WAYNESVILLE, N.C. -- A Baptist pastor accused of threatening to banish from his church anyone who did not vote for President Bush has resigned, saying he spoke out on candidates' positions, but did not make political endorsements.
The Rev. Chan Chandler, 33, walked out of the East Waynesville Baptist Church, which he had led for three years, after delivering a brief statement of resignation Tuesday night. With him went many of the young congregants he had attracted to the modest brick church on the outskirts of this mountain town in western North Carolina.
In an interview with a church publication Tuesday, Chandler denied endorsing any candidate from the pulpit, as critics had charged.
''I don't know how these folks voted," he told Baptist Press, a Nashville-based media arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. ''And I never endorsed any candidate."
But he acknowledged citing from the 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.
Chandler admitted in the interview that he cited Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry's views on abortion and homosexuality in one sermon. He said he also mentioned two Republicans whose views he said were out of step with the Bible.
He was not more specific, and stressed that his sermons were issue-oriented and not based on party affiliation.
''This never has been about politics," Chandler said. ''It's always been about whether the Bible applies to the entire life of a Christian."
Some church members had said that they were told to leave if they voted for the Massachusetts senator.
''For me to remain now would only cause more hurt for me and my family," Chandler said to the church members. ''I am resigning with gratitude in my heart for all of you, particularly those of you who love me and my family."
Beyond politics, the dispute that engulfed East Waynesville Baptist Church in recent months would have sounded familiar to many American congregations: An aging congregation brings in a dynamic young preacher to turn things around. The new pastor attracts young members who push for change in traditional ways of doing things, leading to a battle.
As Chandler and his wife drove out of the church's parking lot followed by a police escort, about 40 of his supporters walked out as well, with many saying they were resigning their memberships.
''I'm not going to serve with the ungodly," Misty Turner declared.
But Maxine Osborne, 70, among those who stayed behind, had a different view. ''A lot of these young people had not been in the church more than a year," she said. The Chandlers ''brought in a lot of young people, but they also brainwashed them."
Tensions had escalated last week, when several members said Chandler called a meeting of the church's board of deacons and declared his intention for East Waynesville to become a politically active church.
Anyone who did not like that direction was free to leave, Chandler said -- a statement that caused nine members to walk out.
Many of those who opposed Chandler's leadership said they agreed with the pastor's positions on abortion and other topics, but disliked linking those beliefs to political positions and candidates.
''If we wanted politics, we would stay home and watch it 24 hours a day on TV," said Charles Gaddy, 70. ''I like Chan. He can preach a good sermon. I just wish he would keep some things out of the church."
Rhonda Trantham, 27, saw no problem with Chandler's approach. ''If it's in the Bible, I believe it should be preached," she said.
Norman Jameson of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina said the convention, which generally allows its congregations free rein to conduct their business, will try to help Chandler find a new church position if he so desires.