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Teapot tempest

"Teapot tempest" Continued...

Issue: "An evolving debate," May 21, 2005

But 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.

Some residents of Waynesville (population: 7,300) say they are embarrassed by Mr. Chandler's behavior. Others say they are angry at the media's misrepresentations of their town and what has happened there. Is it hard to be misunderstood in the small town where you grew up? "I wasn't misunderstood," the feisty pastor told WORLD. "I was deliberately misrepresented."

But precisely to show that he's not bitter about all that has happened-even after winning the vote last week-Mr. Chandler encouraged his supporters to walk away and leave the church and its property to their critics. Ironically, they're a group of people with little stomach for politics.

Hard times at Hollywood

First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood, long an influential evangelical powerhouse, has fallen on hard times. It is now under the temporary control of an administrative commission appointed by the Presbytery of the Pacific (Presbyterian Church U.S.A.). Its two main pastors-Alan Meenan and David Manock-have been placed on paid leave while the commission works at trying to fix finances and restore unity in the congregation.

In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Hollywood Presbyterian, as it is popularly known, counted some 8,000 members, many of whom drove long distances to attend. Then led by Pastor Louis Evans, it was the spiritual seedbed for Henrietta Mears, Gospel Light publishing house, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade, and a host of other luminaries and ministries. Lloyd Ogilvie served as pastor for years before taking up duties as U.S. Senate chaplain.

In time, however, many of the Sunday commuters chose to attend churches closer to home. The Hollywood neighborhood changed: Property deteriorated, and low-income non-Protestant immigrants settled into neighborhoods around the church. Sunday attendance dipped below 1,500 and income slumped, but church leaders were reluctant to trim programs and the large staff. Deficits piled up-$840,000 last year alone. Some congregational leaders complained of ongoing inept fiscal management. They differed with the pastors on which programs and staff members to cut, and whether part of the church campus should be sold.

The dissidents took their complaints to the presbytery last year. Remarkably, the vast majority of congregants remained unaware of the bickering by insiders and the severity of the crisis until things came to a head last month. That's when presbytery leaders recommended takeover of the church and demanded the ouster of Pastors Meenan and Manock. The full presbytery on May 3 concurred on the takeover but not the dismissals. In an obvious prearrangement, its administrative commission placed the pastors on paid leave and began working with Hollywood's governing body to right the boat. It also banned public comment by the pastors and other staff.

-Edward E. Plowman

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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