First I’d like to thank you for contacting me because I know that it takes a lot of courage and strength to speak your mind. No, I have not received many letters in opposition to our visit. None, actually. In my opinion, your comments and questions are directed in a Christ-like manner and this type of dialogue is what the Equality Ride is all about. Your letter poses some wonderful questions that get right to the heart of why we, 25 activists, leave our families and loved ones and go around the country for two months to visit colleges and universities. I hope to do your letter justice by answering below; however, it would be ideal if you can meet up with us any of the three days we will be in Canton, OH as I am sure the answers I give will open up more questions and comments!
Before I go on, I’d like to clear something up. While it is true that homophobia is successfully spread by religion and maintained by the church, not all the Riders feel oppressed by the Christian faith. Personally, I go to an affirming church and am happy to say I am Christian and queer :)
You inquire why we are visiting your campus, and especially since all types of public displays of affection are discouraged. My answer is simply that there are students on your campus that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer and have not broken the covenant of celibacy, and might be perfectly happy to not engage in PDA. You see, our society has made “homosexuality” such a taboo that people find it very difficult to separate the Identity with the sexual act. If you don’t know any queer people, don’t learn or talk about it in school or at home, and all the information you receive about queer folks is linked to sex or sexual behavior, of course, that’s all you’re going to think about when the topic comes up. However, these students have a need to talk about their feelings, their experiences, their fears. Just as every other student on campus feels safe enough to ask questions, the Equality Ride is going to Malone in hopes that we can open up safe spaces for LGBTQ students to talk and ask questions too, without feeling like they are wrong for it, and feel safe about doing so. These questions range from what should I wear on my first date, to how do I tell my parents and faith community? What does the Bible say? What are these things I feel inside? I’m not attracted to the opposite gender, what does that mean? Students right now are suffering in an imposed silence.
Your second question, summed up, asks: People enter Malone fully aware of its rules, why would Soulforce choose to protest at a school where students have signed an agreement to participate to Malone’s standards? I have to admit, we get this all the time. There is a simple answer is that Malone is a fine institution with a rich and wonderful history and faith. Students that go to Malone have chosen to do so based on this and the programs offered there. It is not my understanding that the Quaker/Evangelical Friends have a tradition of excluding people, and so if a prospective student has their heart set on Malone, has passed all the GPA/testing requirements, and abides by the agreement that every other student abides by…why would they not go to Malone? Malone has a discriminatory policy that can change and evolve to include all minority/oppressed groups and we come to dialogue in regards to how this could best be achieved.
It is also possible that students entered Malone questioning or not fully understanding their sexual orientation. Or their parents push them to attend their alma mater, or do not allow room to choose any other institution. These are difficult positions to be in (especially if the parents are paying for tuition). Once a student has a loving faith community and is involved in student life it is very difficult to face the decision of walking away from it all or letting their parents know why they shouldn’t go to a school! Some of the schools we visit find out that a student has been dating, or is “outed” by a friend that heard a phone call (or similar) and the school forces them into “reparative therapy” and contacts the family or expels the student. Once the student finds themselves without their faith community, family, friends, and school…what happens to them? If you found yourself completely rejected by everyone and everything you ever loved, what would you do? Did you know that LGBTQ individuals are 3 to 7 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterpart? These are not made up statistics. Kids are killing themselves and being killed. We have had several Riders that have experienced this. Feel free to talk to them more in depth about their personal experiences.
Your final question asks how Soulforce responds to biblical passages that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This conversation, in my experience, has taken upwards of an hour and is most commonly a give and take because of the different interpretations of the Bible between denominations and person by person. In a nutshell, and not doing your question justice, I must ask you to look in the Bible and find where it condemns the union of two people of the same gender. It does not. Jesus didn’t say anything against it and the Bible doesn’t mention a healthy, committed, loving relationship between two people of the same gender. To talk about this more in depth, please come to any one of our community events. I can also send you online resources.
April 23rd 7pm – United Church of Christ Panel Discussion with the Equality Riders
April 24th 8pm – Community party/gathering Venue TBA
April 25th 9am - Bible Study focusing on Clobber Passages and Worship Service at 10:30am
You end saying, “what may be false to you is true to someone else and vice versa. Why is your truth more important than someone else’s? Does not equality embrace individual beliefs for all?” I don’t believe that there is one truth that is more important than another in this case and I do not want to draw a line between people. It is a misunderstanding on Malone’s part of what exactly equality means. It is completely possible to treat everyone as equal human beings with justice, love, and respect without compromising your (or their) faith. The Bible has at different points in history been used to justify the inequitable treatment of many different groups of people. As humanity has progressed it has understood that as Christians of faith we cannot continue allowing a certain group to be marginalized, oppressed, discriminated, and treated as less than because it is simply not Christ-like. This has not invalidated the Bible, and has only succeeded in strengthening the faith and message. It is the way in which progressives have renewed our understanding of the Bible time and time again that has brought the Word into the 21st century, with God’s will, of course.
I hope this has helped. Please e-mail me with more questions, but I hope to see you at any of the other community events.