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FIRST-PERSON: Is there more to the N.C. church story?

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Chan Chandler is one of my students. You may have heard of him. He is the pastor of the East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, N.C. According to the Associated Press, Chan ousted all the members of the church who would not support George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

Now, if that were true, that would be one sensational story. The real sensational story, though, has been the media’s frenzy over supposed evidence of the religious right’s imposition of a theocracy in America.

What a place for right-wing Christian radicals to begin, in a church of about 100 people in Waynesville, N.C., a community of about 9,200. What a time to start: nine members “ousted” seven months after the election because they would not vote for President Bush.

But what is the real story? The media has refused to do the work necessary to find out the truth. Dogging Chan, who understandably has refused to talk so far, the media has ignored all of the members of the church who actually did the voting. Why have we only heard from those voted out or from their supporters? Why are there no quotes from the members who said, “enough is enough?”

Many facts have gone unreported or obscured in the media’s efforts to scandalize a young minister who has taken a stand for biblical morality and the life of a baby resting in her mother’s womb.

You would have to have read closely to know that at least one of the members voted out of fellowship of the church is a self-confessed Republican. None of the media has seemed interested in the fact that perhaps a majority of the members doing the voting are registered Democrats.

Do you wonder how those nine had behaved during the seven months between Chan’s statement on John Kerry in October and last Monday evening? Have any reporters asked whether disunity and ongoing, uncharitable disruption in the church by this group of nine played any part in the final vote tally?

Does it tell us something that in spite of the Bible’s clear admonition not to take one another to court in 1 Corinthians 6, the nine’s first response was to go find a lawyer? Is there more to this story, and is the media interested in finding it?

I keep waiting to read or to hear the fact that at the same time Chan called on members to repent for voting for John Kerry, he also called on members to repent if they had voted for two Republicans. I believe that October message was recorded.

When do you think the media will report that the core of Chan’s message was the very message of the Catholic Church and its new Pope who, before becoming Pope, wrote a paper calling for communion to be withheld from those who actively support abortion, presumably identifying Kerry clearly enough for even the media to understand it.

Now, Chan did not have the sophistication and public relations skills of a man about to become Pope. That may be one reason he has refused so far to open himself to the editing room of today’s media. But his message was the same. You cannot call yourself a member of a church that stands against abortion and then actively support abortion through your politics.

What a novel idea! Your life should match your religious profession. As we used to say when I was growing up, “You gotta walk the talk!” Imagine that, Christians living out with integrity what they claim to believe.

What is strange is that the media would not be sympathetic to Chan. After all, they are constantly reporting the lack of integrity among God’s people who claim to believe one way and then live another. Aren’t we all tired of the Christians, especially pastors and church leaders, who are caught in adultery and embezzlement and tax fraud each year? Wouldn’t we all like men who claim to preach the Word also call us to live the Word?

If Chan had taken my class before his October pronouncement about Kerry and the two Republicans, he would have heard my discouragement of naming names or political parties. And while I am not certain that Chan violated any rules, I do teach my students to steer as wide a berth as possible in such matters, giving great respect to the law, even to IRS regulations. However, since I believe that America should protect freedom of conscience and the right to speak freely in a religious pulpit, I am saddened that a young minister should be subject to such an inquisition for standing for biblical morality and the teachings of his church.

That being said, we should not cower in fear before our government, but rather we should fear the Lord our God, and stand upon His word. Chan was not as diplomatic as he could have been, but his intended message is one we all should embrace, whatever our religious stripe. 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.

Whether Jew or Muslim or Catholic or Protestant or whatever religion you hold — even if you claim to be an atheist — Chan’s exhortations should remind us all: Talk is cheap. Integrity demands that what we say and what we do should match.
Waylan Owens is vice president of planning and communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He also teaches a class in pastoral ministry.

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  • Waylan Owens