup with its exclusive interview yesterday, before the pastor’s resignation. But even Baptist Press had a hard time figuring out what really happened at the church:
As Baptist Press tried to clarify whether the nine people were in fact voted out of the church, Chandler said they initially left voluntarily. Since some of those who willingly forfeited their memberships were trustees of the church, other members thought it prudent to make their actions official.
Chandler said the church had undergone several months of disharmony, some of which he speculates was the result of his preaching about Christians’ responsibility to be reflective of the Bible in the way that they vote. And more hesitatingly, he also speculated that, since the church had baptized almost 30 people and was growing under his leadership, then those who had been in church leadership positions for years may have felt threatened. …
[At a May 3 church meeting, Chandler told] those who were unhappy with him as pastor that if they could garner a simple majority against him, he’d leave, despite the bylaws provision that such a vote to terminate the pastor requires a two-thirds vote margin.
Chandler also said that if those who were dissatisfied with him couldn’t garner a simple majority, then they should leave.
But did Chandler actually say that those who didn’t vote for Bush should be expelled?
“I don’t know how these folks voted,” Chandler told Baptist Press. “And I never endorsed any candidate.” But he does admit that he talked about the “unbiblical values” of John Kerry, particularly in regard to abortion and homosexuality. “I also mentioned two Republicans’ names” as examples of those whose positions are unbiblical, Chandler said.
“But those were negative endorsements,” he explained. There was “never a positive endorsement” of a candidate from the pulpit, he said. The closest he came was to encourage writing in a new name when none of the candidates on the ballot promoted biblical positions.
That may or may not be good advice, but it still violates the tax code and puts the church in danger of losing its tax-exempt status. The Internal Revenue Manual explains:
IRC 501(c)(3) precludes exemption for an organization that participates in or intervenes in (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. This is an absolute prohibition, with no requirement that the activity be substantial. (Emphasis added.)
So by actually campaigning against Kerry from the pulpit, Chandler put his church’s funds in danger. Apparently he didn’t know he was doing so, but there you have it.
As it turns out, though, the debate is more about the new demographics of the congregation than it is about IRS standing.
“The storm that hit the church … divided it along generational lines,” The News & Observer’s Yonat Shimron explains. “Many of the older members are traditionally Democrats, though some have voted Republican in recent elections. Many of the newest and youngest members have always been Republicans. In this, the church reflected Southern voting habits that have dramatically embraced the Republican Party in recent decades.”
Chandler, by the way, is 33. Those reportedly “kicked out” of the church are about twice his age, and they’re not crazy about these kids today, what with their conservative ideas and such.
“A lot of these young people had not been in the church more than a year,” Maxine Osborne, 70, told The News & Observer. Chandler and his wife, she said, “brought in a lot of young people, but they also brainwashed them.”
Misty Turner (or Tucker, depending on the news source) seems to be one of the young ‘uns.
“The only thing I want to say is that everything that’s been in the press is a lie,” she said. “I have never bowed down to Chan. I’ve only bowed down to the Lord.” She’s leaving. “I’m not going to serve where there are so many ungodly people.”
Thirty-four others joined her in walking out of the church yesterday after Chandler’s resignation.
A sad epilogueSo what lesson can be drawn from Chandlergate? Bill Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University, says the moral of the story is don’t believe everything you read. Weblog agrees in part: Reading the papers this week, especially the op-ed pages (and editorial cartoons like this), it’s clear that there was more than one political agenda at work. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary vice president Waylan Owens rightly noted that most press reports exclusively quoted those allegedly voted out and their supporters. Where are “the members of the church who actually did the voting?” he asked.
But Wake Forest’s Leonard isn’t talking about being skeptical toward the press. For him, the danger is in believing Scripture.
“When you believe in an inerrant Bible, then the next step is to have an inerrant interpreter and then an inerrant morality,” he said. And that’s a bad thing.
Not even Chandler has made this case a litmus test for biblical authority. Does Leonard really want to go there?

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