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The Waynesville Nine: When Churches Discriminate Politically

Steps to Stop Illegal Church Electioneering

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Updated April 09, 2006
Hey...did you hear the one about the Democrats who got expelled from a Baptist church because they were…well, Democrats?

No, seriously. It’s not a joke. It happened in the red state of North Carolina. It’s absurd but true.

Nine Democrats got voted out of their church because they wouldn’t repent of their liberal sins and support George Bush. These aren’t rabid activists, sign-toting picketers or disruptive rabble-rousers. The Waynesville Nine are middle-agers and senior citizens, deacons and bookkeepers. They’ve been members for decades. Said one ousted member, “A lot of blood, sweat and tears have been shed by the people he told to leave.”

He is Pastor Chan Chandler of the 400-member East Waynesville Baptist Church, part of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC), of the Southern Baptist Convention.

It started in Fall 2004 when Chandler preached a sermon series on politics. According to parishioners, the election-season sermons focused on “John Kerry and why he was an evil man.” Many asked him to stop politicizing the church, but the pastor felt called to spread the gospel of George Bush.

Pastor Chandler is rumored to have required each member, from teenagers to seniors, to sign a written agreement with the pastor’s politics, a move the BSCNC now calls "highly irregular."

On May 1, the pastor preached two barn-burner politically infused sermons, then called a special church-wide meeting for Monday night. The pastor requested the attendance of the Waynesville Nine plus two others.

“Monday night was the lynching,” said Lewis Inman. “He had 40 people with him, 12 adults and the rest teenagers… and said they were going to vote us out. …And he only needed a two-thirds majority to do it….so the nine of us stood up and left before they could vote.” The teens clapped and cheered loudly when the nine elderly members left the premises.

Why Is This Wrong? Of course, God transcends politics. God is not a Republican or Democrat. To state otherwise shows lack of understanding of Christianity.

From a statutory viewpoint, it’s disastrous. Churches are exempt from most taxes, including income and property taxes. In return for valuable exemptions, churches are prohibited by the IRS "from directly or indirectly participating in...any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for elective office.”

The theory is that all US taxpayers subsidize the tax-free status of churches, and may not be forced to subsidize oppositional political activity. Churches can lose tax-exempt status for violating IRS regulations. The church is then liable for income, property and a slew of other taxes, just like any other for-profit organization.

From a political viewpoint, it’s stupid. Conservative evangelical Christians appeal to followers, in part, based on a historical persecution complex of martyrdom. Christians as the misunderstood outsiders, do-gooder victims of a evil, heathen world. A cut above the rest of the world in spirituality and lifestyle.

Pastor Chandler arrogantly created martyrs with this public ouster. It’s a political loser, sure to repel voters and supporters, and nasty situations normally drive down church attendance. Another 50 members of the church have departed church rolls in dissent.

What Should a Non-Republican Do? Speaking privately with the pastor or board of Elders/Deacons is your first step. That should suffice to correct discriminatory and illegal behavior by the church, and to clear up misunderstandings.

If electioneering persists, taxpayers are encouraged to contact the IRS at 1-800-829-0433, or visit the IRS web page. When contacting the IRS, be sure to have corroborating notes, documents and photos.

And last, find a new church. This country has thousands of loving, respectful churches eager to welcome new members of all political leanings.

The United Church of Christ recently ran an ad campaign stating that all are greeted with open arms at their churches. Other denominations decried the UCC ads as inaccurate. Reality is, though, that some churches are exclusive and exclusionary, based on race, politics, sexuality, income level, dress and more. The East Waynesville Baptist Church is a prime example.

What’s Next for the Waynesville Nine? Fifty-five dissenters and their attorneys attended services en masse on May 8. The pastor nervously greeted them from his pulpit, “ We are here today to worship the Lord. I hope this is what you are here for.”

Chandler now calls it a “great misunderstanding. This should all be cleared up by the end of this week." He’s called another church-wide meeting. The BSCNC website posted this statement regarding the controversy, "...a position as the one Chandler is reported to have taken could threaten a church’s tax exempt status because it could be interpreted as stepping into political advocacy, an action prohibited by IRS rules."

Pastor Chandler resigned his position on May 10, 2005.

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