Religion, Politics Can Be Combustible Match

Directing his comments to Kerry supporters seated in the pews, Chandler asked: "Why do you support an unbeliever over a man who says, 'This is the day when I saved and now my life changed'? Why do you support an unbeliever over a believer? Let me see, do I support a Christian or a non-Christian? Do I support someone who kills babies or I support someone who says, 'Let's let 'em live.' Do I support someone who says, 'Let's marry the gays,' or someone who says, 'Let's uphold God's law and not'?"

Praying for a Resolution

Ousted congregants Frank and Thelma Lowe are somewhat typical of their fellow exiles: Frank voted for Kerry, Thelma for Bush. But they both object to Chandler's attitude toward those with whom he disagrees.

"I don't think this is any place to tell people how to vote, in the pulpit," Thelma Lowe said. "I think that's a choice we have, freedom. That we should vote the way we want to vote. Not even your husband should tell you how and my husband doesn't tell me how."

An attorney for the ousted congregants, David Wijewickrama, said this evening that the situation remained unresolved.

"The bottom line is these are good, elderly, Southern people and at this point in their lives, their church means everything to them," he said. "And what they want is peace."

Some of the ousted congregants seemed open to the idea of a rapprochement with Chandler, while others thought the pastor had so politicized their church that the only answer was for him to leave.

A church meeting was scheduled for Tuesday evening, but judging by the faces of some in the parking lot Sunday afternoon after services had concluded, the schism has already taken a heavy toll on the congregation.

"It's really sad," said congregant William Rash, breaking down into tears. "I just pray to God that things will get worked out."

Laura Marquez and Jay Lamonica contributed to this report.

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