Chan Chandler (Photo: Waynesville Moutaineer)

Insisting his words and actions have been misunderstood and misinterpreted, a Baptist pastor accused of forcing the ouster of nine church members due to their political views resigned.

Chan Chandler, 33, of East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, N.C., told his congregation of about 100 last night that because the Bible teaches that a pastor should not be the cause of dissension, he had “no choice but to resign.”

“For me to remain now would only cause more hurt for me and my family,” Chandler said at a special business meeting called to address the dispute. “I am resigning with gratitude in my heart for all of you, particularly those of you who love me and my family.”

The pastor, who in a pre-election sermon warned against supporting pro-abortion candidates, said, “My concern was to give a voice to those who have no voice, to secure the lives of the pre-born before they leave the safety of their mother’s womb.”

About 35 church members left the brick building last night with Chandler, leaving about 40 behind in silence for several minutes before a man went to the piano to lead in a hymn.

Afterward, deacon chairman Blount Osborne came to the pulpit, according to the North Carolina Baptist publication Biblical Recorder.

“I feel this is the Lord’s will,” Osborne said. “We’re strong enough with God that we can pick up the little pieces and make big pieces.”

Osborne thanked the remaining members for standing up for what they believed.

“Those that left, left of their own accord,” he said. “No one said nothing to them.”

Regarding Chandler, Osborne said, “I just pray that he’ll find something and have a better life.”

Chandler’s attorney, John Pavey Jr., told WND the pastor plans to continue pursuing his master of divinity degree and move closer to the hospital where his son receives regular medical help.

‘Repent or resign’

The controversy drew national attention after some church members went to media claiming the pastor had politicized abortion and homosexuality, declaring last October in a sermon that anyone who voted for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry should “repent or resign.”

At a May 3 deacon’s meeting, which Chandler opened to all church members, nine of the members were voted out. But Pavey told WND the dispute had nothing to do with politics and the pastor has not apologized for his statements opposing issues such as abortion.

“He’s at great peace with this decision,” Pavey said. “But he hurts for the church.”

In an interview with Baptist Press just before his resignation – the pastor’s only contact with media – Chandler denied claims by the disgruntled church members that he has preached months of sermons filled with mandates to vote along party lines.

The pastor contended his focus always has been issue-oriented and not based on political preferences or affiliation.

“I don’t know how these folks voted,” Chandler said. “And I never endorsed any candidate.”

The pastor said he did cite from the church pulpit the “unbiblical values” of some politicians.

“But those were negative endorsements – never a positive endorsement” of any candidate, he said, whether Republican, Democrat or Independent.

Critics, however, point out the tax code, which gives the church tax-exempt status, also forbids any opposition to a particular candidate.

The code “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.”

Chandler admits citing Kerry’s views on abortion and homosexuality in one sermon, “and I also mentioned two Republicans’ names” whose views he says are out of step with the Bible. “But that’s not getting out [in media reports],” he said.

Pavey told WND the two Republicans mentioned were California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Months of disharmony

Chandler said the nine members initially left voluntarily. But some were trustees of the church and other members thought it prudent to make their actions official.

The pastor 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 how they vote.

More hesitatingly, according to Baptist Press, he also speculated the disgruntled members may have felt threatened in their leadership positions because of the church’s recent influx of new members.

He cited verses from I Corinthians 6, which he regarded as instruction to keep church disagreements out of the public eye.

Chandler said he was deeply grieved that the rest of the world had been let in on some of the church’s behavior, emphasizing he regreted that not for himself but for those who look to the church for spiritual leadership and guidance.

“I believe the application of the Bible needs to be to every single area of our lives,” Chandler told Baptist Press, including how church members conduct themselves both inside and outside the church walls.

The controversial words highlighted by media came from an Oct. 3 sermon, one month before the election. They were captured in a tape some of the nine church members provided to a local TV station.

East Waynesville Baptist Church (Photo: Biblical Recorder)

“Now, friend, you know and I know abortion is wrong, there’s no way around it,” Chandler told the congregation. “But the question then comes in the Baptist Church, how do I vote. Let me just say this right now: If you vote for John Kerry this year you need to repent or resign. You have been holding back God’s church way too long. And I know I may get in trouble for saying that, but just pour it on.”

Noting that many quotations in news stories left out the first part of the quote, Pavey noted the sermon passage was in the context of preaching against abortion and homosexual rights.

According to Pavey, Chandler said anyone who supports candidates who vote in favor of those issues is sinning.

But the lawyer insisted the church welcomes all people regardless of their political belief.

“The fact of the matter is this church probably has a greater number of Democrats that anything else,” he told WND. “This whole area is pretty strongly Democratic, but they are very conservative.”

In the Oct. 3 sermon, Chandler said, “We have a society of preachers who are afraid to get up in the pulpit and speak the truth. There are people in the congregations, leaders – deacons, teachers, Sunday school teachers – people who pay their tithe and let the pastor know it very loudly, that tell the pastor he cannot say anything political. He can say that it’s all right for you to support someone that does not support abortion. But you can’t name names.”

“‘You start naming names,'” Chandler said he was told, “‘we’re gonna ask you to leave.'”

But that’s a cop-out, he said, “hiding behind the pulpit.”

“We’ve been catering to Satan, catering to the enemy, we’ve not been making the stand that God wants us to make,” Chandler said.

At that point, he declared Kerry voters need to repent or resign. Later in the sermon, he said, “If you’re going to be offended today, take it up with the most high. I am merely the spokesperson. Don’t kill the messenger.”

Directing his comments to Kerry supporters seated in the pews, Chandler asked: “Why do you support an unbeliever over a man who says, ‘This is the day when I [was] saved and now my life changed’? Why do you support an unbeliever over a believer? Let me see, do I support a Christian or a non-Christian? Do I support someone who kills babies or I support someone who says, ‘Let’s let ’em live.’ Do I support someone who says, ‘Let’s marry the gays,’ or someone who says, ‘Let’s uphold God’s law and not’?”

‘Don’t tell me how to vote’

Several members said they agreed with the pastor’s stand on issues such as abortion, but didn’t want to be told how to vote.

A married couple among the nine disgruntled members, Frank and Thelma Lowe, said one voted for Kerry and the other for Bush but both object to Chandler’s attitude toward those with whom he disagrees.

“I don’t think this is any place to tell people how to vote, in the pulpit,” Thelma Lowe said. “I think that’s a choice we have, freedom. That we should vote the way we want to vote. Not even your husband should tell you how and my husband doesn’t tell me how.”

During the election campaign last year, the Vatican and some U.S. bishops took a strong stand against Roman Catholic politicians such as Kerry who support abortion rights.

In June of 2004, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, sent a letter to U.S. Catholic bishops specifying that “strong and open supporters of abortion be denied the Catholic sacrament for being guilty of a grave sin.”

In Colorado, Bishop Michael Sheridan denied communion for Kerry voters.

As WorldNetDaily reported, a Catholic lawyer who pressed heresy charges against Kerry for advocating abortion planned to file similar church lawsuits against other prominent politicians, including Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Marc Balestrieri, a canon lawyer and director of the Los Angeles-based non-profit group De Fide, said Kerry was “just one of a number who have directly and incoherently, as Catholics, publicly professed the right to murder. Not only is it incoherent, it’s heretical.”

Balestrieri filed his case against Kerry with the Archdiocese of Boston last June.

A Dominican theologian and consultor to the Vatican wrote a letter to Balestrieri stating his opinion that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights already have excommunicated themselves by their actions – a message that suggested Kerry was no longer a member of the church.

Related stories:

Heresy case pressed against Kerry, others

Is Kerry excommunicated?

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