Members and supporters kept vigil at the church for weeks after a federal judge ordered that the building be seized and sold because the church owes more than $6 million in withholding and Social Security taxes. Some had hoped President Bush might forgive the taxes or at least take another look at the case.
While the Bush administration made no specific promises to save the church -- or even to reopen the case -- many members thought they would be viewed more favorably by a president who recently announced a plan to allow religious organizations to compete for federal funds.
"This church is a predominantly Republican church," said the temple's senior pastor, the Rev. Gregory A. Dixon, a few hours after agents moved in.
"I feel betrayed because their rhetoric is cheap. They talk about morality, they talk about civil justice...and then they turn around and seize the Baptist church."
Hope for a reprieve had been fortified when U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the House leadership, wrote a church supporter last month, expressing concern with how the government handled the case.
"It seems to shake the very foundation of the First Amendment to hear that a court has authorized an agency of the federal government to seize a church sanctuary and sell it to pay taxes," Blunt wrote to Mark Wilson of Springfield, Mo. "I will certainly be keeping this situation in mind as (budget) bills for these agencies come before Congress later this year."
Blunt refused to talk Tuesday about the correspondence or his involvement with the temple. But he stands by the letter, said his spokesman, Dan Wadlington.
"He's not (U.S. Attorney General) John Ashcroft, he's not George Bush and he's not the IRS and we're not responsible for what they do," Wadlington said.
"It's a matter of the law," Tucker said, adding that many who have worked on the case are apolitical staff members.
"There are obviously new people that came into the process, but there are also people who have been around for a long time working on this," she said.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel would not comment on Dixon's claim that the temple was betrayed and said only that the administration was pleased the operation went peacefully.
Just two weeks ago, Bush initiated a program that would allow religious and other private, community-based organizations to compete for billions of federal dollars to deliver services to the poor and others -- a move that put many religious organizations in high spirits.
"The traffic between religion and politics has been heavy in recent years," said Robert Schmuhl, a professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame. "But it's a difficult road largely because of the separation of church and state."
The Baptist Temple stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from its employees' paychecks in 1984, saying the fundamentalist church's duty to obey God allowed no room for manmade laws and that withholding taxes would make it an agent of the government.
Tuesday's action marked the first time the federal government had seized a church for failing to pay taxes, said Richard Hammar, an attorney for the Springfield, Mo.-based Assemblies of God denomination, and an expert on churches and tax law.