New York Times
May 10, 2005
WAYNESVILLE, N.C., May 10 (AP) - A Baptist preacher who was accused of forcing nine members to leave his church because they refused to support President Bush said on Tuesday that he was stepping down.
"For me to remain now would only cause more hurt for me and my family," the preacher, the Rev. Chan Chandler, said as he left a meeting at East Waynesville Baptist Church.
Congregants of the 100-member church have said that Mr. Chandler endorsed Mr. Bush from the pulpit during last year's presidential campaign and said that anyone who planned to vote for the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, needed to "repent or resign."
The church members said that he continued to preach about politics after Mr. Bush won re-election, culminating in a church gathering last week in which the nine members said they were ousted.
Speaking from the pulpit on Tuesday night, Mr. Chandler, 33, said that the dispute was rooted in his strong feelings about abortion. He then left with his wife and drove away from the church escorted by the police. A few moments later, about 40 of his supporters, many in tears, came out while other church members remained inside.
"I don't believe he preached politics," said Rhonda Trantham, one of Mr. Chandler's supporters. "I don't believe anyone should tell a preacher not to preach what's in the Bible."
Mr. Chandler's lawyer, John J. Pavey Jr., said his client had not apologized for anything he said and would continue to speak out against abortion. He said the dispute had nothing to do with politics.
Mr. Chandler's resignation, at a meeting open only to members of the congregation, came a day after a national group that lobbies for church-state separation urged the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the tax-exempt status of the church.
I.R.S. rules bar clear-cut politicking by tax-exempt groups. In October, days before Mr. Bush won a second term, the agency said it was investigating roughly 60 charities and other tax-exempt groups - about a third of them churches - for potentially breaking rules that bar them from political activity.
The outcome of those investigations is not known; the I.R.S. is prohibited from naming the groups it investigates or announcing results.