WAYNESVILLE, N.C. (BP)–After several days of avoiding media contact, Chan Chandler granted an exclusive interview to Baptist Press Tuesday afternoon, May 10.
Chandler and the church where he is pastor — East Waynesville Baptist Church, Waynesville, N.C. — have drawn considerable media attention in recent days as nine members publicly alleged Chandler had them ousted from church membership based on their choice of political parties and candidates.
“I don’t know how these folks voted,” Chandler said. “And I never endorsed any candidate.” Chandler said he did cite from the church pulpit what he believes are the “unbiblical values” of some political hopefuls. “But those were negative endorsements — never a positive endorsement” of any candidate, he said, whether Republican, Democrat or Independent.
Chandler admits citing Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s views on abortion and homosexuality in one sermon, “and I also mentioned two Republicans’ names” whose views he says are out of step with the Bible. “But that’s not getting out,” he said.
Disgruntled members cite months of sermons replete with sermonic mandates to vote along party lines, but Chandler said his focus has always been issue-oriented and not based on political preferences or affiliation.
Chandler says to his recollection he has not mentioned politics in any sermon since last fall. “The church has the tapes,” he said, adding that, if such a tape does reveal he made an overt political endorsement, then such a tape “would have been doctored” or the endorsement was “completely unintentional.”
“This never has been about politics,” he said. “It’s always been about whether the Bible applies to the entire life of a Christian.” He explained that some Southern Baptists have held for decades the belief that religion and politics should never mix. But for Chandler, Christians entering a voting booth have a much weightier spiritual responsibility than they do a political one.
“Sometimes it’s like choosing the lesser of two evils,” he said. “But in that case, I see all evil and I don’t vote for either candidate.” Chandler said he has counseled members to write in some other candidate’s name they could feel right about when faced with the proverbial lesser of two evils choice.
As Baptist Press tried to clarify whether the nine people were in fact voted out of the church, Chandler said they initially left voluntarily. Since some of those who willingly forfeited their memberships were trustees of the church, other members thought it prudent to make their actions official.
Chandler said the church had undergone several months of disharmony, some of which he speculates was the result of his preaching about Christians’ responsibility to be reflective of the Bible in the way that they vote. And more hesitatingly, he also speculated that, since the church had baptized almost 30 people and was growing under his leadership, then those who had been in church leadership positions for years may have felt threatened.
Whatever the reasons, Chandler said most church members believed the unrest needed to be resolved. That’s why on May 2 the deacons called for a May 3 deacons’ meeting. Chandler broadened the meeting when he decided Sunday night, May 2, to open it up to the entire church, even those who were waiting to be baptized and join the church as new members.
He also laid the ground rules, telling those who were unhappy with him as pastor that if they could garner a simple majority against him, he’d leave, despite the bylaws provision that such a vote to terminate the pastor requires a two-thirds vote margin.
Chandler also said that if those who were dissatisfied with him couldn’t garner a simple majority, then they should leave.
Three times he explained this to the Sunday night crowd, and three times, all commonly consented to abide by the provisions.
Some have alleged after the fact that what happened the next night, Monday, May 3, was a violation of the church bylaws.
Chandler explains: “When I opened the deacons’ meeting to anyone who wanted to attend, I noted the bylaws discrepancy and asked if that bothered anyone.” Seeing and hearing no opposition “and in fact, having agreement three successive times” the meeting went on as planned with no complaint about a bylaws breach.
All of the “he-said-she-said” stuff is really secondary to Chandler. What he’s desired all along, he says, “is unity and peace for the church.”
Citing verses from 1 Corinthians 6, which he says require the church to keep its disagreements out of the public eye, Chandler is deeply grieved that the rest of the world is now privy to some of the church’s behavior. He says he regrets that not for himself, but for those who look to the church for spiritual leadership and guidance.
“I believe the application of the Bible needs to be to every single area of our lives,” Chandler said, and that would include how church members conduct themselves both within and without the church walls.