What Really Happened in Waynesville?
By now many of you have heard about the controversy swirling around East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, where the Rev. Chan Chandler resigned his post as pastor Tuesday night. Most of the mainstream media, including a few left-leaning N.C. newspapers (free registration required), would lead you to believe that Chandler ousted nine members of his congregation simply because they did not vote for President Bush in last fall's election. However, there appears to be . . . a bit more to the story.
I don't necessarily agree with Rev. Chandler's methods or actions, but I am concerned with how the mainstream media has been so one-sided in covering this story in an obvious attempt to put Chandler in as bad a light as possible. To take a "fair and balanced" look at the events, I invite you to read a few accounts other than those found in the mainstream press or on some other blogs.
First, Rev. Chandler, who is obviously no PR expert, has talked officially to only one media outlet, the Baptist Press. On Tuesday afternoon, just prior to his resignation, BP News offered an exclusive interview with Rev. Chandler, where he discussed his role in the controversy:
"I don't know how these folks voted," Chandler said. "And I never endorsed any candidate." Chandler said he did cite from the church pulpit what he believes are the "unbiblical values" of some political hopefuls. "But those were negative endorsements -- never a positive endorsement" of any candidate, he said, whether Republican, Democrat or Independent.
The BP News article also brought up that the nine may not have been forced out after all:
As Baptist Press tried to clarify whether the nine people were in fact voted out of the church, Chandler said they initially left voluntarily. Since some of those who willingly forfeited their memberships were trustees of the church, other members thought it prudent to make their actions official.
The BP Press then followed up with another account the next day, reporting:
Local newscasts cast Chandler as being against Democrats and for expelling church members who didn't publicly declare support for President George W. Bush.
One news program replayed an audio tape of a sermon preached by Chandler last fall in which he could be heard telling members who would vote for Kerry that they needed to "repent or resign." Chandler told Baptist Press the quote should be viewed in context and was intended only for those in leadership roles. Chandler noted that Kerry is for abortion rights and has sided with homosexual activists on many issues.
Waylon Owens, one of Chandler's instructors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where Chandler is currently seeking a master's degree, wrote in an article on the seminary's Web site:
Many facts have gone unreported or obscured in the media's efforts to scandalize a young minister who has taken a stand for Biblical morality and the life of a baby resting in her mother's womb.
You would have to have read closely to know that at least one of the members voted out of fellowship of the church is a self-confessed Republican. None of the media has seemed interested in the fact that perhaps a majority of the members that did the voting are registered Democrats.
Joel Belz in his column for World Magazine wrote:
. . . For the mainstream media, a high-handed preacher made far better copy than a mere walkout by a disgruntled minority. "Bush foes told to leave church," read a Chicago Tribune headline.
Mr. Chandler tried to make things clear with a public statement: "This church fellowships with all who embrace the authority and application of the Bible regardless of political affiliation, including current members who align themselves with both major political parties, as well as those who affiliate with no political party. 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."
But headlines around the nation—and overseas in places like The London Telegraph—held to their oversimplified version. Americans United for Separation of Church and State director Barry Lynn sent a letter to the IRS—the day before the scheduled church meeting where Mr. Chandler resigned—asking the agency to review the church's tax-exempt status.
Surely, Chandler could've handled the situation in his church much more diplomatically than he did, but I have to admire a man who is willing to take a risk and stand up for what he believes in and not be afraid or intimidated by those who oppose him.
Hat tip to World Magazine Blog and several of its readers.