A young North Carolina pastor forced to resign his church over pulpit politics was a victim of “trickle-down theology” from more-polished preachers at mega-churches mingling politics in their preaching, an Alabama newspaper editorial observed.
A Tuesday editorial in the Decatur Daily said Chan Chandler, who resigned Wednesday as pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church, should not be faulted for his politics. Given today’s religious and political climate, the paper continued, the 33-year-old student pastor “just sees himself as one foot soldier in a justified movement to stamp out liberalism.”
Chandler preached a message in October presenting President Bush as the only choice for Christian voters.
“Now, friend, you know and I know abortion is wrong, there’s no way around it,” he said on an audio tape of the sermon. “But the question then comes in: 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.”
The message came at the height of iVoteValues, a voter-registration campaign launched by the Southern Baptist Convention last June. It featured a nationwide tour via a red, white and blue 18-wheeler tricked out to promote “values-based voting.”
Voter guides contrasted Democratic and Republican Party platforms on issues like gun ownership, school choice, stem cell research, education, federal spending, job creation and abortion, according to a news release.
A Baptist Press story on Nov. 3 touted the program’s success, citing exit polls crediting faith and morality with the re-election of President Bush, expanding the GOP’s advantage in Congress and passage of amendments banning gay marriage in 11 states.
It also prompted formal complaints by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State against prominent Southern Baptist pastors asking the IRS to investigate whether politically charged sermons violated guidelines against non-profit organizations engaging in partisan politics.
Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., drew fire for alternating slides of the candidates’ faces while contrasting views of George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry on a litany of issues including Iraq, abortion and gay marriage. Barry Lynn of AU complained that Floyd’s sermon “seemed more like a Bush campaign commercial than a church service.”
Unfortunately for Chandler, the Decatur Daily editorialized, he “wasn’t smooth enough to emulate the silver-tongued preachers in the mega-churches who find fortune in spewing their intolerance across the nation’s airwaves daily.”
Calling Chandler a “sad victim of their trickle-down theology,” the paper went on to conclude: “Politics have no place in America’s churches. Politics will destroy the holiness of civilization’s greatest institution if Americans don’t stop this dangerous movement.”
When news came out that Chandler had reportedly orchestrated the vote to oust nine church members who disagreed with his political views, Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and creator of the iVoteValues campaign, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was stunned.
“I am appalled,” Land said by phone Saturday. “I know thousands of Baptist pastors, and I can’t think of one who wouldn’t be appalled.”
Land later spoke more carefully in comments in Baptist Press.
“I don’t know the particulars of the situation, but I certainly acknowledge the right of each local autonomous congregation to decide the requirements for membership in their church,” Land told BP. “However, I would also add that the right to determine membership does not always mean that it is exercised in a correct fashion. I believe it would never–never–be appropriate or acceptable for a local Baptist church to decide membership based upon how a person votes.”
Land said even voting against a constitutional marriage amendment would not be grounds for dismissal. He said there are biblical grounds for church discipline regarding behavior, such as living in a homosexual or adulterous lifestyle that are condemned in Scripture. “But erroneous and poor judgment should never lead to being removed from church membership.”
In 1990 SBC President Paige Patterson called on Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., to discipline member President Bill Clinton for signing a proclamation designating “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.”
Patterson said the proclamation was “entirely inconsistent with [Clinton’s] confession as an evangelical Christian and certainly as a Southern Baptist.”
Land, commenting on a resolution at the same meeting rebuking Clinton, termed the proclamation “an abuse of the office of the presidency.”
It wasn’t the first time the SBC dealt with Clinton’s church membership. In 1993 the convention passed a resolution distancing the denomination from the president’s social agenda and turned down an attempt to deny seating of Immanuel’s messengers.
The latter was based on an argument that by failing to discipline the president the church tacitly endorsed his pro-homosexual agenda and thereby violated the SBC constitution’s exclusion of churches that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
A credentials committee, viewing it as a test case for the new language added to the constitution three years earlier, concluded that a church could not be held liable for the beliefs of a single member.
Chandler, who is pursuing a master’s degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, had been pastor of the 100-member church in western North Carolina for two-and-a-half years. He and the church became the focus of international media interest after a heated deacons’ meeting-turned church conference on May 2. Nine longstanding members said they were voted out at the meeting by a group of newcomers, because they refused to endorse the pastor’s political views.
One of Chandler’s professors at Southeastern wrote in Baptist Press that had he been in his class in pastoral ministry last October, Chandler would have heard his advice not to name names or political parties from the pulpit.
But Waylan Owens, vice president of planning and communications at the seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., lamented that in a free country and free pulpit “a young minister should be subject to such an inquisition for standing for biblical morality and the teachings of his church.”
Owens said Chandler’s message was essentially the same as that of the new pope, who wrote a paper calling for Communion to be withheld from those who actively support abortion, a thinly veiled reference to John Kerry.
“Chan was not as diplomatic as he could have been, but his intended message is one we all should embrace, whatever our religious stripe,” Owens wrote. “If you profess it, you should live it. If you believe it, your life should show it. Your religion should apply to, and impact, all areas of your life, or it is not a religion at all.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.