Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "Four gay-rights activists arrested at Baptist college"

Four gay-rights activists arrested at Baptist college

Tuesday, November 4, 2008
By Heather Hahn, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

CONWAY — Four gay-rights activists were arrested Monday afternoon immediately after they set foot on the Central Baptist College campus.

As Conway police handcuffed three women and one man, their fellow activists remained on the public sidewalk and sang the Christian camp song that begins, “Love, love, love, love, Christians, this is your call.” The 17 activists were all members of Soulforce Q, a group that seeks what it describes as equal treatment for gay students. The group visited the small Conway campus of about 500 students as part of its third annual Equality Ride, a national bus tour of conservative Christian colleges and universities.

“I think it’s unfortunate that they intentionally went to jail to make a point,” Terry Kimbrow, Central Baptist’s president, said after the arrests.

“What they are espousing is opposed to our beliefs. That’s why I denied having them on campus.” Kimbrow had asked the Conway police to help with security. When the Equality Riders arrived around noon, Kimbrow announced that they would be arrested if they stepped off the sidewalk and onto the campus. Conway police officers stood around the campus perimeter.

For about an hour, the riders stood on the sidewalk as instructed. Central Baptist students gathered on the lawn to watch. A few went to talk to the Equality Riders. Also standing with the Equality Riders were some students from nearby University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College who had come to show moral support.

After the arrests, some activists stayed on the sidewalk and talked to students who approached. Some students debated Bible passages on sexuality with the activists. Others questioned whether they needed to violate the law to get their message across.

“A lot of what we do is symbolic,” said Jarrett Lucas, co-director of the ride. “We do have a very real conversation to bring and we want that genuine exchange, that genuine dialogue. But at the same time, I think it’s really important to see that we face very real rejection from the followers of Christ.” Drew Hanna, a Central Baptist junior from Russellville, was talking to some of those arrested just before they stepped on campus.

“I feel blown off,” Hanna said. “I feel like they don’t really care that much. Because if they really cared, they would have tried to stay and talk to me. They say they want dialogue. But then they walk away to get arrested.” Central Baptist, which is affiliated with the Baptist Missionary Association of Arkansas, was the first stop for the group in the state.

On Wednesday, the group plans to visit Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. The Southern Baptist-affiliated school, which has about 1, 470 students, also declined the Equality Riders’ request to come on campus. But with the expectation that the group will come anyway, university officials have designated an area on campus for the group to gather.

The three women arrested were Katie Higgins of Minneapolis; Alex Lundy of Syosset, N. Y.; and Lauren Parke of Seattle. Also arrested was Enzi Tanner of Minneapolis. They were all released about two and a half hours later after each paying $ 200 bond on charges of criminal trespass. Private donations help pay for the group’s fines.

Several Central Baptist students said the visit had no impact on their views. They still viewed homosexual acts as sinful.

Higgins, the co-director of the ride, said being arrested was worth it for the conversations it fostered with Central Baptist students. Three Central Baptist students joined the group for dinner that night at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant.

Sally Roberson, a sophomore from Searcy, said she expected the group to be disruptive, but she didn’t think they were.

“I didn’t want them on campus because I thought they were trying to push their beliefs on us,” Roberson said. “Then when they got here, they weren’t trying to push something. They were just trying to make us understand that God loves everybody, and we should accept them.”

The original article is available on The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette website: