News

Soulforce Rides into Dallas to promote Equality

by Scott Stiffler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Oct 17, 2008

In 1961, a group of civil rights activists calling themselves Freedom Riders got on the bus and ventured into unfriendly territory to help secure voting rights for African Americans. Almost fifty years later, another organization is using the same mode of transportation to carry a message of tolerance to a new generation whose religious beliefs often conflict with notions of LGBT equality.

Currently in the midst of its six-week journey (and soon making three stops in Texas), The Equality Ride takes volunteers to fifteen mostly Baptist colleges and universities in an effort to "promote dialogue about faith, gender and sexuality."

This ambitious undertaking is the work of Soulforce (www.soulforce.org), a national social justice and civil rights organization that works to free LGBTs from religious and political oppression - sometimes, when necessary, through acts of civil disobedience.
The Equality Ride was founded in 2006 by Soulforce member Jake Reitan - who conceived the idea after a conversation with a young gay man from a Christian University who believed his sexual orientation was a sin.

Jarrett Lucas, co-director of the Equality Ride, describes the reception they get on campus as "mixed; but the majority of schools welcome us onto campus, where we have really productive days of dialogue." Time spent on each campus can range from seven to eleven hours. Structured activities include presentations and Q&A panels; but Lucas says it's the casual one-on-one conversations that often lead to a change in the hearts and minds of students whose beliefs have been shaped by a fundamentalist interpretation of the Biblical that condemns homosexuality. Lucas: "We recognize that each community we visit is unique, but dialogue is at the center of what we do. We speak with students over lunch, participate in worship services or just spend time in the Student Union; wherever there are people interested in speaking to or sharing with us."

"It’s absurd; the idea that a school would arrest us instead of letting us talk about faith and gender and sexuality." Lucas

Noting that the Equality riders are often the only voices these students have ever heard that affirm LGBTs, Lucas cites numerous instances where he's been "the first openly gay man they've ever met." Lucas answers all of their questions - everything from his sex life to his coming out process - but qualifies those answers by pointing out that "my sex life is irrelevant to equality and justice." As for how he debates Biblical literalists who use scripture to condemn homosexuality as a choice and a sin, Lucas says he always points out that " It doesn't say homosexuals are going to hell. Also, what's their idea of sin? Why is it a sin to express your love for somebody of the same sex?"

Overwhelmingly, Soulforce has found students to be interested in listening and sharing. Administrators, however, sometimes react with indifference or outright hostility. Lucas: "Administrators will say you cannot come on campus; but we also get letters from students asking us to. So, we step onto the campus grounds and that results in arrest." Citing the arrest of several riders at Mississippi College in 2007, Lucas says "It's absurd; the idea that a school would arrest us instead of letting us talk about faith and gender and sexuality."

The effects of a visit by The Equality Ride are often felt in the form of positive feedback and policy change (Riders also stay in touch with students through e-mail, continuing their conversation and debate for weeks or months). Lucas: "I've hear so many campus pastors and presidents say it was one of the most productive days they've ever witnessed." After visiting Samford University (Birmingham, AL), they eliminated the prohibition of homosexual conduct by students from their sexual conduct policy. Even though most of the schools on The Equality Ride have policies that prohibit sex before marriage, the elimination of homosexual conduct at least creates "parity for straight and gay students."

The Equality Ride is making three stops in Texas. On October 24, at Dallas Baptist University in Dallas, TX; on Oct. 27, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX; and on Oct. 29, at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, TX. Regarding Southwestern Assemblies, Lucas says he's looking forward to meeting with a student organization called Cutting Edge, whose "sole purpose is to minister to homosexuals. They send teams of students out into the gay frequented areas of town to talk to people about the restorative love of Christ. Our hope is to engage them and talk about scripture."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy’s at The Palace. . .at Don’t Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli’s 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.


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