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Soulforce_(organization)

Soulforce (organization)

Soulforce is a social justice and civil rights organization based in the United States that resists the religious and political oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people through dialogue and creative forms of nonviolent direct action. Soulforce is based on the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance as taught and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. The organization was founded by the Rev. Dr. Mel White who was a ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and others until he came out as a gay man.

Soulforce has sought nonviolent dialogue with leaders of every Protestant denomination and the Roman Catholic church, as well as religious leaders such as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, in an effort to negotiate an end to their campaigns against LGBT people. When dialogue is denied, Soulforce, as directed by the principles of nonviolence, begins to plan and implement direct actions which have included vigils, protest rallies, marches, and various forms of peaceful civil disobedience. Soulforce has also helped share the stories of many ex-gay survivors. Soulforce has helped organize straight allies across the country to join in the struggle for equality, protested the Don't ask, don't tell policy in the United States military, and challenged policies in some Christian colleges and universities that deny academic freedom to LGBT students.

Equality Ride

Since 2006, Soulforce has supported a project led by young adults known as the Equality Ride. In 2007 it was divided into two different trips (eastern and western), each leg visiting 15-20 different colleges. At nearly every school, the young adults (known as Soulforce Q) find that many students are hungry to have conversations about faith, sexual orientation, and gender-identity. Some school administrators choose to allow the conversation between students and Equality Riders. Other schools deny access, and this sometimes results in well-orchestrated nonviolent civil disobedience to help educate the public about the supposed indecency inherent in the school's discriminatory policies. Emails flood into Soulforce by closeted LGBT students who express how difficult it is for them to hide their identity and thank Soulforce for giving them a sense of hope for the future.

Baylor University incident

On March 20, 2007, six young people, including one Baylor student, were arrested by Baylor University police on the school's campus after it was discovered that they had written various messages on campus sidewalks with chalk, including Bible verses and other phrases such as, "God loves you just as he made you." Baylor administrators contend that the six were in violation of university policy that allows only school-affiliated organizations to write messages on sidewalks (it's a common practice at Baylor for event promotion and other things), and that when police initially requested the Soulforce members stop, they refused. The members were detained in the McLennan County jail that evening and appeared before a judge the following morning. Baylor, a four-year private university affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, was one of Soulforce's scheduled stops on their Equality Ride tour, and the group was on campus March 19th and 20th. On the morning of March 19th, Baylor's Vice President of Student Life sent a mass e-mail to students and faculty notifying them of Soulforce's visit. The wording of the e-mail upset many students, who felt it made the school come across as intolerant. Soulforce's request to host a discussion group in one of the school's auditoriums was denied, although Soulforce was allowed to be on campus grounds. University officials also forbade Soulforce from distributing any type of literature on campus, even after requests by Baylor students to do so. Although university's bylaws include a Statement on Human Sexuality, which condemns behavior outside "the biblical norm" including "heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior", a number of gay students attend Baylor.

Covenant College incident

On April 2, 2007 the Soulforce Equality Ride visited Covenant College. They had been told not to come on to campus or they would be arrested. After spending much of the day conversing with students and administration officials at the entrance to the campus, four students crossed on to the campus and were arrested.

BYU-Idaho incident

On April 16, 2007, the Soulforce Equality Ride visited Brigham Young University-Idaho. They had been told not to set foot on the university's private property. Marc Stevens, a spokesman for BYU-Idaho, explained this decision by saying "BYU-Idaho is a private university that can't be used by any outside group to advocate its position." The group was given a map of the campus to help them find a public area to demonstrate in. 8 Soulforce members were peacefully arrested after attempting to enter university grounds.

Criticism

Following its 2007 sit-in at Southern Seminary, Soulforce was described as a "professional protest group" whose "aim is to disrupt and in many cases to be arrested. In describing Soulforce's planned outreach to evangelical megachurches in 2008, one commentator from Focus on the Family stated that the purpose of the outreach was not "dialogue and greater understanding," but to tempt the churches "to embrace a false doctrine, which will keep many from the gospel message of hope and transformation for those who are trapped in homosexuality. Some gay students have complained that Soulforce does not "represent the voice of actual students who deal with homosexuality" at conservative Christian colleges.

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