Equality Ride Connects Faith and Fairness at 2 Baptist Schools

National Tour of Christian Colleges Advocates Safety for Gay and Transgender Students

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 28, 2008
For Immediate Release
Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Dallas, TX) — This week, the Soulforce Equality Ride brought unprecedented conversations about faith and fairness to two Baptist institutions: Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. The quality of dialogue and exchange at each school demonstrates the diverse and changing nature of contemporary evangelical cultures.

The Equality Ride is a national bus tour to Christian colleges. The 18 to 26-year-old Equality Riders advocate safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

On Friday, October 24, the Soulforce Q Equality Riders arrived at Dallas Baptist University (DBU) as guests for a day of dialogue and discussion about faith and fairness. During a press conference preceding scheduled events, Dr. J. Blair Blackburn, Executive Vice President of DBU, said that although "DBU’s established beliefs may not coincide with the viewpoints of Soulforce on these issues, we understand anyone’s right to disagree and their desire for an opportunity to discuss." Katie Higgins, Equality Ride Co-director, explained the necessity of such conversations to ensure safety and fairness for all students.

Riders joined DBU faculty and administration for lunch and conversation before presentations to student leadership on campus.

"The students had such great ideas about how to get involved and be advocates for their gay and transgender peers. I hope that some of them will take those ideas and begin to form a support system for LGBT students on campus," said Equality Rider Alex Lundy.

Dialogue with student leaders continued as Riders were able to sit down with them and discuss their ideas and perceptions about faith, sexuality, and gender. Riders briefly shared their stories and then discussed what safe spaces look like for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and how students can facilitate these environments.

In a debriefing session with Equality Riders and DBU administrators, Riders explained their concerns about the DBU policy and discussed ways the campus could be safer. Administration shared their personal experiences and told Riders that the dialogue would continue.

"I think that the administration is genuinely interested in ensuring that gay and transgender students feel safe and fully accepted as members of the DBU community. Hopefully we can work with them in establishing fair and inclusive policies, which will help create a more welcoming campus climate," said Ride Co-director Jarrett Lucas.

In contrast, on Monday October 27th, Equality Riders traveled to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) for a limited and formal exchange of ideas.

Riders went onto campus at 2:00 PM for a meeting attended by a cross-section of individuals selected by the university, which included students, faculty, staff, and two of the university’s vice presidents. Soulforce Q Equality Riders showed a brief video from the SWBTS website in which President Paige Patterson apologizes to an African American alumnus for the oppression he faced as a student in 1943 when Southwestern was still racially segregated.

Following this video, Equality Riders shared two letters from gay SWBTS alumni detailing their experiences and the pain of being unable to live authentically on a campus that punishes gay and lesbian students. One writer revealed that "stress and suicidal thoughts forced [him] to drop out." In conclusion, the Riders reflected on the lack of condemnation from Jesus regarding gay and transgender people.

Equality Rider Danielle Cooper of Newark, New Jersey explains, "We had twenty five minutes and during that time we wanted the representatives from Southwestern Baptist to see our humanity. We wanted them to understand the pain and oppression lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face as a result of beliefs that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary holds. How long will we have to wait until President Patterson recognizes that the convention is wrong on the issue of gay and transgender individuals as well?"

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary began by introducing a community member who was not officially affiliated with Southwestern but was a "friend" of SWBTS. He told those present that he was once a gay man but was no longer considered himself a part of the community. He shared his belief that "Jesus Christ doesn’t speak tolerance. It’s a very narrow-minded Word." Following this personal story, a faculty member in the Ethics department rehearsed the Biblical passages that are often used to condemn gay and lesbian people.

Afterwards Riders and community supporters stood in silent vigil outside of the University for two hours. Some Equality Riders stood silently in a "glass closet" constructed as a visual reminder of LGBT students who are present on campus but unable to be heard. Zak Rittenhouse, one of the Riders who stood vigil within the "glass closet" reflected on his own experience: "While in the glass closet, I was reminded once again of what it was like to be silenced and to live in fear."

Riders remained in vigil until 5:30 PM along W. Seminary Drive to offer a visible symbol of hope to LGBT students as well as to demonstrate to the SWBTS community at large the pain of being gay or transgender on the campus.

Katie Higgins, Equality Ride co-director explains that, "Although the situations at Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were quite different, both were certainly important first steps in creating a dialogue about faith and fairness on these campuses. I hope that the schools will continue to challenge their perceptions and work towards becoming safer learning environments for all students."

The Equality Ride bus is on the road through November 13, 2008. Future stops include:

Oct. 29 Southwestern Assemblies of God University Waxahachie, TX
Nov. 5 Ouachita Baptist University Arkadelphia, AR
Nov. 7 Central Baptist College Conway, AR
Nov. 10-11 Union University Jackson, TN
Nov. 13 Simmons College of Kentucky Louisville, KY

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information, go to www.equalityride.org.

###

Pink News (UK), "Six arrested on Florida University campus in gay rights protest"

Six arrested on Florida University campus in gay rights protest

Thursday, October 16, 2008
By Rachel Charman, Pink News (UK)

Members of a gay rights "Equality Ride" protest were arrested yesterday as they attempted to enter a university campus chapel.

Six members of LGBT equality group Soulforce Q, were arrested on trespassing charges at Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBAU).

PBAU does not exclude gay students from its 3,200 population, but does ban "homosexual behaviour" amongst its members.

Soulforce’s visit to PBAU was part of the "Equality Ride"; a trip across the US made by 50 young people visiting 32 American faith-based colleges that hold policies that exclude or silence LGBT students.

On reaching PBAU, Soulforce members were not allowed by PBAU officials to enter the campus.

They spent the morning on the pavement outside the campus, discussing the Bible and LGBT issues with passing students and parents.

When six members of the Soulforce group attempted to enter the university chapel at the beginning of a service, they were stopped by Terry Wheeler, director of campus security, and Lieutenant Mike Roggin of the West Palm Beach Police Department.

Mr Wheeler informed the Soulforce members that they were "unwanted" and that the police would enforce trespassing law.

Six Soulforce members were then arrested and taken to the county jail.

The arrested members were Jarrett Lucas, 22; Danielle Cooper, 19; Lauren Parke, 25; Zakiya Tanner, 24; Nicholas R. DeFinis, 22; and Zakariah Rittenhouse, 21.

Speaking about the purpose of the Equality Ride, Haven Herrin, co-director of Soulfoce Q, said:

"We come in pursuit of greater understanding.

"Our goal is to foster a conversation about LGBT people and faith.

"While such conversations are often marked by politics and divisiveness, we bring open minds and hearts to academic settings, where we hope for a genuine exchange of ideas."

More than 200 American colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students.

In 2006, the inaugural Equality Ride travelled to 19 of those schools and held vigils, Bible studies, class discussions and community forums.

Herrin sees the diversity of this year’s cohort as another indicator of the project’s growth:

"We come from a variety of experiences, a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

"There are five straight allies on this year’s ride. There are four riders who identify as transgender. There are Buddhists, Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians.

"We’re all here to have a conversation with America’s next conservative religious generation about our personal lives and our personal relationships to the scriptures that the schools use to condemn us."

Eight of the 2007 riders are current or former students from schools on the 2006 ride.

Brigham Young University junior Matt Kulisch, a member of the Latter Day Saints and one of the students who participated in the action, cited his faith as part of his motivation for being arrested with the Equality Riders.

"My church has always taught me the principle of standing for something true.

"My integrity demanded that this message of God’s love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people be told in its entirety."

The original article is available on the Pink News website:
http://www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-9314.html

‘N Touch News Network, "Equality Ride Faces Vandalism and Intimidation"

Equality Ride Faces Vandalism and Intimidation

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Uncredited, ‘N Touch News Network

West Palm Beach, FL—Just hours ago, sixteen young adults arrived at the DeSantis Family Chapel on the campus of  Palm Beach Atlantic University. The Equality Riders were immediately restricted to the far side of the sidewalk and were greeted by an organized group of parents. During the conversations that ensued, a few students did join the group and one came out as a lesbian who is in her first year at PBAU. She was able to speak firsthand about the lack of safety that is provided for her as a lesbian on campus, which affirms Soulforce Q’s reasons for visiting the Christian school.

