Chan Chandler Wants You Out of His Church

No matter how jaded I’ve become towards organized religion, it still manages to surprise me.

The religious majority in the United States has pulled some wacky stunts in the past few months. Forcing Terry Schiavo to live. Proposing bans on funds for literature or theater featuring homosexuality. Boycotting Spongebob Squarepants. Moving Halloween because it fell on a Sunday.

There is no question in my mind that these are all desperate acts. Enforcing morality is an exercise in futility. And what is achieved in the end? Only more polarization.

But excommunicating fellow Christians because they vote Democrat? It’s not just divisive, it’s illegal.

And yet it’s happened. Chan Chandler, pastor of the East Waynesville Baptist Church outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, has purged his congregation of those not willing to beg forgiveness for voting for John Kerry in the last election.

“One of the local women … excommunicated said on TV that it was like a cult,” reported The Daily Kos. “Another man … excommunicated said that the rest of the congregation stood up and applauded as the Democrats were told to leave [emphasis mine].”

This unbelievable turn of events stems from several sermons Chandler gave last year endorsing Bush. During these bully pulpit sessions, he also demanded “anyone who planned to vote for Democrat John Kerry needed to ˜repent or resign.'” Months later, Chandler admitted the comments were inflammatory but continued his crusade, saying it was “according to the word of God.”

Really? I thought the word of God instructed mankind to love one another in spite of its differences, to forgive the wrongs inherent in our fallibility and to treat everyone with respect. And that’s just the Jesus portion; Old Testament God demands fidelity, honesty, righteousness and a plea not to kill everyone around you. Nowhere in any of that does the Bible command its speakers to pick George Bush over John Kerry.

Most ironic? John Kerry and George Bush were, with few exceptions, identical candidates. It was an election between Cookie and Cutter, rigged to give the American people no option in how their government is run.

I’ve noted in the past that I’m a “recovering fundamentalist.” Raised a non-denominational Protestant, I served the Lord with the same level of misguided conviction that runs rampant through parishes like Chandler’s. Wholly uninformed, many of these people have never even read critical or historical analysis of the Bible, let alone the Bible. They rely on their pastor’s interpretations of what is written — the results are Intelligent Design campaigns and fervent arguments that the book of Genesis is literal, not allegorical.

But closing your mind to your own faith is one thing, closing it to simple political differences is another. Are you really “Christian” if you can’t even tolerate a person that condones gay marriages, abortion or Libertarians? How does a person revel in their face — a faith about tackling the entirety of the word with grace and openness — if they can’t stomach a divergence of opinions?

How does the word of Christ benefit by being transmitted by a closed-minded bigot?

Insular communities such as these are growing around the country. I know because I know men and women who’ve visited some under the promise of an appealing Christ-centered approach to faith only to find dens of political hatred. It’s not entirely shocking to hear about this in North Carolina, but Northern California? Too bizarre.

The separation of church and state was defined for a reason. It gives people the freedom to believe what they want without a fear of government reprisal; conversely, it gives the government the freedom to govern without religious interference. Think you can drag out that tattered argument that the United States was founded on Christianity? Think again:

  • “… the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…” — Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11, 1796-1797.
  • “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” — Thomas Jefferson as President.
  • “The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.” — James A. Garfield.

Garfield brings up an interesting point. Churches across the nation are given tax-exempt status. It’s a major perk that keeps them operational; molestation scandals, waning donations and exorbitant utilities and property taxes certainly don’t. However, there are rules to obtaining this status, and one of them happens to be a no-discrimination clause. And discrimination doesn’t end at gender or skin color. Booting someone over a trivial matter like your party registration should immediately signal an end to Chan Chandler’s gravy train of tax exemption.

And, hopefully, it will. Reverend Barry Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State has lobbied the IRS to reconsider the East Waynesville’s status, citing the expulsion of the four dozen parishioners.

Where does it end? Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) heads a religious telethon called “Justice Sunday” where money is raised and politicians are targeted for right-wing propoganda from the comfort of a huge, affluent (read: mostly white) church in Louisville. If the head of the Senate can use a church to proselytize government agendas, when will the federal government hold small players like Chandler accountable for their misdeeds? When the government doesn’t seem to care about one of its own cherished and basic ideals, where do the disenfranchised turn? I know one place they won’t: East Waynesville Baptist.

William Howard Taft once said that “there is nothing so despicable as a secret society that is based upon religious prejudice and that will attempt to defeat a man because of his religious beliefs. Such a society is like a cockroach — it thrives in the dark. So do those who combine for such an end.”

Anyone got some Roach Motels?