A few weeks ago some friends engaged me in a discussion regarding an article by Joel Belz of World Magazine. The article offered the reader the opportunity to imagine himself as the president of a Christian college who had been approached by a group of Muslims requesting permission to come on campus in order to have a cultural and religious exchange with students and faculty. It would be an opportunity for people from very different backgrounds and communities to interact with and learn from one another. He went on to change the scenario slightly. Instead of a group of Muslims, imagine it was a group of self-proclaimed evangelical Christian homosexuals. This situation is no longer an imaginative exercise of armchair philosophizing for Dr. Clyde Cook and the faculty of Biola University.
Soulforce, a group of gay, lesbian, bigendered, and transgendered people and their friends, sponsors Equality Ride, a bus tour across the nation mirroring the Freedom Rides of the 1970s movement to end racism. Equality Ride will stop at a number of Christian and military campuses that do not condone homosexual behavior. Their goal is to enter into discussions and relationships with students and faculty in an attempt to end the anti-homosexual policies in those places. Biola will be visited on April 4, 2006.
The Equality Riders have created a publicly and emotionally compelling argument to assure that they gain access to places that otherwise would likely not welcome their advances. By entering on the grounds of academic freedom, the group is actually able to make strides towards the more political goals of changing public opinion, gaining national recognition, and paving the way for complete acceptance of homosexuality. Those institutions that refuse to allow the group access to the campus or provide a platform for their ideas are easily accused of squelching academic freedom and of using power rather than reason to drown the voices of their opponents. The Equality Riders can innocently claim that all they desire is to dialogue and discuss their point of view. Clearly, however, the Riders have more in view than a forum for open debate. Rather, they desire to use relationships to replace reasons and argumentation, hoping that the emotional appeal of meeting a well-balanced, friendly gay person who is enthusiastic about his Christian beliefs will go a long ways towards opening the hearts of conservative Christians to the homosexual agenda. This strategy is not without merit, for it is much more difficultto villainize a person when his portrait is placed side by side with his caricature.
I completely support the goal of Soulforce to end violent oppression of homosexuals, a violence that often arises out of ignorance or misguided zeal. However, the Riders have created a false dichotomy for conservative Christians. The dichotomy is that either one must believe that homosexual practice is amoral or one must hate homosexuals. This dichotomy makes it very difficult for Christians to proclaim the truth in love. By stating that no gay person should be denied their human rights or be murdered or abused, Soulforce members say nothing terribly interesting or provocative. The majority of Christians, Americans, and freedom-loving people would agree. However, Soulforce takes the position that any sort of disagreement with the homosexual agenda or with homosexual practice is inadmissible, and is in fact a form of spiritual violence. Rather than arguing that private acts of violence and hate are immoral, Soulforce makes the stronger statement that anything less than total agreement with and acceptance of homosexual practices is immoral. It is this statement that conservative Christians cannot accept, and it is here that the false dichotomy has the possibility of creating public scandal.
On the surface, entering into a cultural exchange and cordial discussion with the Equality Riders is very reasonable and probably would be a beneficial thing for both sides (especially if a rational and rigorous debate could take place presenting the arguments for and against the proposition that homosexuality is not a sin). However, the symbolic nature of the exchange being forced upon the participants by Soulforce is unfair. It forces the Christian universities to accept the false dichotomy and leaves little room for their actual position to be heard. In this case, as with most highly publicized events, perception is reality, and Christian leaders have a difficult time avoiding either the perception that they hate homosexuals and are close-minded on the one hand, or the perception that they have no fundamental disagreement with homosexuals and embrace them as fellow Christians on the other.
My recommendation? It goes without saying that any sort of violent, illegal, or malicious acts are unacceptable; sufficient precautionary
measures should be taken to avoid giving the national media the sort of story they drool over. Force the issue by having publicly recorded debates between Christian faculty and Soulforce leaders that focus on the proposition that homosexuality is sinful rather than on the more emotional, but intellectually dubious, claim that we all should get together and love each other, where love means uncritical acceptance. Avoid symbolic gestures, actions, or soundbytes that excuse participants and the watchful eye of the media and nation from actually addressing the relevant issues.
A good place for interested and concerned citizens to begin the debate would be reading and responding to the
tract created by the founder of Soulforce. His arguments for the Christian homosexual are level-headed though weak and his appeals emotional but not radical. I doubt that he will be convinced to abandon his opinion, but an honest attempt to do so will go a long way towards showing Soulforce that Christians are not close-minded, irrational, bigots—and the sooner that caricature is exploded, the harder it will be for liberals and secularists alike to win this culture war by marginalization, rather than honest defeat, of their opponents.