At 11:00 am EST, the sixteen Equality Riders walked to the DeSantis Family Chapel doors and were confronted by city police at the doors. School officials read a statement that barred the young adults from participating in the worship service with the students with whom they had been talking. A similar statement followed from the West Palm Beach Police Department. Inspired by the conversations that they had with students during a picnic hosted by the Equality Ride on Sunday, the Riders moved forward with good faith that they would be allowed into Chapel.

As ten of the Riders were turned away, six remained and were arrested, one by one. Those arrested were Jarrett Lucas, 22, from Philadelphia, Danielle Cooper, 19, from Maplewood, NJ, Lauren Parke, 25, from Seattle, Enzi Tanner, 24, from Minneapolis, Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, 22, from Lansdale, PA, and Zak Rittenhouse, 21, from Frankfort, OH. Students looked on as the young adults were placed in handcuffs and moved into a police van.

The remaining Equality Riders are still standing vigil and speaking with students on the corner of S. Olive Avenue and Okeechobee Road. They will remain there until 4:00 pm EST. The arrested young adults are scheduled to go before a magistrate Tuesday morning.

Today’s visit to PBAU comes after a night of harassment for participants of the Equality Ride. Sunday evening, the glass door of the bus was bashed in with a hard object. Two panes of glass were shattered and small portions of the vinyl wrap were scratched off. A police report of the incident was filed.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 50 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. The goal is to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school welcoming to all students. The organizers of the Equality Ride use a collaborative approach, writing to college administrators months in advance and inviting them to work together to design programming that examines diverse points of view — including points of view that affirm gay and transgender students.

The original article is available on the ‘N Touch News website:
http://www.ntouchaz.com/artman2/publish/index/EQUALITY_RIDE_FACES_VANDALISM_AND_INTIMIDATION.shtml

The Advocate, "Six Arrested on Equality Ride"

Six Arrested on Equality Ride

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Michelle Garcia, The Advocate

Six young adults on an LGBT-awareness campaign were arrested when they attempted to walk into the DeSantis Family Chapel at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday.

College administrators allowed Equality Riders from the religious tolerance organization Soulforce to visit campus for a private meeting at 9:30 a.m., but riders said the conditions were too restrictive. A group of parents greeted the riders, who were relegated to a part of the sidewalk on campus near the chapel. Some students later joined the group, and one female student came out as a lesbian, according to a press release. She told the group that the university lacks specific safeguards for LGBT students.

Six of the 16 riders on the trip attempted to enter 11 a.m. chapel service, but university police stopped them from entering.

"You are an unwanted guest," campus security director Terry Wheeler said to riders, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "We have asked the police department to enforce the trespassing law,"

The arrested riders were Jarrett Lucas, Enzi Tanner, Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, Lauren Parke, Zak Rittenhouse, and Danielle Cooper, ranging in age from 19 to 25. They will face a magistrate Tuesday morning.

The remaining Equality Riders held a vigil near the college through Monday afternoon.

The arrests took place after the Equality Ride bus was damaged Sunday night. The windows were smashed in, shattering two panes of glass, and small portions of the vinyl wrap were also scratched off.

The original article is available on The Advocate website:
http://www.advocate.com/news_detail_ektid63651.asp

The Associated Press, "6 people arrested on university campus"

6 people arrested on university campus

Monday, October 13, 2008
Uncredited, The Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Six members of a gay rights group were arrested in West Palm Beach after they tried to attend a chapel service at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

The students, who are members of a group called Soulforce Q, were arrested Monday for trespassing. University officials had wanted to meet with the group privately, but group members refused the university’s request to meet with select students and faculty. They said it would defeat their mission of reaching gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

The group reported that this weekend two panes of glass on the bus they were traveling in were smashed.

Soulforce is touring 15 schools in the South. Palm Beach Atlantic is the only Florida school on the tour.

