This October, interfaith GLBT activist group Soulforce will launch its third annual Equality Ride, sending 18 young adults to tour universities in the southern U.S. with a message of inclusion and critical awareness of how our religious ideologies can perpetuate oppression. From the Equality Ride website:
Every day, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people suffer harassment, violence, and blatant discrimination at the hands of those who do not understand them. This oppression usually hides in plain sight, masquerading as rigid doctrine or timeless tradition. Consequently, it often goes unchallenged and unchanged. Guided by principles of nonviolence, we at Soulforce Q approach controversial issues with a readiness to meet people where they are. It is our belief that open and honest discussion begets understanding and healing, and that philosophy is at the heart of our work.
The Equality Ride is a traveling forum that gives young adults the chance to deconstruct injustice and the rhetoric that sustains it. The idea is this. We get on a bus and journey to various institutions of higher learning. Through informal conversation and educational programming we explore concepts of diversity, weighing the effects of both inclusive and exclusive ideologies. More practically, we share and gain insights about how our beliefs influence policy and culture, thereby impacting society. Our goal is to carefully and collectively examine the intersection wherein faith meets gender and human sexuality. Such discourse plays an essential role in creating a safe learning and living environment for everyone.
Soulforce pays up front for the Equality Riders’ training, transportation, food, lodging, and educational materials. Supporters’ donations are always needed to cover these expenses. Visit this page to read personal testimonies by the 2008 Riders who are seeking sponsors. Some examples:
Danielle Cooper, age 18, writes:
While attending Howard University, the Harvard of historically black colleges and universities, I grew unhappy with the campus and the way I was being taught. Originally, I had fallen in love with the rich history of the school and the countless people of color who walked the campus unafraid of being different, people who graduated and went on to make history. But, I eventually left the university after only spending one semester there. The euphoric feeling of being a part of something great disappeared as I began to better understand the social rules that guided the campus.
It was extremely difficult to be on a campus where some facets of diversity were considered wrong, a campus where many people believed heterosexuality was an affirmation of blackness. Although there are no discriminatory policies, it was commonly understood that LGBTQ people could be treated differently, looked over and forced into rigid stereotypes. What hurt most was the general willingness to speak about influential black figures like Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Bayard Ruston, and Angela Davis without acknowledging their queer identities.
My experiences at Howard taught me how important conversations were to education and growth. For some people on that campus, I was the first openly gay person they had ever met. And through our friendship, they were able to see me as a person, not an abstract idea. So, after I heard about the Equality Ride, I jumped at the chance of a nationwide dialogue about religion, gender, sexuality, and race. The Equality Ride is an invaluable opportunity to learn and teach from experience, both of which are needed so that we can move towards understanding and equality for all people.
And Caitlin MacIntyre, age 19, writes:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve sat in church pews every Sunday, singing hymns and listening to the word of God. My father played the church organ and my mom taught Vacation Bible School. We were the perfect Christian family. That is until my father came out of the closet. After many painful denunciations of my father from the pulpit, I began to turn away from the faith I loved. That is until I met Pastor Mike. He led me back to Christ and showed me the part of Christianity that we all too often forget: love your neighbor as yourself. Because of his guidance and love I am proud to be a Jesus follower, with a renewed sense of faith and passion. Pastor Mike is also a gay man.
The church has beaten and bruised him but he continues to walk in faith. He has spoken up with great personal cost and I cannot be silent. I want to ride for him. I want to ride for my father who played the organ in church since I was a little girl, but has been rejected by the church for finding authenticity and love with a wonderful man. I am riding for all of those people who have had church doors slammed in their faces because of whom they love or who they are. My gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters have endured suffering and rejection at the hands of the church, and I feel honored to sacrifice my own time and comfort if it changes even one heart or comforts one battered soul. I hope one day we can all love (or at least try to love) as Jesus did.
This year’s group of riders includes several straight allies, such as Abigail Reikow, age 23, who observes that because of her activist work, “I have even begun to conceptualize my own sexuality and gender identity in new ways. I now understand that much like the LGBTQ community, my freedom to express either is policed by a society that continuously places my body in a box.”
Abigail’s statement underscores that the struggle for an open and affirming theology is not merely a “gay issue”. It’s about resisting the temptation to pride ourselves on worldly privileges, such as being straight in a heteronormative society, when we should find our righteousness in Christ alone. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, a number of progressive Biblical scholars have made the case that the anti-sodomy passages in the Old Testament refer to pagan temple prostitution. How ironic that our contemporary Christian witness may be compromised by idolatrous worship of heterosexual sex. Soulforce hopes to reverse that trend. Give generously, folks.