05/13/05 — Churches and politics: Mountain church says take religion to the polls

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Churches and politics: Mountain church says take religion to the polls

An old proverb says it is wise to keep one’s enemy in view.

That didn’t come from the Bible, but most Christian churches abide by it, in a sense. They like for the lost to stay in the church where they can hear the Word.

Hence, ex-communications are rare in most mainline churches. You can’t preach to a sinner who isn’t there.

It was surprising, therefore, to read that nine members were asked to quit the East Waynesville Baptist Church in western North Carolina.

Their offense had been supporting political candidates who favored abortion and homosexual rights.

Most Baptists claim to oppose late-term abortion and same-sex marriages. Feelings ran strong in East Waynesville, and the congregants apparently decided that all of their members had to hold to their beliefs even in the voting booth.

Blame for the banishments — or credit for them, depending on your view — went mostly to the preacher, the Rev. Chan Chandler. But in that, media reports were misleading. In Baptist churches, the congregation itself votes members in and out. It is not in the preacher’s purview.

Still, Chandler had spoken strongly against candidates — both Democrat and Republican — who favored abortion and homosexual rights, and he undoubtedly led the congregation to take the vote. On Tuesday, he resigned, saying it was in the best interests of the church and of his family.

It might help take East Waynesville out of the crosshairs of liberals who have insisted that the Internal Revenue Service pounce on the church for violating its rules requiring tax-exempt churches to ignore partisan politics. These rules are widely ignored, but you never can tell what might bestir the IRS bureaucrats to action.

Despite the IRS, it is understandable, if not perfectly natural, for a group of devout Christians to be averse to the liberal positions on such issues as late-term abortion and same-sex marriages.

But a preacher might be more effective by simply discussing the prevailing social issues, making his point without mentioning names of candidates or naming political parties.

Published in Editorials on May 13, 2005 8:48 AM