Brandon church sees election forum as part of ‘main thing’
Bell Shoals hosts political candidates as community service
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.
Published August 21, 2008
Photo by James A. Smith Sr.
Brian Blair, left, a candidate for re-election to the District 6 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, speaks with a volunteer for another candidate for office.
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BRANDON (FBW)—George Thomasson says the “main thing” for Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon is reaching his Brandon community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ—and he sees no conflict with that in the church’s hosting of a forum to expose members and the community to political candidates.
Bell Shoals hosted its biennial election forum Aug. 12 with 41 candidates for local, state and federal offices. The meeting was attended by about 600 church members and people from the community who were able to meet with the candidates one-on-one in the church’s large Welcome Hall before each candidate was given two minutes to address the entire congregation.
The Community Issues Committee, a body of laypersons who keep Bell Shoals members’ informed about moral and public policy issues, has sponsored the event every election cycle since 1994.
The CIC also provided voter registration and a voters’ guide providing the candidates’ views about various moral issues in response to a survey from the CIC.
“The main thing is the main thing here,” Thomasson told Florida Baptist Witness before the forum. “But that’s doesn’t mean that we’re not also about trying to impact our community so we can keep the main thing the main thing. If we’re able to impact the community in a positive manner it makes a huge difference.”
Thomasson said the influence of Christians is seen throughout Brandon from local retailers who play Christian music and restaurants that allow men’s groups to hold early morning Bible studies.
“The reason the community is being impacted with the Gospel and we see evidences of Christlikeness around is because our churches are making the main thing, the main thing, and we believe a part of that is trying to impact the moral climate of the community,” he said.
Bell Shoals, which tragically lost its pastor, Forrest Pollock—and his son, in a airplane accident in May, has seen about 175 professions of faith in the last 10-12 weeks, said Thomasson, senior associate pastor of the church for about one and one-half years.
Thomasson stressed that the church does not endorse candidates for office or political parties.
“The idea is, our church is not supporting any party or any individual person running for office, but we do encourage our people to become aware of the candidates and what the issues are and who best represents what they believe, and then to vote,” he said.
“We just want to take the lead in making our whole community aware that as American citizens it is not only our responsibility but also our privilege to be involved in the electoral process, to choose our leaders. We feel that’s a critical thing,” he said.
Thomasson noted that Baptists historically have championed religious freedom and the right of persons to express their point of view.
“We’ll have candidates … that will be sharing views that we would not agree with, which is fine. And I think it’s really good because if people are discerning and really listening, they’ll be able to see the contrast and make their own choice.”
Thomasson said those who may object that churches should not be involved in politics are free to hold that view, but he believes it’s inconsistent with the biblical commands for Christians to be good citizens.
“We would be remiss if we did not become involved,” he insisted.
Warren Richmond, chairman of the CIC who has been a member of Bell Shoals since 2002, told the Witness he was “very pleased” with the participation of the candidates this year.
An unemployed marketing professional who is volunteering for several candidates, Richmond said even as politically engaged as he is, the forum is helpful to him in learning about candidates he did not know.
Fellow church member David Chadwell agreed, noting in an interview with the Witness the forum gave him a “great opportunity” to personally question candidates about issues that are important to him.
A member of Bell Shoals for 10 years who owns several businesses, Chadwell said, “I think a church needs to be involved in these kind of events where you can bring the candidates out and get a view on what they stand for, what they’re principles are, and churches should be right in the forefront of doing this.”
Jim Williams, an attorney specializing in arbitration and mediation and Bell Shoals member for 20 years, told the Witness hosting the candidates for the forum is consistent with the Bible.
“The Bible says we’re supposed to be lights in the community and it doesn’t mean hiding,” Williams said. “It means getting out there and doing things. We do not tell people who to vote for. However, we ask them to compare positions against what the Bible says about things.”
Thomasson told the Witness the Bell Shoals’ CIC would be “thrilled” to offer assistance to other churches interested in holding similar events. He noted that such an endeavor should only be started after plenty of prayer and when there is support from lay leaders who are passionate about taking on the responsibility.
“There’s no way the average preacher with all he has on his plate could organize this. And he really shouldn’t. We’re supposed to equipping the saints for the work of the ministry,” he said.