WAYNESVILLE — Nine members of a local church had their membership revoked and 40 others left in protest after tension over political views recently came to a head, church members say.
About 20 members of the 400-member East Waynesville Baptist Church voted the nine members out at a recent deacon meeting, which turned into an impromptu business meeting, according to congregants.
Chan Chandler, pastor of East Waynesville Baptist, had been exhorting his congregation since October to support his political views or leave, said Selma Morris, a 30-year member of the church.
“He preached a sermon on abortion and homosexuality, then said if anyone there was planning on voting for John Kerry, they should leave,” she said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard something like that. Ministers are supposed to bring people in.”
Repeated phone calls to Chandler went unanswered Friday, and he was not available at the church or his home to comment. Those members supposedly voted out also could not be contacted Friday.
Question of legality
Dr. George Bullard, associate executive director-treasurer for Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said if a church’s bylaws allow for the pastor to establish who and who cannot be members of the church, the pastor has every right to disallow memberships.
“Membership is a local church issue,” he said. “It is not something the state convention would enter into.”
Morris said, according to the church’s bylaws, business meetings must be announced from the pulpit at least two weeks before the meeting, and 20 members must be present for a quorum.
“He had a quorum, but this was supposed to be a deacon meeting, not a business meeting,” she said. “They’re legally not terminated.”
Morris said the members have a lawyer looking into the situation.
Doris Wilson, one of Chandler’s neighbors and a member of First Baptist Church in Waynesville said, “I hate to see the church suffer like that. God doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. It just hurts to see that going on.”
It’s not clear whether the church’s tax-exempt status could be jeopardized.
The Internal Revenue Service exempts certain organizations from taxation including those organized and operated for religious purposes, provided that they do not engage in certain activities including involvement in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”
Valerie Thornton, a spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service, said she could not comment on the East Waynesville situation, but said “in general if a church engages in partisan politics, it could put their tax-exempt status in jeopardy.”
Pastor Robert Prince III of First Baptist Church of Waynesville said he was appalled to hear about the claims but noticed a lot of Southern Baptist ministers endorsing President Bush in November’s election.
“One rule has been to speak to issues but not to endorse particular candidates,” he said. “It’s a disturbing development that Baptist pastors are crossing this line and are endorsing specific candidates.”
Morris said she and other church members have received many calls from people saying they are praying for the church and its members.
She said she was saddened by what was going on, adding that it was like having a death in the family.
“These people are your family, even the ones who voted,” she said.
Prince said it would be difficult for the church to move on from the situation.
“The atmosphere will be very divisive,” he said.
© Copyright 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times