Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Soulforce, Gordon College and BYU: Kudos to Who?

Soulforce is an organization that just so happens to be sending bus loads of glbt students across the country to protest against Christian colleges for warping Christianity to persecute against them. In great part because of their nonviolent actions, some of the colleges acted in ways that didn't exactly make them look good and show that good 'ol fashioned protesting is still effective. How do we know that? Well, several Christian colleges have taken a step in the right direction - in large part because of the actions of Soulforce.

The Globe had an interesting article about a trip Soulforce planned for at Gordon College in Massachusetts. Unexpectedly, the school agreed to allow the protesters on campus - and for really good reasons. One big complaint against these colleges is the suffocation of ideas and beliefs - by not even allowing a group like Soulforce on campus, they don't allow students the same kind of opportunity to think for themselves as they would at any non-religious college or university. It's something that Gordon got.

"We present lots of ideas in the classroom that we don't agree with -- that's part of education," said Barry J. Loy , the dean of students. "I'm hopeful that they will come here to learn, and we will do the same. We're not keeping our students from them."

Loy e-mailed the entire Gordon campus about the visit, declaring that, "Gordon College affirms the historic, orthodox Christian position that homosexual practice is incompatible with the teaching of Scripture. However, the college plans to provide a gracious welcome to our Equality Ride visitors and views this occasion as an important educational opportunity."

Clearly, Gordon College is trying to make it a place that students may actually want to go to.

What's even more shocking is the likely effects of Soulforce on a far crazier slightly more unique school and situation - Brigham and Young University. For whatever reason - and I'm sure Soulforce's role in this made an impact - BYU has changed it's policy on gay and lesbian students. Basically, for the first time ever, students are actually allowed to be gay at BYU. Granted, the policy is still draconian - homosexual activity is still banned and people aren't allowed to advocate for the 'gay agenda' - but, students can be "out" and apparently, it's already had an impact to some at the school.
One current student told the paper that the changes "remove a lot of the Gestapo atmosphere from the campus."
Things are far from perfect, but it's important for Christian colleges to move toward the direction of equality and it's nice to see that it just may be happening. It's too early to tell if things are getting better for sure, but hopefully progress is inevitable. Colleges are meant to be the last learning bastion that prepares an adult for the "real world" and that just can't happen in today's society if students are indoctrinated to hate gay people. Furthermore, colleges are supposed to be liberal - as in open-minded - institutions that allow students to make up their own damn minds. An institution can't claim that if they ban gay advocacy and gay students. Most importantly, there are a lot of religious gay people in this country - and they deserve the right to go to a religious college if that's their choice. Schools would do well to accept and encourage them, as they're just the same as straight people and have a desire to learn about religion, instead of alienating them. After all, turning away the sheep isn't a very good way to keep them in the flock. Kudos to Soulforce for being the change they want all across this country.


joe said...

College is supposed to be a place where a person can be educated in an environment they feel comfortable in. This is a universally accepted fact. BYU is a University that makes no illusions to its students what it is all about. Students go there because they know they can be educated in a veryyyy Christian atmosphere.

Point: By sending groups like soulforce to schools such as BYU, aren't you in effect doing the same think as if BYU sent a anti-homosexuality squad to a school like the Harvey Milk school? You feel vindicated because you think that soulforce is doing BYU students a service, I'm sure BYU students would see an anti-homosexuality squad as a service by redeeming your immortal soul...the dance goes on and round and round.

You would think soulforce is a good organization and the hypothetical BYU anti-gay squad as bad...I think both are bad.

Ryan Adams said...

Nonviolent protest has to be accepted, so if that occurred at UMASS Dartmouth - I may not be happy and I may counter protest, but I wouldn't try to ban them or their message. In fact, I'd probably try to do the opposite - in the age old philosophy of 'the truth hurts.' People tend not to like hatred, be they from Massachusetts or Utah, which is evident in the fact that BYU has changed its policy to something more fair.

joe said...

I'm not saying it should be banned...I would say I think the contrary...but I take issue with whether this organization is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Joe, college is supposed to be a place where young adults can explore ideas. BYU itself evidently thought Soulfource was doing a good thing, since they welcomed the dialogue. And they certainly wouldn't have eased their anti-gay restrictions just to be hospitable hosts. (http://365gay.com/Newscon07/04/041707BYU.htm).

p.s. No one needs to send an anti-gay squad to any universities, because most states are already saturated with anti-gay sentiment. Just look at the state laws passed that mark gays as less than full citizens. Just look at MA, that is willing to put marriage equality on the chopping block. In many states it is difficult to distinguish the anti-gay squad from the state legislature. Often the anti-gay squad member is the person living next door. Your question is interesting academically, but shows real naivite. Try running this experiment: tell your ROTC commander, you boss, your family, your friends and associates, the guys hanging out by the corner by the liquor store, the guys in the stands next to you at Fenway that you are gay. Then you will understand that you live among the anti-gay squad.

Tom said...


Excellent comment about telling your neighbor, etc. that you are gay and see who the anti-gay quad is. Excellent.

I might be able to shed some more light on the Gordon College experience. I live in the community next to Gordon and am well-familiar with its students. The Republican leges in my district use Gordon students as a labor force for campaigns and elections/polls. These students tend to be very politically active and I seem to have run into them on many an occasion.

