INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 17 (AP) - Leaders of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple say they have reached an understanding with federal marshals that could clear the way for a peaceful end to the three-day occupation of the church.

Church attorney Al Cunningham said he told U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson that church leaders and devoted followers won't leave willingly, but they promise no violence when authorities arrive to seize the property.

Anderson said when the seizure happens, those inside the church will be given a final chance to leave, then will be carried out, if necessary. "I have not requested and do not expect the church's followers to compromise their ideals and beliefs," he said.

Members and supporters of the independent, fundamentalist congregation have staged a round-the clock vigil since Tuesday, when federal marshals were expected to seize the church over a $6 million tax debt. The church stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from its employees' paychecks in 1984, saying its duty to obey God supersedes manmade laws.

The case is believed to be the first of its kind in U.S. tax annals.

The two sides met for an hour Thursday at the federal courthouse. Cunningham described the exchange as "courteous," and said marshals would arrest only those who resist violently or try to re-enter the church after leaving or being carried away.

Members of the congregation still don't know when marshals plan to seize the building.

"All in all, we do not expect the kind of raid where they just enter in and come in and abuse the people," Cunningham told a crowd of supporters.

The Rev. Greg A. Dixon, the church's pastor, and his father and pastor emeritus, the Rev. Greg J. Dixon, have urged supporters to avoid violence.

Supporters seemed resigned to losing the church, but spirits remained high late Thursday, as dozens planned to spend a third night camped out in the building's sanctuary.

"Someone has started an illusion that we're here to protest," said Doc Mettert, a supporter who traveled from Iowa. "We're here to protect rights, not to protest the wrong that's been done to people."

Federal marshals seized a parsonage a few miles from the church on Tuesday afternoon, but have done nothing since.

Founded in 1950, the 1,000-member congregation owns 22 acres and has a half-dozen pastors on staff. The church Web site describes the congregation as "an Unregistered Baptist congregation whose head is not the state, but the Lord Jesus Christ. The Indianapolis Baptist Temple does not participate in government programs."

The Web site adds: "The Indianapcolis Baptist Temple is a New Testament congregation made up of scripturally baptized believers. We exist to exalt Jesus Christ, edify the saints through the Word of God and evangelize our world. We must not veer from our God-given mandate.

"The Indianapolis Baptist Temple is congregational in practice which simply means the people under the leadership of the Pastor are responsible for all decisions, activity and service.

"A New Testament congregation should be militant, which simply means believers should aggressively 'contend for the faith' as they exalt Christ, edify saints and evangelize the world."

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus