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Soulforce in
Seattle: Confessions of an Equality Rider

Soulforce in
Seattle: Confessions of an Equality Rider


"Time and again Equality Riders have been told we are affirmed as human beings created in God's image but would not make suitable roommates, teammates, and coworkers. What kind of love can have such distinctions inscribed upon it?"

Easter season is an ideal time for self-reflection. This year I'm wrestling with the idea of accountability. First, there's Christ's resurrection, with its grand motif of commitments and promises. Secondly, there's the Soulforce Equality Ride, which has reached its halfway point. There is so much to think back on and look forward to.

The westbound bus has been blessed with opportunities to engage in serious dialogue on homosexuality and faith with conservative Christian communities on our itinerary. The rhetoric du jour at most of these stops has been that homophobia is not a Christian value. Administrators, faculty, and student leaders have been coming forth in chapels and classrooms to condemn hate speech and violence against LGBT people.

Refreshing as it is, I am weary of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" fallacy that is being offered as an alternative. The concept seems benign and doable when homosexuality is perceived as a cultural pestilence extraneous to the campus bubble. Time and again Equality Riders have been told we are affirmed as human beings created in God's image but would not make suitable roommates, teammates, and coworkers. What kind of love can have such distinctions inscribed upon it?

On Good Friday at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., a group of Christian students told me they loved me and sympathized with "my issue." They also told me they would still vote against LGBT nondiscrimination laws and marriage equality. Their professed love for me leaves me potentially jobless, homeless, and heartbroken. What kind of conscience allows for such a worldview? My heart is heavy this Easter because I struggle to see Christ in the Christian response to diversity. One cannot condemn people on the basis of sexual orientation and aspire to end hate at the same time. That does not work.

It is revealing that so often Soulforce Equality Ride visits fall under the jurisdiction of the Christian institution's marketing offices. Homosexuality, then, is treated as a matter of public relations. In the opening remarks to the morning assembly at Pepperdine University, a faculty member spoke about confessing the institutional sin of homophobia until a rider pointed out the antigay literature the university had provided its students in preparation for our visit. Right then it became evident that our lives as LGBT people and our quest for equality are not publicity stunts to be assuaged with politically correct pronouncements. What an educational opportunity that long and awkward moment was!

It also highlighted a larger problem afflicting the conversation about homosexuality and faith. In our era of hype, confession has become a hip marketing term--hardcover to DVD, it is available for purchase in all formats. PR firms see it as a cure-all for clients stuck in a harsh spotlight. Confession as a pop culture phenomenon is celebrated as if a tell-all were an end-all.

Along the way, the spiritual nature of this sacrament seems to have become a moot point. Confession calls one not to simply acknowledge a transgression and accept responsibility for any damage caused. It also calls for a radical change in behavior in order to earn a life beyond forgiveness. Unfortunately, so many Christians misguidedly equate the act of confession with the blessing of forgiveness. I believe there is a vast spiritual distance between the two. The Soulforce Equality Ride operates in that reconciliatory space in between, which can only be traversed with intentional, proactive steps.

Repentance is twofold: regret and atonement. After decades of sustained activism and prayerful study, some congregations have been moved to regret their previous rhetoric and actions toward the LGBT community. Even if this sentiment is first expressed in words only, it's a powerful call to transformation. Now, is there a blueprint for atonement? Such a journey is deeply personal for an individual, but what does it look like for a campus, church, or society at large? What can academic institutions and communities of faith do to right the wrongs of homophobia?

On the latest leg of our westbound itinerary, Soulforce Equality Ride has provided two schools with ripe opportunities to commit to the process of true confession. The courageous members of the Malibu GLEE (Gay, Lesbian, and Everyone Else), the unofficial support group for LGBT students at Pepperdine University, has approached the administration with a request for official student government-approved status, which would enable it to create programming that addresses issues of faith and homosexuality. A committed group of faculty and staff at Fresno Pacific University are exploring ways to establish a Safe Spaces program on campus. Even MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.--while still figuring out what to do about dancing--has opened its minds and hearts to this dialogue. How can we succeed as a community in reaching out to those affected by the religion-based oppression? It is as much the responsibility of national and local organizations as individuals (like the alumni) to make sure these efforts are taken seriously.

Confession does not stop at words. We must hold ourselves and each other accountable to bring theological doctrine, institutional policy, and private behavior into harmony. Only then would we have a cause to celebrate truly good news not just on Easter but every day. Hallelujah.

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