North Carolina Pastor Who Endorsed Political Candidates Resigns Pulpit

Incident Underscores Dangers Of Immersing Houses Of Worship In Political Activity, Says Church-State Watchdog Group

A North Carolina pastor who drew national attention for partisan politicking in the pulpit resigned last night.

The incident, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State, illustrates the danger of mixing partisan political activity with churches.

 According to news accounts, Pastor Chan Chandler of the East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, N.C., resigned during a meeting Tuesday evening. Reportedly, some of Chandler's supporters left the church with him.

Chandler's resignation came on the day after Americans United reported the church to the Internal Revenue Service, asserting that his endorsements of candidates from the pulpit violate the Internal Revenue Code. AU filed the complaint May 9.

"The developments at this church clearly show the result of pulpit-based electioneering," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It leads to ill will among congregants and divides congregations. This incident illustrates perfectly why our houses of worship should refrain from telling people whom to vote for."

Nine members of the Waynesville church say they were forced out of the congregation for defying Chandler's order to support the reelection of President George W. Bush and refrain from voting for Democrats.

Chandler's actions had been controversial for some time. Some members complained that most of his sermons were political. Several newspapers and television stations reported that on Oct. 3, 2004, Chandler told his congregation, "If you vote for John Kerry, you need to repent or resign." Church members told the media that prior to the election, Chandler frequently endorsed Bush from the pulpit and attacked Kerry.

AU's Lynn noted that a bill pending in Congress would lift the IRS ban on pulpit politicking and encourage actions like Chandler's. The Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act (H.R. 235) is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.),

"If we want more churches fractured along political lines, then the Jones bill is the way to go," Lynn said. "The sad controversy in North Carolina should spell the end of this misguided measure."

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.