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: