Monday, May 16, 2005

Pulpit Fallout

For anyone who has been following the story of the East Waynesville Baptist Church where 9 of its memebers were expelled for not going along with the pastor's political agenda, here is a good follow up story.

Political Split Leaves a Church Sadder and Grayer

Published: May 16, 2005
WAYNESVILLE, N.C., May 15 - From the pulpit of East Waynesville Baptist Church, the temporary pastor offered an unusual message for his adopted flock: "I don't mind telling you before I start off this morning, this is not where I want to be."

No one blames him. Over the past two weeks, the modest brick church with baskets of artificial lilies on the doors has found itself at the center of a national debate, a crash test site in the mixing of politics and religion. The Rev. Chan Chandler, the young minister who led the congregation of about 100 people for the last three years, is gone, having resigned under fire last week and taken his mostly younger followers with him. And nine longtime church members who said he had ousted them because they did not support his increasingly political sermons are back.

When Mr. Chandler, 33, resigned on May 10, some said the battle had been won. But the congregation that regrouped on Sunday was smaller and grayer, teary-eyed and leaderless.

"All the young people left, the young couples," Ernestine Parton, a white-haired woman in pastels that matched the church's colored windows, said after services on Sunday, the first without Mr. Chandler at the head of the congregation. "That's what really hurts."

The turmoil here began last October - near the end of a heated presidential race that divided the nation, families, friends and, ultimately, East Waynesville Baptist Church - when Mr. Chandler told members: "The question then comes in the Baptist Church, 'How do I vote?'; let me just say this right now, if you vote for John Kerry this year you need to repent or resign. You have been holding back God's church way too long."

Mr. Chandler, according to a tape recording of his sermon, added, "And I know I may get in trouble for saying that, but just pour it on."

The split over his comments amounted to more than ordinary congregational squabbling. It involved critical fault lines pitting conservative, and generally older, Democrats of the Old South against younger Republicans, who seemed to be looking to the pulpit for political as well as spiritual guidance.

Even Mr. Chandler's opponents acknowledged that he brought new life and new members to the 52-year-old church.

"He was energizing them," said David Wijewickrama, a lawyer for the ousted members. "But he was not energizing them with religion, he was energizing them with hate."

The ousted members had considered suing the church but eventually decided against it. Two congregation members said that some people who had left the church because of Mr. Chandler's sermons returned on Sunday.

One of the ousted members - Lewis Inman, who had been a deacon - welcomed the 50 worshipers and said he would like to honor the oldest and the youngest mother present, a yearly Mother's Day tradition that had been skipped amid the turmoil.

The oldest was 81. The youngest, it turned out - after an auctioneer-like "I'll start at 25, do we have one 25 or younger?" - was 42.

The guest pastor, Jack Sammons, the head of the Waynesville Baptist Association, spoke at length about the conflict, saying, "Satan has attacked the church."

"It's time to quit taking sides," Mr. Sammons said. "The only side that's here that's worth anything is the side of Jesus."

(Full Story)

1 comment:

subutane said...

one wonders why people need so much for people to tell them what to do