The Original 17 Step Journey: Step 10

With the Rev. Dr. Mel White
"The Call to Risk…"

From an Email I received February 23, 1999
"Dear Mel…I will continue to voice my opinions with ridicule, disgust, animosity and yes, even hate towards the likes of Falwell…They deserve it all…Even if you want to love them Mel, go right ahead, but I will not be undermined, by you or anyone else, in my determination to bash back, verbally or otherwise…"

A Personal Response
When Jesus said "Love your enemies"…
    Jews were enslaved by the Roman Empire.
When Gandhi said "Love your enemies"…
    Indians were being massacred by British guns.
When King said "Love your enemies"…
    African-Americans were being lynched by the KKK.

Many militant Jews, Indians, and African-Americans hated Jesus, Gandhi, and King for preaching nonviolence in the face of violent oppression. Who can blame them? It sounds like "giving up" and "giving in" to intolerance, suffering and death.

Quite to the contrary, "love your enemies" is a call to action. In File 9 we took the first small step in that direction. I asked you to write a letter to Jerry Falwell guided by the


RULE #1.
You told Jerry the TRUTH as you have experienced it.
Truth is our strength and our ultimate goal.

RULE #2.
You told your TRUTH in the spirit of LOVE (NONVIOLENCE).
Love is our guide.

RULE #3. You told your TRUTH in LOVE even if it caused you
Voluntary suffering (being willing to suffer for the sake of our adversary) is the secret of Soulforce, the most powerful way to change the minds and hearts of our adversaries.

OK. I admit it didn’t take much "suffering" to write Jerry. But consider it. You volunteered at least an hour of your valuable time and energy to write him. You spent at least $1 on paper, ink, and stamps. You shared intimate, personal truths. And if you signed your name, included your address, and even sent a photo, you took a small risk that Jerry would use those truths against you.

Gandhi called this "VOLUNTARY REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING." Our adversary will NOT be convinced by arguments, no matter how brilliant. Nasty sound bites (though clever) only increase the tension. But when your adversary sees that you are willing to risk "VOLUNTARY REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING" he is stunned, confused and impressed by your sincerity. Violence incites to hate. Nonviolence (taking on suffering for our adversaries sake) is more powerful than hate.

Back to the Tinky Winky Wars (where this all began) When I said, "Bashing Jerry Falwell hurts our cause," an activist-writer-friend disagreed.

From an Email I received March 5, 1999
"…I think that making fun of and matching our enemies blow for blow in the media, is the only strategy for survival. Non-violence is not the same thing as laying back and taking their shit…

Unfortunately, too many people think that NONVIOLENCE is "…laying back and taking their shit." In fact, Soulforce has just the opposite goal. Loving Jerry Falwell is a Soulforce call to take his "s—" seriously, a call to help end his campaign of misinformation (a Gandhian way of saying "s—") through militant nonviolent resistance.

Rule #3 – the Soulforce call to VOLUNTARY REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING – is especially offensive to one gay activist who wrote me angrily, "How dare you call our community to suffer more when we’ve suffered so much already?" Gandhi sees two kinds of suffering.

Matthew and Billy (Involuntary Suffering)
Matthew Shepard and Billy Jack Gaither did NOT suffer voluntarily. Gandhi does NOT call us to involuntary suffering. Matt and Billy Jack did not have a choice. And though their suffering caused great good (because it helped soften the minds and hearts of millions of people), it is NOT the kind of suffering Gandhi has in mind. A choice must be involved.

Jimmy and Greg (Voluntary Suffering)
The Reverends Jimmy Creech and Gregory Dell are two courageous United Methodist ministers who had a choice. Each man was asked by a same-sex couple in his congregation to perform their Holy Union service. Each man knew that if he performed that Holy Union he could be brought up on charges, tried, and found guilty by a church court. Jimmy and Gregory both decided to take that risk on behalf of TRUTH and both men suffered great personal and professional loss from the trials that followed.

Gandhi defines Soulforce "suffering" as "VOLUNTARY" (it must involve a choice) and "REDEMPTIVE" (it must be an active attempt to achieve a greater good).

