Members of a Baptist church in North Carolina claim they were ousted from membership because they were willing to support Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the presidential election last fall.

The Rev. Chan Chandler of East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville said in a sermon before the election that anyone who would vote for Kerry should “repent or resign” from membership, according to nine members who took their complaints to WLOS-TV in Asheville, N.C.

Another 40 have left in protest in a controversy that began before the election last November and came to a head Sunday.

Chandler insists he’s acting according to the Word of God, acknowledging in a sermon Sunday he has upset church members by calling them out for their political loyalties.

But WLOS said Chandler, who could not be reached for comment, has insisted his actions are not politically motivated.

Church member Lewis Inman said to the Asheville station: “[Chandler] told us that if we didn’t support George Bush we needed to resign our position and get out, or go to the altar and repent, and support George Bush.”

Among the members voted out in a May 3 meeting were leaders who had been in the church 30 or 40 years.

“The members that were there even stood up and applauded that we left,” an outgoing church member said.

Former member Frank Lowe told WLOS: “He says if we supported John Kerry, we have supported abortion and homosexuality.”

But Lowe and other departed members insist they don’t agree to those stances.

Responding to the news, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, a left-leaning group, issued a statement.

“This sad spectacle is the predictable consequence of the Religious Right’s insistence on measuring a person’s religion by social-political litmus tests,” Gaddy said.

“Not only does the pastor’s reported action violate both the spirit and substance of the United States Constitution’s provisions of religious liberty, it also offends the conscience of people who understand religion in terms of the realm of the spirit, not votes in a presidential election.”

Addressing the Baptist pastor’s call for repentance on the part of those who didn’t vote for Bush, Gaddy said, “The screaming need is for repentance among those who would tie religion to partisan politics.”

A contributor to the leading liberal weblog Daily Kos wrote: “For those that thought that there has not been a full scale war lanched against liberals; for those who didn’t take the radical right’s promise to “eradicate liberals” seriously, I present to you, Exhibit A: East Waynesville Baptist Church has just kicked out all its Democratic members.”

In a later post, the contributor commented: “This isn’t a ‘culture’ war, people. This isn’t some sort of political game. This action merely foreshadows what is to come: the radical religious right seeking to impose a theocracy upon this nation. Purge the liberals from society.

“Welcome to the Blue Scare. Welcome to Grade-A, government-sanctioned McCarthyism against liberals and against anyone who doesn’t embrace their distorted worldview. Here is the face of the American jihad.”

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