The original article is available on the Miami Herald website:
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/florida/AP/story/724609.html

365 Gay News, "Gay rights activists arrested at Florida college"

Gay rights activists arrested at Florida college

Monday, October 13, 2008
By 365gay Newscenter Staff, 365 Gay News

West Palm Beach, Florida—Six members of the nondenominational Soulforce Equality Ride were arrested Monday when they attempted to enter the chapel at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

More than a dozen LGBT young adults and their allies are visiting 15 Christian schools throughout the South to engage students in a discussion on gay inclusion.

The six “riders” ignored warnings they would be arrested if they did not leave the campus.  They offered no resistance as police led them away.

This is the third year for the Equality Ride. Unlike previous years, “riders” were not obstructed as they spoke with students at Liberty University and Columbia International.

Initially, Palm Beach Atlantic officials completely refused to allow Equality Riders on campus. The school then suggested a limited meeting.

President David W. Clark’s office told the group that “riders” would be escorted onto campus for a two hour meeting with a pre-selected group of students and staff in an undisclosed location.

It was rejected by Equality Ride.

“Unfortunately, this format is not conducive to reaching out to the Palm Beach Atlantic community in the spirit of open dialogue. Additionally, the LGBT students who need to hear the Ride’s message of love and affirmation would not be reached in this format,” the group said in a statement.

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBT students.

At Palm Beach Atlantic the student handbook forbids, “sexual activity that is inconsistent with biblical teaching, such as: … homosexual behavior.”

Violators can be punished at the discretion of the university administration.

“[This leads] to a climate of fear and uncertainty for gay and transgender students,” Equality Ride said.

In a statement the university said it “does not ban enrollment of students with same sex orientation. Although Palm Beach Atlantic welcomes students from various backgrounds, the University does require that all students adhere to the behavioral standards outlined in the student handbook, which prohibits activities that are inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible.”

As the six protesters were being removed from the campus by police and charged with trespassing, other members of the group held hands and prayed.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 50 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. The goal is to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school welcoming to all students.

But the bus tour often has been met with opposition from schools and resulted in the arrests of some Soulforce members.

Two members of the group were arrested last year at the headquarters of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.

About 20 demonstrators held a vigil outside the headquarters, quoting from some of the FOF statements that homosexuality is “choice” and can be “cured,” that homosexuality is harmful, that gays live shorter lives, and that same-sex relationships threaten opposite-sex marriage.

Following the vigil, two protesters entered the headquarters building. Chris Hubble and Leigh Lyon, armed with two dozen yellow roses for Dobson and copies of the Soulforce booklet “A False Focus on My Family” and a DVD letter titled “Dear Dr. Dobson,” asked to see the conservative Christian leader.

When they refused to leave they were arrested.

Ten other riders were arrested on trespassing charges after they entered the Bethany Lutheran College campus in Mankato, Minn.

In 2006, 24 Soulforce demonstrators were arrested at a gay “die-in” at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Three others were arrested at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, other were arrested at Covenant College in Georgia, University of Cumberlands and at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky,

Soulforce members also were arrested at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, West Point, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia which is affiliated with Christian Broadcaster Pat Robertson.

The organizers of the Equality Ride said they use a collaborative approach, writing to college administrators months in advance and inviting them to work together to design programming that examines diverse points of view–including points of view that affirm gay and transgender students.

The original article is available on the 365 Gay News website:
http://www.365gay.com/news/gay-rights-activists-arrested-at-florida-college/

Equality Ride Faces Vandalism, Arrests at Palm Beach

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 13, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, 
Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138
caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(West Palm Beach, FL)– Just hours ago, sixteen young adults arrived at the DeSantis Family Chapel on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University. The Equality Riders were immediately restricted to the far side of the sidewalk and were greeted by an organized group of parents. During the conversations that ensued, a few students did join the group and one came out as a lesbian who is in her first year at PBAU. She was able to speak firsthand about the lack of safety for gay and lesbian students on campus, which affirms Soulforce Q’s reasons for visiting the Christian school: to talk about safety and inclusion for all.

At 11:00 am EST, the sixteen Equality Riders walked to the DeSantis Family Chapel doors and were confronted by city police at the doors. School officials read a statement that barred the young adults from participating in the worship service with the students with whom they had been talking. A similar statement followed from the West Palm Beach Police Department. Inspired by the conversations that they had with students during a picnic hosted by the Equality Ride on Sunday, the Riders moved forward with good faith that they would be allowed into Chapel.

