The Granbury Street congregation in Cleburne, Tex., will sponsor its annual open forum Feb. 27, highlighting the theme, “Politics and Religion” (PDF here). Given the nature of the theme, BNc asked Kevin W. Rhodes, preacher finishing his second master’s degree in Political Science, about the forum.

BNc: What is the purpose of the annual open forum?

Rhodes: Our Open Forum is designed to draw attention to a current problem in the church or an important issue in people’s lives and then to address it in a constructive, edifying manner using the Bible as the guide.

BNc: Does the forum draw outsiders, or mostly people from local congregations?

Rhodes: We advertise the program both locally and regionally while also offering an invitation to others through the Internet as well as word of mouth. In previous years, we have had people come from all over Texas and Oklahoma. When the topic is of particular compelling interest, we can have people from other places as well.

BNc: Why the choice of this theme on politics, since it’s such a polarizing subject?

Rhodes: The Open Forum is designed to handle controversial topics; therefore, the theme of Politics and Religion is consistent with most of the themes over the years. Since politics has intruded more and more into moral issues and other matters affecting religion, and since the Bible addresses the subject, the elders at Granbury Street deemed it important to discuss from a biblical point of view rather than allowing those in the political world free rein on the subject.

BNc: Is there a danger of the church losing its tax-exempt status as a result of the forum’s theme this year?

Rhodes: I do not see how the church’s tax-exempt status could be threatened by our theme. We are looking at the relationship of politics and religion from a biblical point of view; therefore, it perfectly fits within the recognized role of a church which receives tax-exempt status. The normal limits would eliminate the endorsement of political candidates or parties in any official capacity, but that is not at all our purpose.

Barry Lynn’s organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has spent a great deal of money trying to scare churches. However, so long as we are having a Bible discussion rather than a political discussion, any attempt to take away that status would just be a ploy.

We are to speak the whole counsel of God, and that includes the Christian’s relationship with government and the moral issues involved in politics. Our tax-exempt status was not even a consideration.

BNc? What do you hope to accomplish by addressing this topic?

Rhodes: We hope to provoke people to think about every aspect of their lives—including those that are controversial and that might even challenge our previous practices—from a biblical point of view. There are also movements attempting to mischaracterize what the Bible teaches on this subject; therefore, it seems wise to examine it biblically and critically so that people will not be fooled by pseudo-logic and error but that they  might instead accept the truth and, if necessary, reorder their lives as God’s will requires it.

BNc: What type of format does the forum have? Who are the speakers?

Rhodes: The Open Forum is designed to give those in attendance an opportunity to ask questions that pertain to the theme. The four panelists each give an opening statement to provoke thought and stir greater interest in the topic at hand. Then I, as moderator, begin directing questions in turn to the various members of the panel for comment, allowing the other panelists to rebut or comment as they would like, though there are time limits for each.

Audience members are provided cards on which to write questions, which are then turned into me. Those that are on topic and suitable, I then direct to the panel. At the close, each panelist will also have the opportunity to make a closing statement. Each year we attempt to find panelists who have different experiences and knowledge of the theme while also having good Bible knowledge.

This year our panelists are Rick Brumback, Director of the Southwest School of Bible Studies; Mark Hanstein, Academic Dean at Bear Valley School of Preaching; Oran Rhodes, former Director of Midwestern School of Preaching and editor of Sound Words; and Phil Sanders, Associate Speaker for In Search of the Lord’s Way. All panelists have advanced degrees and extensive experience in the pulpit.

BNc: How long has the open forum been held?

Rhodes: This will be Granbury Street’s eighteenth Open Forum and my seventh. While we have made some adjustments to the format over those years, it remains essentially the same event as the first one held in 1993.

BNc: What are some memorable moments of past forums?

Rhodes: Early on, our timekeeper, who is a former Marine, took aim at one of the panelists with a water gun when he kept ignoring the time limits.

The year that the theme was “The Holy Spirit,” there was standing room only in a fairly large auditorium (around 600 present).

BNc? How does the open forum fit into, and contribute toward, the overall work of the Granbury church?

Rhodes: When we choose themes for the Open Forum, it is because we believe they will be of benefit to our own members. Sometimes a doctrinal problem exists in society or in the church that the elders wish to address in a straightforward manner while also providing an opportunity to inform others as well. However, the greatest benefit to the congregation might be in the work that goes on in preparation for the Forum.

BNc: Any notable characteristics of the Granbury church?

Rhodes: Granbury Street, a congregation of 200+ Christians, has long been known for its love for God and love for the truth. We are involved in the Spanish-speaking work at the North Anglin congregation in town, recently began sponsorship of Rohan Jones’ work in South Africa and of Garrett McGilvray’s work in Quebec, and have supported the training of gospel preachers for many years. John Moore, when he was co-editor of the Gospel Journal, wrote a very kind piece about the congregation in one of his editorials.

This year we have the opportunity to welcome everyone to a freshly remodeled facility. After more than two years, we have completed the rebuilding of our annex, added an office complex, and refurbished the auditorium and foyer.