A Personal Memory
For 35 years I lived in a lonely, fearful, guilt-ridden closet. That was involuntary suffering caused by the UNTRUTH that flowed into my brain from childhood. After thirty-five years of ex-gay therapy, a loving counselor at Fuller Theological Seminary told me the TRUTH. "You are gay," she said. "Accept it as a gift from God." Dr. Hart brought me TRUTH in LOVE and in the process risked VOLUNTARY REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING on my behalf. I was set free. She was fired. She and I both learned quickly, that doing justice requires risk.

From an Email I received March 28, 1999
"Thank you for taking on this monumental task. I just wanted to make one comment that so far seems to have been lacking in your messages–one which is very important…Both Gandhi and King and their followers suffered mightily (often physically beaten — to the point of death in some cases) at the hands of their oppressors before they came close to achieving their goals.

"A very major question for those of us in the GLBT community to answer is, are we willing to submit ourselves to the same kind of abuse, and meet it with nonviolence, in order to bring TRUTH to OUR oppressors. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I’m not ready for that. Perhaps I will get there, but for right now…. It scares the hell out of me…"

The Journey Becomes Dangerous
How right she is. The call to do justice guided by the Soulforce rules is not a call to "laying back." It is a call to make choices that may lead to redemptive suffering on your part and on mine.

From the moment you wrote (or decided not to write the letter to Jerry) this "Journey into Soulforce" became a series of complex and risky choices. I hope you’ll continue the journey. I’m convinced that your own soul will grow more powerful in the process, but I don’t want you to continue under false pretenses. From this moment, the journey becomes dangerous.

Our souls grow or shrivel from the choices we make. Reading these Soulforce Files is no longer an academic exercise. If, for example, you decided NOT to write Jerry Falwell, it may be a warning that you are not ready to continue the journey. Harvey Cox said it this way, "NOT to decide is to decide.’"

What decision(s) did you make when you decided to express your TRUTH to Jerry? Was it more difficult to write in the spirit of LOVE than of hate? Did you risk VOLUNTARY REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING in the process of writing or mailing the letter? What did you learn about yourself through this exercise? Would you recommend that others write and send their letter, too? Why? Why not?

It’s helpful to discuss your answers with your partner on this journey.

By NOT writing Jerry, what decision(s) have you made? Are you uncertain of your TRUTH? Are you too angry to write Jerry in LOVE? What kind of VOLUNTARY REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING were/are you afraid to risk? Did you think writing Jerry was a waste of time? Does that mean you’ve given up on him? Are you ready to write now?

Then copy File #10 and forward it to your partner.


Here are three credos based on the three primary rules of Soulforce discussed above. I’m not asking you to sign them. But I do hope you’ll consider them seriously.

Print them. Study them. Rewrite them. Discuss them with your partner.

Vow to Truth

I believe that I am called by my Creator to seek the truth, to live by the truth, and to confront untruth wherever I find it.

Vow to Love

I believe that I am called by my Creator to reject violence (of the fist, tongue, or heart) and to use only the methods of nonviolence in my search for truth or in my confrontation with untruth.

Vow to voluntary redemptive suffering

I believe that I am called by my Creator to take on myself without complaint any suffering that might result from my confrontation with untruth and to do all in my power to help my adversary avoid all suffering, especially that suffering that may result from our confrontation.

Hold On! Here we Go!
In the FILES 11-16 Gandhi and King will ask us to make some very difficult choices. I don’t know where this will lead us as partners on this journey, but I can’t tell you how excited I am to find out.

But please, DO WRITE YOUR LETTER TO JERRY FALWELL. Indulge me. I know it may seem silly or a waste or an invasion of your life to insist on this exercise in Soulforce, but I think you will find it worth your effort. If not, I love you anyway.

Love (and thanks) to you all,


Before you write

Review the first two Soulforce Credos in File #6 and File #8. Let the powerful yet gentle spirit of LOVE guide you as you write. Remember, Jerry is your brother, a victim of ancient UNTRUTH. Bring him TRUTH in LOVE and if it causes you to experience a taste of VOLUNTARY REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING it will cause your soul to grow.


The Rev. Jerry Falwell, Pastor
Thomas Road Baptist Church
701 Thomas Road
Lynchburg, Virginia 24502

(For mounting in a leather-bound book to present to Jerry later)
The Rev. Jerry Falwell
% Dr. Mel White
Soulforce, Inc.
P.O. Box 4467
Laguna Beach, CA. 92652

NEXT: Step 11

Mel White and Gary Nixon, Partners in Soulforce, Inc.
P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA. 92652.
Fax: (949) 455-0959