- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

WAYNESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — The pastor of a small church who led an effort to remove nine members because of their political beliefs tried to welcome them back yesterday, calling the fuss a “great misunderstanding,” but some said they still want him to leave.

The Rev. Chan Chandler didn’t directly address the furor during the service at East Waynesville Baptist Church, but issued a statement afterward through his attorney, saying the church does not care about its members’ political affiliations.

“No one has ever been voted from the membership of this church due to an individual’s support or lack of support for a political party or candidate,” he said.

Nine members said they were ousted during a church gathering last week by about 40 others because they refused to support President Bush. They attended yesterday’s service with their lawyer and many supporters.

Mr. Chandler noted their presence in his welcome to the congregation, saying, “I’m glad to see you all here. … We are here today to worship the Lord. I hope this is what you are here for.”

But Mr. Chandler’s statement and his welcome didn’t convince those members who were voted out that things would soon change, and some called for him to resign.

“This all started over politics and our right to vote for whoever we wanted to,” said Thelma Lowe, who has been attending the church for 42 years. She and her husband, Frank, a deacon at the church for 35 years, were among those voted out.

“Things will never be the same here until he leaves,” she said.

The ousted members have said Mr. Chandler told them during last year’s presidential campaign that anyone who planned to vote for Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry needed to leave the church.

“He needs to leave,” said Marlene Casey, 42, a lifelong member. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears have been shed by the people he told to leave.”

Added Lewis Inman, a deacon at the church who said he was voted out last Monday: “He could have apologized and made everything right. He’s not man enough.”

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