October 5, 2002
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, Senior Pastor
Thomas Road Baptist Church
701 Thomas Road
Lynchburg, VA 24502
Almost a month has passed since Gary and I moved into our little cottage across from Thomas Road Baptist Church. And though we, too, were surprised by the media coverage of our move, every print, radio, and television interview gives us another chance to proclaim the good news that God created gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and loves them exactly as created. Many of our closeted sisters and brothers across the country have never heard that truth and hearing it even once can make a positive difference in their lonely, fearful lives.
But now, we’ve weathered the media storm and can get down to the day by day task of being good neighbors. The purpose of our move to Lynchburg is our heart-felt prayer that God will do something important in all our lives that will lead eventually to understanding and reconciliation.
The Soulforce goal (and the goal of Gandhi and King for every act of relentless nonviolent resistance) is to "bring in the beloved community" where even people who disagree can live side by side as good neighbors. Already that is beginning to happen.
During this first month in Lynchburg, we have experienced a huge outpouring of hospitality. Your congregation has welcomed us to Thomas Road Baptist with smiles and handshakes. Several of your members have dropped by to greet us. Neighbors from the Thomas Road area have waved or shouted friendly greetings from their passing cars. People from other churches, especially First Christian on Rivermont, have loaned us furniture and appliances, brought us meals or invited us to dinner. We’ve had very positive conversations with several dozen local clergy and city officials. We’ve spent time with at least thirty Liberty students including meeting off campus with current Liberty students who are lesbian or gay who were afraid that even being seen with us might get them expelled.
It’s a very good beginning. I’m hoping that in the next few weeks you will meet with us and discuss how we can work together to make our Soulforce Return to Lynchburg event, October 25-27, 2002, a weekend that inspires and informs us all.
On Friday night, October 25, hundreds of visitors from across the country will gather for a celebration of diversity at First Christian Church.
On Saturday morning, October 26, at that same location, we will offer training in nonviolence and other specialty workshops on creating positive change.
On Saturday afternoon, October 26, we are joining with churches and other gay-friendly agencies and organizations at Riverside Park for a three hour OUT AND ABOUT IN LYNCHBURG, featuring music, guest speakers, displays by gay-friendly organizations and an informal time for getting acquainted. That night we may return to First Christian for a Soulforce rally and training.
Sunday morning, October 27, after an open house at our cottage on Thomas Road, our delegation is joining you and your congregation for the 11 a.m. worship service. We will wear our Soulforce ID badges but simply blend in with the other members of Thomas Road Baptist Church.
What we do following that Sunday service is partially in your hands. We have reserved Riverside Park for a community-wide, covered dish, Sunday dinner/picnic. But since we are staying in local motels or in the homes of friendly neighbors, we are limited in being able to prepare those covered dishes.
We’re hoping that you and your congregation will provide the covered dish hospitality for that afternoon event and sit down to eat with us. We’ll pay for the park, provide drinks, and clean up the area afterward. All we ask is that your folks bring food and eat with us. Obviously, this symbolic act is important to our people.
You promised us a dinner in 1999, but at the last minute we agreed to settle for bottled water because you were being criticized by a few fundamentalists for feeding us. Now, we’re coming back to collect on that promise for two reasons.
First, though our Anti-Violence Summit in 1999 was an historic occasion with 200 of your leaders sitting down with 200 of ours, we need to follow up on those conversations, to stay open to each other’s fears and feelings. The national media praised you for your courage in reaching out across the divide to sit down with gay people in an honest attempt to end the angry, violent words from both sides. After 9/ll, we should do everything in our power to help overcome those things which still divide us and to promote every word or action that draws us together
Second, as you know hospitality to strangers and outcasts is a central biblical theme. We’re hoping that you will provide us Christian hospitality on Sunday, October 27, as an example of Christ’s call to "love your neighbor." These words of Jesus could transform the world if we lived them out in our day-to-day lives. So many religious people see homosexuals as outsiders and there is no way to resolve our differences if we can’t even sit down to share a meal together.
We are asking that you give your people and ours a chance to demonstrate to the world the love Christ had for all people, including outsiders, even His enemies. In that way, the violent thoughts, words and even actions on both sides will be confronted by this symbolic act of sharing a meal together.
I’m still hoping that you and Macel will come to dinner after your Super Conference ends. We know gay people across the country whose Christian parents refuse to allow them to come home even for a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. We know gay youth who have been rejected and even discarded by their Christian parents, chased out of their homes and abandoned to make it on the streets by themselves. We know gay seniors whose grown Christian children refuse to allow them to even share a meal or a Christmas gift with their own grandchildren. We know gay people who have been harassed, hurt, and even killed by gay-bashers quoting Leviticus or Romans as a kind of "permission from God" to commit these terrible acts.
By reaching out to us in this very small and symbolic way, you could make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people who look to you as an example of the Christian faith in action. We thank you in advance for seriously considering our request. Let’s talk it over, Jerry. Let’s find a way to make our October 25-27, 2002, visit a time that leads to genuine reconciliation.
cc: Dr. Ron Godwin
Mel White and Gary Nixon, 636 Thomas Road, Lynchburg, VA. 24502