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My Way or the Highway

For any who thought my previous column was too critical of politics in the pulpit, I direct your attention to Waynesville, N.C. That is where Pastor Chan Chandler is reported to have told his congregation that any new members coming into the church would be expected to agree with his political view or leave.

Last October, just before the national elections, Pastor Chandler said in his sermon that anyone who was supporting John Kerry should repent or resign from the church membership. According to media reports, the pastor offered to hold the door for them to leave.

Frank Lowe, a member of the East Waynesville Baptist Church for 43 years, and eight others (three of whom were deacons) were voted out of the church on May 3. They would not agree to the conservative political views of Pastor Chandler.

On the legal side the church could lose its tax-exempt status. The tax code does not permit charities organized under Section 501(c)(3) to endorse political candidates or parties.

But even more important, it is a clear violation of the Baptist historical heritage of separation of church and state. The whole spirit of Christianity becomes twisted and unrecognizable when it links up with government.

What’s wrong with these Baptists? I have been one for 60 years and still have not figured out why so many weird things happen in Baptist churches.

Maybe, I thought, Baptists need bishops to oversee the churches and help wayward pastors or churches present a better image. Then I remembered how Methodist bishops were ignored by President Bush when he wanted to go to war and how the Catholic bishops covered up the sex scandals in the Catholic Church.

Having Baptist bishops is not the answer. Besides, there are already too many Baptist pastors who act like bishops and popes.

This sort of thing would have had my Bible teachers at Howard Payne–W.A. Todd, D.D. Tidwell and Joe McClain–calling us young preachers together and making sure none of us were ever so stupid.

North Carolina is the same state where a pastor burned copies of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible over 50 years ago. Calling the RSV “the Reviled Standard Version,” that pastor demanded use of only the King James Version. This is the same King James who killed dissenters and certainly didn’t live according to any Bible.

These events reminded me of the Pilgrims. They were not allowed to worship and believe as they wanted to in England, so they came to New England in the 17th century.

They were soon caught up in the “who’s-in-power?” thing.

So the Puritans developed official interpreters–usually pastors–to define what conduct was permitted and prohibited.

Harry Emerson Fosdick told of a Captain Kemple. After being absent for three years on a sea voyage, he returned on a Sunday. He was greeted by his wife with a kiss at their front door, in view of the public.

Kissing in public was bad enough to these legalists, but to do it on a Sunday was just too much. Captain Kemple was put in the stocks.

A century ago is was common for a person to be “churched” by a Protestant congregation. The word meant that the congregation voted to oust unrepentant members, who persisted in activity outside the church covenant, such as drinking, dancing or missing worship services.

But until now I never heard of anyone being “churched” because they differed with the pastor over who to vote for in presidential elections.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, this Rev. Chandler must be “a good pastor in the worst sense of the word.”

Britt Towery is a retired Southern Baptist missionary. His opinions appear in the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.

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The President and the Pope