Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Freedom is a journey, sometimes by bus

Posted by metaphorical on 14 February 2007

From a “Letter From The Closet” to Soulforce, an activist gay and lesbian Christian ministry.

Growing up, I was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist household. I committed my life to Christ at a very young age. While I grew in my faith throughout my childhood, I also began to have these feelings that no one spoke about. It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I finally grasped what was happening. It was then that I realized I was having attractions for other guys. The thought that I might be gay scared me. I didn’t understand how this could be. I knew what my church had to say about it. I was very active in my youth group, read my bible, prayed daily, and had a deep respect for–and a good relationship with–both of my parents. I felt close to God at this point, and yet I knew this secret part of my life also existed. While I attempted to repress any thought that I might be gay, there were constantly nagging feelings that I was different. By denying my feelings, I was only lying to myself. I knew what was going on inside my heart, and yet it wasn’t until college that I finally dealt with these feelings.

For years, I had been looking forward to attending a Christian college. I wanted to be surrounded by students and faculty who would support me in my walk with God and challenge my faith. After visiting Bethel, I knew that this was the place that God wanted me to attend.

Experiences like this, and letters like this one, inspired Soulforce to create an “Equality Ride,” a national bus ride of protest, modeled on the desegregationist Freedom Rides of 1961. (Soulforce discusses this history here.)

In 2006, during the inaugural Equality Ride, participants traveled to nineteen schools and engaged students, faculty, and administrators in conversation about the damaging effects of homophobic doctrine, the false notion that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities are sick and sinful. This year, the journey continues with fifty-seven young adults going to thirty-two Christian colleges and universities. Two buses are taking the group on two distinct routes around the country in creative pursuit of social justice. In doing so, they are empowered to change countless lives. Love liberates the oppressed, redeems the lost, and resurrects the spirit.

The colleges they visited all have policies that ban homosexuals and homosexuality in the name of “Christian principles.” The Covenant College (Georgia) student handbook is typical:

“Student are also required to abstain from all activities which violate Biblical teachings, such as theft, drunkenness, slanderous or profane language, all forms of dishonesty including cheating, and sexual sins (such as premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and the use or possession of obscene or pornographic material).”

To read the accounts of the 2006 ride, success was mixed. The first stop was at Lee University:

Today was a reminder that success is always subjective. We spent the day at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, a Pentecostal school. Half the Riders spent the morning engaging in one-on-one dialogue — this because at 10 p.m. last night, the administration at Lee revoked their offer for us to have public forums, to give speeches, and to assemble in groups larger than three or four.

The bus was sprayed with graffiti — “Fags-Mobile” in hot pink spray paint — but on the other hand some other Cleveland residents helped them wipe it off. Lessons in tolerance and understanding apparently were exchanged in both directions:

For most riders, today was a bittersweet departure from Cleveland, TN, where we have spent the past two days meeting and befriending Lee University students. I always suspected that I would be engaged in deeply stimulating conversations on the college campuses we visit, but underestimated the possibility of making friends. Lee University has thus permanently altered my purpose on this ride, as several students have shaken my understanding of what it means to be LGBTQ and Christian.

At Oral Roberts University, nine students ended up in jail briefly and “the administrators blocked access to the Equality Ride from all computers on the school’s network. Several Riders had to meet students in a coffee shop several blocks from campus to engage in dialogue so that those in power would not see the students interacting with Riders and thus inflict consequences.” At Oklahoma Baptist University, “The University allowed us to come on campus, as long as we remained in the Student Union.” They were not allowed to hand out literature, though on the second day that policy was relaxed.

According to its mission statement, the purpose of Soulforce “is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.” Among other things, they sponsor a “‘noncooperation campaign’ against untruth in the Christian churches.”

For decades we have funded our own oppression with our tithes, offerings, and special gifts to the churches that condemn us. For decades we have played their organs, led their choirs, taught their classes, and filled their pews. We are their pastors and priests, their deacons, trustees, Sunday School teachers and superintendents…. By refusing to fund our own oppression we will reclaim our dignity and demonstrate our powerful, loving presence.

I myself have no particular use for religion and find it creates more confusion than clarity when I reflect on matters of morality and right living. But I have a great deal of respect for people who draw out lessons from the life and teachings of Christ, using it each day as a scaffold to climb up to the same place that I try to reach. We each in our own way want to increase justice and reduce suffering. Love liberates the oppressed, redeems the lost, and resurrects the spirit.

The 2007 Equality Ride begins next month. Donations can be made here.

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