Religion, Politics Can Be Combustible Match

For many residents of this hamlet nestled in the Smoky Mountains, nothing is as important as church. That's why nine longtime members of East Waynesville Baptist Church are so devastated after being kicked out of the congregation for, they say, supporting Democrat John Kerry's presidential bid.

They say the Rev. Chan Chandler led a charge to boot them from the church because they supported the Massachusetts senator's 2004 campaign.

Edith Nichols, who was ousted from the congregation along with her husband, said the pastor's instructions were clear: "Those that did not support Bush needed to leave, that they were sinners that believed in abortion and all the wrong things."

Lewis Inman, a deacon for 20 years, said being thrown out of his church was worse than when he was laid off from his job of 30 years.

"I'm very, very sad. This has been our church home, our church family," Inman said, his voice trembling. "It's the only church I've ever been in."

Chandler would not speak on the record to ABC News. But in an audiotape of a sermon from last October, he said God had urged him to endorse President Bush as the only truly Christian candidate.

"Now, friend, you know and I know abortion is wrong, there's no way around it. But the question then comes in, in the Baptist Church, how do I vote? Let me just say this right now: If you vote for John Kerry this year, you need to repent or resign," Chandler said on the tape, obtained from the church library by ABC affiliate WLOS in Asheville.

"You have been holding back God's church way too long," he said on the tape. "And I know I may get in trouble for saying that, but just pour it on."

More and More Pastors Preach Politics

Some members of the congregation say Chandler is acting out of his beliefs, and they support him..

"He's a wonderful, good ol' country boy, who listens to what God has to lay on his heart and he delivers the messages God handed to him," said church member Pam Serafin.

But the Baptist pastor across town called Chandler's actions "appalling."

Robert Prince, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waynesville, said when church leaders become involved in politics, it can have a negative effect on the church.

"There have been times when I've wanted to make some sort of endorsement," he said, "but you have to weigh that against what that does to the church, what that does to the membership and what that does to the cause of Christ."

To some, what's happening at East Waynesville Baptist Church is just the logical next step in what's seen as an increasing amount of politics being preached from the pulpit.

Last year, many black preachers endorsed Kerry in churches across the country.

"To bring our country out of despair, despondency and disgust, God has a John Kerry," the Rev. Gaston E. Smith said last October at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Miami.

In Philadelphia, right after a pro-Kerry appearance by fellow Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Rev. Ernest C. Morris Sr. told about 1,500 worshippers, "I can't tell you who to vote for, but I can tell you what my mama told me last week: 'Stay out of the bushes.' "

And in Cincinnati, Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church Pastor Donald H. Jordan Sr. said of Kerry's running mate, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., "I'm not worried about the law. I'm asking you to support him."

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