Chan Chandler, the Baptist pastor who recently banished nine congregants from his North Carolina church for their failure to support President Bush, appeared to change his gospel this past weekend. He told the Associated Press that the incident was a "great misunderstanding," and invited the excommunicated members -- who say they were booted for supporting John Kerry last fall -- back into the church for Sunday services. According to Cox News Service, on Sunday Chandler apparently preached reconciliation, urging congregants to "love on each other" -- which everyone apparently then did, "circulating for about five minutes, shaking hands and hugging."
According to the AP, over the weekend Chandler also denied ever having enforced guidelines from a partisan pulpit. "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," he said in a statement through his lawyer.
He didn't address the fact that, during a taped sermon in October 2004, he admonished, "If you vote for John Kerry this year, you need to repent or resign."
And that wasn't all Chandler said back then.
"We've been catering to Satan, catering to the enemy, we've not been making the stand that God wants us to make," Chandler told his flock at the height of campaign season. Later, he added, "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." Chandler also offered these remarks for Kerry supporters in the pews: "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'?"
Chandler's past words may now be catching up with him. On Monday, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the IRS asking the agency to investigate the matter, on grounds that Chandler's comments violated the no-electioneering laws governing churches and other charities.
"Pastor Chandler seems to have confused his church with a Republican Party caucus meeting," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the group's executive director, in a statement. "It's time for the IRS to give him a swift reminder of the laws of the land."