- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

WAYNESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A Baptist pastor accused of threatening to banish from his church anyone who didn’t vote for President Bush has chosen to depart, saying he spoke out on candidates’ stances, but did not make political endorsements.

The Rev. Chan Chandler, 33, walked out of the East Waynesville Baptist Church, which he had led for three years, after delivering a brief statement of resignation Tuesday night. With him went many of the young congregants he had attracted to the modest brick church on the outskirts of this small mountain town in western North Carolina.

In an interview with a church publication Tuesday, Mr. Chandler denied endorsing any candidate from the pulpit, as critics had charged. “I don’t know how these folks voted,” he told Baptist Press, a Nashville, Tenn.-based press arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. “And I never endorsed any candidate.”

But he acknowledged citing from the pulpit what he thinks are the “unbiblical values” of some political hopefuls. “But those were negative endorsements — never a positive endorsement” of any candidate, he said.

Mr. Chandler said in the interview that he cited Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s views on abortion and homosexuality in one sermon. He said he mentioned two Republicans whose views he said were out of step with the Bible.

He was not more specific, and stressed that his sermons were issue-oriented and not based on party affiliation. “This never has been about politics,” Mr. Chandler said. “It’s always been about whether the Bible applies to the entire life of a Christian.”

Some church members had said that they were told to leave if they voted for Mr. Kerry.

“For me to remain now would only cause more hurt for me and my family,” Mr. Chandler said to the church members. “I am resigning with gratitude in my heart for all of you, particularly those of you who love me and my family.”

As Mr. Chandler and his wife drove out of the church’s parking lot followed by a police escort, about 40 of his supporters walked out as well, with many saying they were resigning their memberships.

“I’m not going to serve with the ungodly,” an angry Misty Turner declared.

But Maxine Osborne, 70, one of those who stayed behind, had a different view of what had transpired.

“A lot of these young people had not been in the church more than a year,” she said. The Chandlers “brought in a lot of young people, but they also brainwashed them.”

Tensions escalated last week, when several members said Mr. Chandler called a meeting of the church’s board of deacons and declared his intention for East Waynesville to become a politically active church.

Norman Jameson of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina said the convention— from which individual churches are entirely and absolutely independent — will try to help Mr. Chandler find a new church position if he so desires.

“There was evidently a politicization of pulpit in that the pastor is passionate and he interprets that one political party had a stronger stance on abortion than the other,” Mr. Jameson said. “Passion makes things happen. In a church leadership role, it can also divide people.”

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