Beliefnet
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 1 -- The holdout at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple has became a more subdued, local protest with the departure of out-of-state activists who helped turn the church's tax battle into a symbolic stand, at least among some members of the religious right.

Anti-abortionist crusader Bruce Murch, his wife and their nine children left Tuesday morning after an emotional prayer huddle with the church's patriarch, the Rev. Gregory J. Dixon.

Pastors from Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and other states also left Tuesday or earlier this week.

In the nearly 12 weeks since Temple members had defied a federal judge's order to vacate the church, these leaders had printed posters and T-shirts, cranked out e-mail bulletins or hosted endless short-wave radio talk shows.

The church's senior pastor, the Rev. Gregory A. Dixon, acknowledged that the character of the church's stand had changed.

"Basically, they have done the majority of the work for these 80 days, and our people have been the support staff," he said. "Our people are going to have to step up. And we're going to have to hit that hard in our evening service."

U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson would not comment on whether the departures have cleared the way for the church's seizure.

Some of the departing pastors, such as Murch and the Rev. W.N. Otwell, are old hands at government confrontations and fervent believers in the justness of the church's stand.

Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at a Massachusetts think tank that studies right-wing groups, said he wouldn't be surprised if church leaders were ready for the holdout to end and that the departures were aimed at making that possible.

"This would be the most elegant way for the seizure to happen and still allow the Dixons to make their point of principle," said Berlet, author of a recent book, "Right-Wing Populism in America."

"This has clearly established the Dixons as important players in right-wing populist movements. They've gained tremendous credibility and respect," he said.

The departing pastors denied emphatically, though, that they were leaving so the marshals could move in.

Some even predicted that in a few days or weeks, the Bush administration would forgive the $6 million in taxes, penalties and interest owed by the church for its failure to withhold employee income taxes, and Social Security and Medicare taxes.

"Just like Bill Clinton could pardon anyone he wants, Bush could forgive these taxes. This is not that outrageous a case. The taxes were paid (individually)," said Murch. "It's ludicrous to think that he would let the Justice Department seize a church since it was evangelical Christians that got him elected."

The younger Dixon said he had not received any assurances while in Washington last week that the Bush administration would try to re-enter the case.

"The people that we met with have access to the executive branch of government, to the Bush administration, and we're hoping that on a short-term basis this complaint will be pulled, and in the long-term basis, some legislation will be passed," he said.

The church's battle, however, has not been adopted by mainstream churches. Moreover, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker's foreclosure order has been upheld by the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to consider any further appeal.

Officials at the Justice Department have repeatedly refused to comment on the case.

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