Church Split In North Carolina Shows Dangers Of Partisan Politics In Pulpit, Says Americans United

Church Electioneering Bill In Congress Would Invite More Disputes Over Politics In Houses Of Worship, Says AU's Lynn

A bitter controversy over partisan politics at a North Carolina church shows the danger of electioneering in the pulpit, according to Americans United of Separation of Church and State.

According to news media reports, the Rev. Chan Chandler of East Waynesville Baptist Church in Haywood County told members that they must vote for President George W. Bush. Nine members who did not do so have since been told to leave the congregation. An additional 40 members have reportedly left in protest.

“This is an outrage,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Houses of worship exist to bring people together for worship, not split them apart over partisan politics.

“I think there is an important lesson here for the whole country,” Lynn continued. “Americans do not expect to be ordered to vote for certain candidates by their religious leaders.”

Religious Right groups have been pressing evangelical churches to get deeply involved in partisan politics, Lynn said, and this kind of controversy is the natural outcome.

Lynn said matters will become even worse if a bill now pending in Congress becomes federal law.

H.R. 235, a measure introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), would allow clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit and still retain a tax exemption of their house of worship.

“Introducing partisan politics into our churches is a terrible idea,” said AU’s Lynn. “I hope this incident in North Carolina will cause our members of Congress to reject Rep. Jones’ bill.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.