Church removes members for political views, deacon says
By Steve DeVane
A Baptist deacon says he and eight other members of East Waynesville Baptist Church were removed from the church roll because they disagreed with the pastor's political views.
Frank Lowe said he had been a member of the church for 43 years. He said the pastor, Chan Chandler, said he wanted the church to be a politically active church, and that anyone who disagrees with his views should leave.
Chandler could not be reached for comment.
WLOS-TV in nearby Asheville reported that Chandler declined an interview but said, "the actions were not politically motivated."
The controversy at the church reached a high point the Monday night, May 2, when the pastor invited all church members to a deacons' meeting. Lowe said at the beginning of the meeting, the pastor said anyone who didn't agree with his political views should leave.
Lowe said he, his wife, Thelma and seven others left. The pastor then called the church into conference and congregation voted to terminate the membership of those who left, Lowe said.
Among those dismissed were three deacons, he said.
Church member Janet Webb who was at the meeting declined to say what happened during the meeting, but said that Chandler is "a man of God who only preaches against sin and to win people to Jesus Christ."
Church member Bill Rash, who has been attending the church for about 29 years, said he stayed through the meeting, but has since resigned from his positions and decided to leave the church. He said another church member initially asked if all church members could come to the altar, pray together, forgive each other and get on with the Lord's business.
Chandler responded by saying if those who disagreed would repent, then they could get on with the Lord's work, Rash said. The pastor said if they weren't going to repent they should leave, Rash said.
That's when Lowe and the others left.
After they left, the remaining members voted to take their names off the roll, Rash said everyone voted for the measure except he and his wife, who didn't vote.
The remaining members decided that if another church wrote for the letters of those who left, East Waynesville would reply saying they had left in bad standing. Members also discussed changing the church bylaws to state that all members had to sign a statement saying they supported the pastor's political views, Rash said.
During the last presidential election, the pastor said that anyone who was supporting John Kerry should repent or resign from the church, Rash and Lowe said. The pastor offered to hold the door for them to leave, Lowe said.
Lowe said he usually votes Democratic while his wife votes Republican.
The pastor "says my political views support abortion and homosexuality, therefore that would be enough to turn me out of the church," Lowe said. "I am not - positively not - for either one."
If indeed Chandler's pulpit statement was made before the November election and did not indicate he was speaking only for himself, it would be a "pretty clear" violation of Internal Revenue Service rules against political endorsements by churches, said Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC). That could lead the IRS to revoke East Waynesville Baptist Church's tax-exempt status.
Some members of Congress have been trying to do away with that restriction, led by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.). He has introduced a version of the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act in every session of Congress since 2001. Although the bill has not passed, it continues to receive strong support from many conservative Christian groups.
However, many groups that support the separation of church and state have strongly opposed the bill, including the BJC.
Lowe said he and his wife have been invited to other churches since the meeting. He expects they'll start attending somewhere else, but wouldn't rule out an effort to "retake" the church.
Another church member, Selma Morris, said she believes the vote to remove the members isn't valid because the church bylaws weren't followed.
The bylaws say a called meeting should be announced on Sunday morning. The meeting Monday was announced at the Sunday evening service, she said.
The bylaws also say a called meeting should be held two weeks after the announcement, according to Morris. The meeting was held the next night.
Morris said she wasn't at the meeting, but would have walked out with the others if she had been there.
"I can't support that," she said.