Gay Christian Freedom Riders Tour Evangelical Colleges

The Washington Post‘s Hannah Rosin reported in Friday’s newspaper about a bus tour sponsored by the gay Christian organization Soulforce. This group of young people visits evangelical colleges to witness, by their presence, to their conviction that they can be true to both their sexual orientation and their faith:

Even on American highways crowded with giant family cars, buses are still big enough to make a point. For his acid tour in 1964, Ken Kesey had his Merry Pranksters repaint a 1939 school bus in psychedelic colors with brooms. These days buses are plastic-wrapped with their messages, like giant Twinkies on a mission.

The one driving down Route 7 in Virginia yesterday was purplish on one side and orange sunset on the other. In huge letters it said “Social Justice for Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People.” On the highway, fellow drivers either honked and waved or threw Coke cans. In Sioux City, Iowa, someone spray-painted the bus with “Fag, God doesn’t love you.”

…The 25 “equality riders” from a group called Soulforce have roughly followed certain routes of the Freedom Riders who battled Southern segregation in the 1960s.

Instead of bus stations and restaurants, they stop at conservative evangelical colleges they say discriminate against homosexuals. Last week it was Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. Yesterday it was Patrick Henry College, a seven-year-old evangelical institution in Purcellville, Va., with grand political ambitions. It was founded by Michael Farris, a leader in the home-schooling movement.

 A Patrick Henry press release announcing the visit called them a “traveling group of homosexual activists” and “false teachers.” Many of the riders come from evangelical families and attended colleges like the ones they visit. At some point they decided that, despite what their church told them, they could be Christian and gay….

Police cars were parked all along the driveway and across the entrance of the school. About 45 officers made a human barrier. The riders had seen plenty of police presence, but this was “intense,” said Katie Higgins, one of the organizers.

Patrick Henry did not forbid its students to talk to the riders, but strongly encouraged them not to. In a letter to parents, the school’s president called Soulforce’s presence a “rude and offensive disruption” and accused the riders of trying to “manipulate” students.

The riders filed out of the bus and stood in a line. Some held signs: “Open Dialogue” and “All at God’s Table.” They had all taken care to dress professionally, but “professional” is a relative term. At Patrick Henry, boys wear suits to class and girls look like young interns on the Hill. Although the dress code does not mention them, one senses that the riders’ nose rings, arms full of tattoos and pink headbands on males would be frowned upon. Reynolds looked neat, but by Patrick Henry standards boy neat, in a pinstriped button-down shirt and slacks.

Reynolds made a brief statement calling herself a “child of God, a follower of Christ and a lesbian.” Jarrett Lucas and Josh Polycarpe, both 21-year-old African American activists, walked past a “Private Property, No Trespassing” sign. They were politely arrested and driven away.

Afterward, Patrick Henry senior Michael Holcomb was given permission to talk to reporters. When asked why he thought Soulforce had come, Holcomb struggled. “I think they have a certain idea of…a certain view of sexuality…a view of Christianity…sorry, I need to think about this.”

But when asked his own view he had no trouble. “It’s not that we hate them. It’s just that they engage in a behavior that’s against God’s word,” he said. “God instituted marriage as between one man and one woman and He wants people to experience the fullness of that. If not, things are not going to work right.”

Soulforce visits often bring gay students and alumni out of hiding, and this was no exception. Three alumni contacted Reynolds during the visit; she said one told her he was gay and that his time at Patrick Henry had been the “hardest four years of his life.”

David Hazard, a friend of college founder Farris who had edited one of his books, also told Reynolds he was gay. When Farris heard that during an interview in his office, his jaw fell open, and he stared for a long time. “Oh. I’m so sorry for David,” he said. “I think he’s deluded.” The place for someone like that, he added, “is on their knees repenting of their sin.

“But here’s a good reaction for you: I still like him.”
Read the whole story here. To donate to the Soulforce Equality Ride, click here.

20 comments on “Gay Christian Freedom Riders Tour Evangelical Colleges

  1. Bette says:

    Thanks for posting the article. The Equality Ride founder and Soulforce is in the new movie, God & Gays: Bridging the Gap ( where he’s with his parents at Focus on the Family and get arrested for wanting to deliver a letter to Dobson. It’s a great movie, finally one I can relate to. Hope you’ll help spread the word on it…I think Jason Stuart is my favorite in the movie…

  2. Jendi Reiter says:

    Thanks for your support, Bette. The movie looks like a great resource. I’ve added their website to my blogroll.

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