If you hold a sign for a Democratic candidate you can be guaranteed that a Gordon College student will come talk to you, tell you his or her life story and tell you why he or she always votes Republican. That being said, I have discovered through personal accounts by these students that Gordon is very diverse--within the fundamentalist/evangelical sects. One example might clarify...one young lady told me that she is studying to become a minister. She takes classes where she is exposed to a few students who do not believe (based on their sect) that woman should preach or become church officials. They make their points about this very well known to her and to their professors. So it seems that there is an active debate at Gordon at all times. So the debate allwed to be brought to campus via SoulForce and its gay Christians was not surprising to me.

Joe, I understand the point that you are trying to make. To a certain extent I can agree but still believe that SoulForce's tactic is a good one. The Equality Riders go onto campuses--private ones--that often do not allow them to enter. Any private instituion can restrict entrance if they so choose. So in this regard, SoulForce IS breaking rules and in many cases trespassing laws. But then again, so did Rosa Parks and all those original "Freedom Riders" in the Civil Rights Movement who stepped where "laws" prohibited them.

The Equality Riders personalize the issue. They are not just showing up at Christian schools and demanding some sort of "acceptance" of gays, they are trying to let the colleges and the general public know that these schools with their policies and teachings are hurting LGBT students and others. They are trying in a civil disobedient way to shine light on the spiritual attacks of LGBT students and LGBT in general.

I applaud SoulForce and was honored to have attended their rally in Danvers before they went to Gordon College. And yes, I applaud Gordon college and its students for allowing the dialogue.

The youth leader of the Equality Ride, Kyle Devries, worked with KnowThyNeighbor.org in Florida when we needed to educate a church community.

Anonymous said...

Tom, that's an interesting story about the woman studying to become a minister. It really speaks to Joe's assertion that college is supposed to be a place where a person can be educated in a [philosophically] comfortable environment. Your story is a great reminder that no such environment exists. There is always disagreement and conflict, even amongst self-selecting students at a small conservative christian college.

Karen Eaton said...

As a graduate of Gordon College, I had a opportunity this past week to reflect on the school I left nine years ago, when I returned to visit a professor for the first time.

I was pleased to hear from my professor that Gordon had decided to host the Soulforce Equality Ride. Perhaps it is some indication that the administration is at least becoming somewhat more open to political cultural, and religious debate.

Unfortunately, I somewhat doubt that the Soulforce Equality Ride will have much of an immediate impact on the student body, who, in my experience, tended to come from mainstream, conservative Evangelical churches and families that tend not to provide much in the way of exposure to diversity or others with different beliefs.

When I was at Gordon, I found that faculty tended far more to open to discussion and conversation about ideas that did not fit the Christian Right/conservative Evangelical agenda. Many of them encouraged me to develop greater depth to my beliefs, and really figure out why I ascribe to the Christian faith and how I define that faith.

Unfortunately, the students I attended Gordon with tended to be far more judgmental and disapproving of anything that fell outside the neat little packages of rules and doctrine laid down by their churches and families of origin. (For example, I'll never forget the audible cries of dismay from my fellow social work students when I told them I was pro-choice.)

As a left-leaning believer with a deep concern for social welfare and poverty issues, I didn't exactly fit in with the firmly conservative student body that is present on campus (although I chose to stay because of some of the great faculty). I am happy to say, however, that during my time at Gordon, I was able to find some kindred spirits with whom I remain friends. I was even able to attend an Episcopal church with some friends and two professors (whom I hear have since come out of the closet . . . and no longer teach at Gordon).

As a Christian, I have struggled in my years since Gordon, and I credit some of my struggle to the anger I feel over the deep judgmentalism and intolerance exhibited by some of the people there (not to mention anger regarding the intolerance in the wider, national Christian evangelical movement).

I am slowly learning where I belong in the larger Christian community, and have been happy to find out that there is a growing group of believers in what is termed as the "emerging church" that are breaking from the political, social and cultural agendas of traditional evangelicalism to show that the radical love of Jesus Christ is meant for all people.

mark said...

Why does letting a gay advocacy group on campus make your school a place that people would want to go to? As a student at Gordon College, the very school you are talking about, I want to attend a school that stands for something. A school that holds in faith first and doesn't back down because of political pressure. These issues, like homosexuality, can be discussed without letting an extremist group on campus to share their thoughts and as a student I can tell you that this has happened and continues to happen. BYU did the right thing by standing for what they believe in, what do you feel is wrong about that?

Ryan Adams said...

Well, Mark, here in the real world we live in a place where people like to feel welcomed. No one is persecuting you at Gordon, but there are - I'm sure - plenty of people who feel persecuted by Gordon. Granted, they didn't have to attend that school, but religion does funny things to people and has a way of making them do things that, in all likelihood, aren't in their best interest - such as remaining in the closet and trying to pretend they're heterosexual when they aren't. Gordon, by allowing this group on campus - a group you call "extreme," yet one that hurts no one and only promotes religious tolerance - has decided to allow truly alternative viewpoints on their campus and set the record straight that they are an academic school first, one which stands for open-mindedness and free thinking.

Here, at a public university, I've had to deal with people I disagree with on an almost daily basis - and that's made me a better person.

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