North Carolina Church Split Teaches Lesson on Religion, Politics

Article excerpt

The Rev. Chan Chandler has learned the hard way that many people don't cotton to the mixing of religion and partisan politics.

Chandler, pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, N.C., was fond of giving politically charged sermons. During last year's elections, he went too far and asserted in one sermon that anyone in the congregation who voted for Democrat John Kerry should "repent or resign."

After the election, Chandler continued using his pulpit to advance political causes. Things came to a head last month when Chandler orchestrated the expulsion of nine members from the church-all Democrats. Forty others who attend the 100-member congregation walked out in protest.

At a stormy meeting that followed a few days later, Chandler resigned his pulpit. "For me to remain now would only cause more hurt for me and my family," he said.

Chandler's pulpit attacks on Kerry clearly violated the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits non-profit groups from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. Americans United had asked the IRS to investigate, but now that Chandler has left the church it's likely the tax agency won't bother.

Still, this unhappy incident exposes an often-overlooked problem with pulpit politicking: It not only violates federal law, it divides congregations and generates an enormous amount of ill will. …