Embattled N.C. pastor resigns, says he was misunderstood

WAYNESVILLE, N.C. (BP)--Reading from a prepared statement, North Carolina pastor Chan Chandler told members of East Waynesville Baptist Church May 10 he was resigning as the church’s minister, effective immediately.

"My deepest convictions are that my words and actions have been misunderstood and misinterpreted," Chandler said. "However, for me to remain now would only cause more hurt for everyone, including my family."

The church of more than 100 active members had been embroiled for several months over what some in the church characterized as political preaching, with some of them saying they were forced out because of politics. But a few minutes after 7 p.m. May 10, Chandler diffused the situation by tendering his resignation. Chandler said the issue was not about politics but about social issues, such as abortion.

"My concern was to give a voice to those who have no voice in our nation today and [who] have their lives terminated before they leave the safety of their mother's womb," he said. "My protest on behalf of pre-born children is non-violent in nature. And since it constitutes a deeply held religious conviction, I continue to believe that America should guarantee that liberty of conscience at all times.

"May God continue to bless every one of you who loves our Lord, who is bringing every area of your lives under His Word."

At issue was the alleged ouster of nine church members who said their names were removed from the church rolls because of their political views. Chandler, though, told BP May 10 that no one at the church had been ousted from church membership based on anyone’s political views or voting record.

Chandler said he was resigning "with gratitude" in his heart for the members and "particularly those of you who love me and my family." Chandler added that his resignation would keep him from going "against the teachings found in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8," which forbids lawsuits between believers. The nine members who opposed Chandler had hired an attorney.

"I want God’s work to go on in an effective and peaceful way,” Chandler told Baptist Press in an exclusive interview after the meeting. He said he believes his resignation is best for all concerned.

Local newscasts cast Chandler as being against Democrats and for expelling church members who didn’t publicly declare support for President George W. Bush.

One news program replayed an audio tape of a sermon preached by Chandler last fall in which he could be heard telling members who would vote for Kerry that they needed to “repent or resign.” Chandler told Baptist Press the quote should be viewed in context and was intended only for those in leadership roles. Chandler noted that Kerry is for abortion rights and has sided with homosexual activists on many issues.

Chandler said voting for Kerry would have been giving tacit approval of his views, which Chandler believes would be unacceptable behavior for a Christian. Chandler emphasized he was asking the members to resign their leadership roles, and not their church membership.

About 40 of Chandler's supporters attended the meeting.

"I don't believe he preached politics," Rhonda Trantham, a supporter of Chandler, told the Associated Press. "I don't believe anyone should tell a preacher not to preach what's in the Bible."

Said another member, Carolyn Gaddy, according to AP: "I think everyone in there agrees with him on the issues. Politics was the problem."

Margaret Biddix, one of the nine members who opposed Chandler, told The Raleigh News & Observer, "Maybe the church can heal now and we can go on."

Russ Cassell, editorial commentator on WHNS-TV in Asheville, N.C., and host of a local radio program, defended Chandler during a TV segment. Cassell said that due to the nature of the issues of the day, religion and politics are necessarily intertwined.

"How can a pastor not speak out?” Cassell asked. “Preachers who are worth their salt try to guide their congregations on moral issues. These issues are also political issues –- such things as abortion, homosexuality, war.... The Bible’s pretty clear as to how we are to deal with these moral issues.”

Answering the allegation that Chandler jeopardized the church’s tax-exempt status, Cassell pointed to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, saying they have supported Democratic candidates in church settings before.

Chandler said he plans on finishing his degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He added that he and his family are trying to find the resources to pay for eye surgery for his 4-year-old son, who is blind.


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