Baptists Oust Non-Bush Backers

North Carolina's East Waynesville Baptist Church AP

Calling it a "great misunderstanding," the pastor of a small church who led the charge to remove nine members for their political beliefs tried to welcome them back Sunday, but some insisted he must leave for the wounds to heal.

The Rev. Chan Chandler didn't directly address the controversy during the service at East Waynesville Baptist Church, but issued a statement afterward through his attorney saying the church does not care about its members' political affiliations.

"No one has ever been voted from the membership of this church due to an individual's support or lack of support for a political party or candidate," he said.

Nine members said they were ousted during a church gathering last week by about 40 others because they refused to support President Bush. They attended Sunday's service with their lawyer and many supporters. The pastor's lawyer also attended the service.

Chandler noted their presence in his welcome to the congregation, saying, "I'm glad to see you all here. ... We are here today to worship the Lord. I hope this is what you are here for."

But Chandler's statement and his welcome didn't convince those members who were voted out that things would soon change, and some called for him to resign.

"This all started over politics and our right to vote for whoever we wanted to," said Thelma Lowe, who has been attending the church for 42 years. She and her husband Frank, a deacon at the church for 35 years, were among those voted out.

"Things will never be the same here until he leaves," she said.

The ousted members have said Chandler told them during last year's presidential campaign that anyone who planned to vote for Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry needed to leave the church in the mountain town about 125 miles northwest of Charlotte.

"He needs to leave," said Marlene Casey, 42, a lifelong member. "A lot of blood, sweat and tears have been shed by the people he told to leave."

Added Lewis Inman, a deacon at the church who said he was voted out Monday: "He could have apologized and made everything right. He's not man enough."

Chandler invited all church members to attend a business meeting on Tuesday. "This should all be cleared up by the end of the week," he said in an interview after the service.

Chandler said he and his wife have received calls from around the nation — some of them threatening — since his politics in the pulpit made national news.

His actions also drew criticism from other Baptist clergymen in the town.

"This is very disturbing," the Rev. Robert Prince III, who leads the congregation at the nearby First Baptist Church, said Saturday. "I've been a pastor for more than 25 years, and I have never seen church members voted out for something like this."

Some members of his congregation, however, voiced their support for Chandler on Sunday.

"He's a wonderful, good old country boy," Pam Serafin said as she walked into the church. "There are always two sides to every story."
  • Chris Hawke

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