As ten of the Riders were turned away, six remained and were arrested, one by one. Those arrested were Jarrett Lucas, 22, from Philadelphia, Danielle Cooper, 19, from Maplewood, NJ, Lauren Parke, 25, from Seattle, Enzi Tanner, 24, from Minneapolis, Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, 22, from Lansdale, PA, and Zak Rittenhouse, 21, from Frankfort, OH. Students looked on as the young adults were placed in handcuffs and moved into a police van.

The remaining Equality Riders are still standing vigil and speaking with students on the corner of S. Olive Avenue and Okeechobee Road. They will remain there until 4:00 pm EST. The arrested young adults are scheduled to go before a magistrate Tuesday morning.

Today’s visit to PBAU comes after a night of harassment for participants of the Equality Ride. Sunday evening, the glass door of the bus was bashed in with a hard object. Two panes of glass were shattered and small portions of the vinyl wrap were scratched off. A police report of the incident was filed.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 50 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. The goal is to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school welcoming to all students. The organizers of the Equality Ride use a collaborative approach, writing to college administrators months in advance and inviting them to work together to design programming that examines diverse points of view — including points of view that affirm gay and transgender students.

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information, go to www.equalityride.com.

###

Morehouse and Spelman to Host Equality Ride

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 3, 2008
For Immediate Release

Contact: Caitlin MacIntyre, 
Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 612-715-6138 Email: caitlin@equalityride.com
******************************************

(Atlanta, GA) Morehouse College and Spelman College are preparing to welcome the 2008 Equality Ride, a youth-organized bus tour to faith-based colleges, on October 9 and 10. Students and administrators at both schools will meet with the young adult Equality Riders to talk about fostering a campus culture that celebrates and affirms lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students.

"We acknowledge the strides Morehouse and Spelman have taken to ensure that gay students are safe, and we hope to continue that work by creating spaces where gay and transgender students feel valued and welcome," says Jarrett Lucas, Equality Ride Co-director.

"Morehouse and Spelman are leaders in the historically black college community, and we believe our collaboration with them will inspire other schools to take an active role in supporting their LGBT students," Lucas continued.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited 50 colleges with policies that silence or discriminate against LGBT students. In contrast to those schools, Spelman College includes sexual orientation in its official non-discrimination policy, and Morehouse students organized a week of anti-homophobia events last spring. In spite of those strides, students at the schools reached out to the Equality Ride.

Keara Watkins is the Vice President of Afrekete, Spelman’s LGBT student group, and a recipient of a Point Foundation scholarship. Watkins first learned about the Equality Ride when she met fellow Point Scholar Brandon Kneefel, who participated in the 2007 Equality Ride.

"I want the Equality Ride to come to Spelman because the social climate needs to change, and I think the visit will encourage that change," said Watkins. "Our student body is not completely represented or protected because of a lack of awareness about and solidarity with LGBT students."

Danielle Cooper, one of the 2008 Equality Riders and organizer of the Morehouse and Spelman visits, can relate. Cooper initially attended Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, DC. "The euphoric feeling of being a part of something great disappeared as I began to better understand the social rules that guided the campus," says Cooper, who identifies as a lesbian. "Although there are no discriminatory policies, it was commonly understood that LGBT people could be treated differently, looked over, and forced into rigid stereotypes."

Michael Brewer, Vice President of SafeSpace, an LGBT student group at Morehouse College, points to representation and visibility as keys to transforming the campus climate: "We have done a lot of work, not only to make this institution comfortable for gay and queer students, but also to cement our collective life experience in the canon of black culture."

"It’s a beautiful thing when others from across the nation can come and help us champion that vision through the noble principles of faith and nonviolence, which were brought together by our distinguished Morehouse brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, and remain at the heart of black America’s liberation ethos," says Brewer of the Equality Ride visit.

For the visits to Morehouse and Spelman, Cooper and other Equality Riders are collaborating with Student Affairs officers to plan campus conversations about affirming LGBT students and celebrating sexual and gender diversity in African American history.

