Religion, Politics Can Be Combustible Match

The secular group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State even asked the Internal Revenue Service to look into these latter two incidents to see if they violated the tax code's prohibition on political endorsements by churches that enjoy the benefits of 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

Conservatives, of course, weighed in heavily for Bush. In addition to the vigorous efforts of fundamental Christian leaders like James Dobson, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and the Rev. Pat Robertson, many Catholic churches weighed in by refusing to offer communion to Kerry, a Catholic who supports legal abortion rights. In Colorado, Bishop Michael Sheridan even denied communion for Kerry voters.

"What doesn't really compute for me is someone who says 'I am a Catholic but I will pick and choose and name for myself what that means,' " Sheridan told ABC News last year.

"What is generally the rule is that churches talk about issues," said Helen Alvare, a professor of law at Catholic University in Washington. "What they don't do and what the IRS forbids them from doing is say, 'Vote for Candidate X.' "

Sunday Spin

On Sunday, obviously taken aback by the national media attention his actions were getting, Chandler had an attorney, John J. Pavey Jr., read a statement that his church "fellowships openly with all who embrace the authority and application of the Bible regardless of political affiliation."

The statement went on to insist that "no one has ever been voted from the membership of this church due to an individual's support or lack of support for a political party or candidate."

Pavey could not explain why the sentiments of the statement were contradicted by so many members of the church on both sides of the debate, or by the audiotape of Chandler's sermon last Oct. 3.

Indeed, though some media reports have repeated Chandler's claim that this was all just a "misunderstanding," the full content of that sermon seems very clear.

"We have a society of preachers who are afraid to get up in the pulpit and speak the truth," Chandler said in the taped sermon. "There are people in the congregations, leaders -- deacons, teachers, Sunday school teachers -- people who pay their tithe and let the pastor know it very loudly, that tell the pastor he cannot say anything political. He can say that it's all right for you to support someone that does not support abortion. But you can't name names."

"'You start naming names,'" Chandler said he was told, "'we're gonna ask you to leave.' " But that's a cop-out, "hiding behind the pulpit," Chandler claimed.

"We've been catering to Satan, catering to the enemy, we've not been making the stand that God wants us to make," he said. Then he said Kerry voters need to repent or resign.

He said in the sermon that he doesn't care if he offends anyone: "I want to make the Who's Who list in heaven, not yours." Later in the sermon he said, "If you're going to be offended today, take it up with the most high. I am merely the spokesperson. Don't kill the messenger."

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