Event Backgrounder: Soulforce Journey to Lynchburg

Media Contact: Jane Ralph
October 22, 1999
pager 800.636.8693

Rev. Mel White and 200 Soulforce participants from across the country are meeting in Lynchburg with Rev. Jerry Falwell and 200 representatives of his ministries and his allies on October 22-24, 1999.

Why are you going to Lynchburg?

"To bring truth and love to Lynchburg." The mission of Soulforce is to end the suffering of sexual minorities by cutting off that suffering at its source. A major source has been the false and inflammatory portrayal of homosexuality and homosexuals by religious leaders like Jerry Falwell. Soulforce bases its work on the nonviolence principles of M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

We begin by sitting down together and talking, as people, to develop an on-going dialogue.

We begin by not seeing each other as the enemy, but untruth as the enemy, and striving together toward a clearer understanding of the truth.

We begin by noting our major areas of agreement, such as condemning all types of violence on all sides of this issue.

We begin by recommitting ourselves to truthful, careful communications with each other, with those who agree and disagree with us, and with the media.

We begin by deploring hatred or abandonment of anyone based on their sexual orientation, especially by their families or churches.

How did this meeting come about?

The road toward this meeting began with the Rev. Dr. Mel White requesting repeatedly, over years, to talk with the Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell and present his case, as part of the nonviolent stage of negotiation. White and Falwell been friends for years, since before White ghostwrote two books for Falwell, "If I Should Die Before I Wake" and "Strength for the Journey" in the mid-1980s.

Falwell met graciously with White privately in 1998, but chose to continue his false and inflammatory campaign. Nonviolence offers two methods, negotiation and direct action. The failure of negotiation led to direct action. Gandhi teaches the use of direct action to get negotiations started or restarted, which may include boycott, fast, march, strike, civil disobedience, sit-ins, etc. The time had arrived for direct action.

In a separate but related action, White wrote an Open Letter in February 1999 to the gay community correcting some misinformation circulating at that time about the Tinky Winky tumult. He noted that the purple teletubby, Tinky Winky, was actually "outed" lightheartedly in the gay Washington Blade newspaper in April 1998. Senior Editor J.M. Smith, in the February 1999 issue Falwell’s National Liberty Journal, simply alerted parents to that claim. White’s open letter, entitled Bashing Jerry Falwell is Harmful to Our Cause created a passionate response.

White directed this deep desire among gays and their allies to bring clearly before Jerry Falwell the suffering his anti-gay campaign was directly and indirectly causing. He invited them to take an eight-week Journey into Soulforce with him in an open letter in late February entitled A Soulforce Call for Direct Action: ‘Bringing Truth and Love to Lynchburg.’

The letter called for participants to be trained in the principles of nonviolence and use these principles to guide their goal of changing Falwell’s heart and mind. Within three hours after announcing the Journey into Soulforce on the Internet, a thousand people joined, and the number of participants grew within weeks to more than 5,000. Through that interactive training process, a picture emerged of an appropriate direct action. White targeted Oct 22-24 for he and his followers "to bring truth and love to Lynchburg."

Nonviolence teaches to begin discussions in private with your adversary, but to bring the issue public if private intervention is rejected. After five years of repeated requests to meet one-on-one, in June 1999, White began a series of Open Letters to Jerry Falwell, specifying his concerns and requested changes, and continued his requests to discuss the upcoming direct action.

Apparently, after being asked by reporters what he planned to do with the thousands of Soulforce members coming to Lynchburg in October, Falwell contacted White to discuss ways to plan a more constructive engagement.

Falwell and White talked in August in Lynchburg in a meeting chronicled in the New York Times. They met again in mid-September to finalize details of the event. They decided to each bring 200 delegates to meet on the weekend of October 22-24 in Lynchburg. They also both agreed to join in condemning any kind of violence on all sides of this issue. Further, without compromising what he believes biblically, Jerry agreed to take a more careful look at what goes out under his name to avoid inaccuracies and inflammatory language. They both concurred as to the value of reducing the harshness of the debate on both sides.

Are there only 200 of you?

No! There are thousands who have taken the Journey into Soulforce. And we’ve only just started.

In spring 1999, Mel White issued a call for participants to be trained in the principles of nonviolence as a process to help end the suffering of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered and change the hearts and minds of religious leaders with anti-homosexual campaigns. Within three hours after announcing the Journey into Soulforce on the Internet, a thousand people joined, and five thousand were on the Journey within a few weeks.

The number of participants kept growing as the Soulforce vision took shape of going to Lynchburg in October to address the issue of the often hateful, misinformed, and inflammatory language used by Jerry Falwell as part of a nonviolent resistance.

When White and Falwell first discussed the upcoming meeting in Lynchburg, they agreed that a smaller number would be more appropriate to begin the dialogue, akin to sending an ambassadorial delegation rather than an army.

Why are you taking on this hopeless task of changing Jerry Falwell’s mind?

Soulforce believes that a commitment to truth is never hopeless. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both taught us that we cannot know how or when the truth will triumph, but only that it inevitably will. And it will triumph by a relentless commitment to the principles of nonviolence in the hearts and lives of all those involved in the process. Part of the Soulforce mission is, in the process of bringing hope and healing to our society, to find redirection and renewal for our own minds and spirits. Thus we benefit just by participating.

Many said that talking to Jerry Falwell was hopeless. But Falwell called White back and they talked. They have agreed together to condemn all types of violence, including hate speech, on all sides of this issue. Falwell has also agreed to more carefully review anything that goes out under his name to avoid inaccuracies and hateful or inciteful language.

Many said that, if we went to Lynchburg, we would only camp in the cold outside the walls of Jerry Falwell and his church, but Falwell has invited us in to a forum to meet and talk with him and his representatives. Many area churches have welcomed Soulforce delegates into their members’ homes for the weekend. And Soulforce delegates will openly attend his Thomas Street Baptist Church on Sunday to pray alongside his congregation for an end to hatred and violence on this issue.

These are not victories over Jerry Falwell. These are victories with Jerry Falwell. With these victories and this beginning of a dialogue, what place is there for despair as we continue the discussion?

Why don’t you just focus on serving the gay and lesbian community?

First, Gandhi taught that, though we must directly serve those who are suffering, we must also seek to end the cause of suffering at its source. And many religious leaders are the cause, directly and indirectly, for much of the suffering of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children.

Second, it’s not only gays and lesbians who are suffering.

All members of a family are wounded when they are torn apart, not knowing how to love each other if they don’t understand or disagree about the morality of one member’s homosexuality.

All churches lose when their sexual minority members leave the church, despairing of God’s love, because the ministers and other members are often misinformed about this issue and have not succeeded in communicating God’s message of love and hope for each person.

All communities suffer when any group of citizens are unable to be fully productive members contributing to society to the full extent of their capabilities because of discrimination or fear of discrimination.

Soulforce Inc. www.soulforce.org
PO Box 4467 melwhite@soulforce.org
Laguna Beach, Ca 92652 fax 949-455-0959

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