On Thursday, October 9, Jasmine’s Cafe on the Morehouse College campus will host an open-mic poetry reading featuring the stories of LGBT students. Spelman College students and members of the Atlanta community are welcome to attend.

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information, go to www.equalityride.com.

.

Lynchburg News & Advance, "Gay activist group debates homosexuality at Liberty University"

Gay activist group debates homosexuality at Liberty University

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
By Christa Desrets, Lynchburg News & Advance

The dialogue began slowly.

Five members of the gay activist group Soulforce held hands Wednesday afternoon and stood to face about 50 Liberty University students behind the school’s DeMoss Hall in Lynchburg.

They had just returned from donating five gay-affirming Christian books to the school’s library, and Caitlin MacIntyre invited onlookers to join them in singing “Amazing Grace.”

“No thanks,” one student said.

Across the sidewalk, students paged through Bibles as the hymn’s familiar first verse filled the air.

Liberty student Lawanda Sowell said she was searching for passages to describe her belief that homosexuality is a sin.

“They believe in what they believe because they are blind,” she said.

The song ended, and the two groups stood opposite each other with two different opinions on how to interpret the role of homosexuality and the definition of marriage in the Bible.

Liberty was the first of 15 planned stops at faith-based institutions on Soulforce’s annual Equality Ride, a national bus tour meant to encourage an inviting environment for any on-campus gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students.

“Nowhere in the Bible does it say, ‘homosexuality is sin,’” said Soulforce member Nicholas Rocco DeFinis.

Liberty student Steven Mosley disagreed.

“This is never affirmed in the Bible, ever,” he countered. “You should not be living like this.”

Soulforce member Danielle Cooper said many things have changed since the days of Jesus.

“Marriage, in terms of how we see it, has come a long, long way,” she said.

Although they disagreed, dialogue was exactly what Soulforce had hoped for, said Jarrett Lucas.

“It has to be open and it has to be honest,” he said. “Ideally, we come together and understand each other before the end of the day — or however long it takes.”

Earlier this week, Liberty officials had said they would not allow the group on campus. When Soulforce members came to the school in 2006, more than 20 were arrested on charges of trespassing after walking onto school property.

“It wasn’t our intention to tell them ahead of time to come on campus,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said Wednesday. “In fact, we told them they couldn’t. But they didn’t cause any incidents, so we didn’t arrest anybody.”

“Most students believe, like my father did, that you should love the sinner, hate the sin, show compassion and try to be a good witness. So that’s what I think our students did today.”

Capt. Al Thomas with the Lynchburg Police Department monitored the assembly from off campus and said the day was incident-free.

In the past couple of weeks, he has facilitated conversations between Soulforce and Liberty as the activist group planned for the event.

“They assured us that this would be a peaceful, nonviolent assembly, and I think that has gone according to plan,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

Liberty junior Erika Green said she was happy to have the chance to speak with the group.

“We’re supposed to love everyone, so it would be wrong to turn them away,” she said.

Katie Higgins, co-director of the Equality Ride, said the group had been in contact with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students at Liberty who felt that the school community promoted discrimination against them.

Falwell said the school’s code of conduct does not prohibit homosexuality, but it does forbid sexual activity outside of marriage.

“And in order for there to be a marriage in Virginia, it has to be between a man and a woman,” he said earlier this week.

As for the donated books, he said, “Somebody brought them up to my office today, and we have a committee that will decide whether to make them a part of the collection or not.”

After more than an hour of discussion, Soulforce members walked back to their bus and a dozen other Equality Riders who rallied from just outside of campus. Many students joined them. The group is in town until Sunday, and plans a discussion on the role of homosexuality in Christianity today at 11 a.m. at the Starbucks on Wards Road.

Wednesday’s dialogue had begun slowly, but continued as clusters formed here and there along University Boulevard.

Bill Carpenter, director of national actions for Soulforce, looked on with interest.

“We’re just beginning the adventure for this year,” he said.

 

The original article is available on the Lynchburg News & Advance website:
http://www.newsadvance.com/lna/news/local/article/gay_activist_group_debates_homosexuality_at_liberty_university/8984/