WAYNESVILLE, N.C. – A Baptist preacher accused of running out nine congregants who disagreed with his Republican politics resigned Tuesday, two days after calling the issue "a great misunderstanding."
Speaking from the pulpit during a meeting at East Waynesville Baptist Church (search), the Rev. Chan Chandler (search) told church members that it would "cause more hurt for me and my family" if he stayed.
"I am resigning with gratitude in my heart for all of you, particularly those of you who love me and my family," Chandler said, adding that the dispute was rooted in his strong feelings about abortion.
Chandler's attorney, John Pavey Jr. (search), said the pastor has not apologized for anything he said and would continue to speak out against abortion. He said the dispute inside the church had nothing to do with politics, a contention echoed Tuesday by Chandler's supporters.
"I don't believe he preached politics," church member Rhonda Trantham said. "I don't believe anyone should tell a preacher not to preach what's in the Bible."
But some congregants of the 100-member church in western North Carolina have said Chandler endorsed President Bush from the pulpit during last year's presidential campaign and said that anyone who planned to vote for Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry needed to "repent or resign."
The church members said he continued to preach about politics after Bush won re-election, culminating with a church gathering last week in which the nine members said they were voted out.
At Sunday's service, the 33-year-old Chandler said the flap over the church members' dismissal was "a great misunderstanding" and he tried to welcome them back.
"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.
Blount Osborne, chairman of the church's elected deacons, said there was no warning Chandler would resign and the church had no severance agreement with him.
"That was surprising, him leaving as quick as he did. I didn't figure he'd walk that way," Osborne said.
Several church members said they agreed with Chandler on issues like abortion, but objected to him making those issues explicitly political in the church.
"I think everyone in there agrees with him on the issues. Politics was the problem," Carolyn Gaddy said.