Soulforce members are trained to face hate and discrimination when they arrive on a Christian campus. However, they were met with optimism and gratefulness during their three sessions with the Lipscomb community on Monday.
Soulforce is a “national non-profit that works nonviolently to end the religious and political oppression of LGBTQ people.”
Since 2006, Soulforce has used their Equality Ride to initiate conversations and promote dialogue on Christian college campuses that “discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer individuals and their allies.”
On Saturday, the Equality Ride bus rolled into Nashville. Since then, members of Soulforce have met with students, faculty and administration from Lipscomb as well as other faith-based universities in Nashville such as Trevecca and Belmont.
Soulforce said the university has been very hospitable to its group. This is not always the case for the LGBTQ organization when they approach a campus asking for dialogue and discussion.
Last week in Atlanta, the group encountered resistance from Carver Bible College when trying to establish a dialogue on their campus. On its blog, the group says they were forced to stay on the sidewalk outside the gate. Because of the decision to lock them out, their communication with students was limited to singing and holding up signs that could be seen through the windows of Carver’s chapel.
Attending Monday’s event at Lipscomb came with strict guidelines. All attendees were told to arrive at least 10 minutes early and to have their Lipscomb IDs in hand. The doors closed on the hour, every hour, to prevent any sort of interruption during the session. Students and faculty who arrived late were not allowed inside the Dorris Swang Chapel in Ezell.
During the first session four students were turned away after being only three minutes late. Also denied attendance were four administrators as well as a Lipscomb board member who arrived 10 minutes late.
“I can appreciate their consistency,” said graduate student Patrick McAnally, one of the students turned away from the first session.
The other students echoed McAnally’s comment, saying they were a little disappointed but still glad that the policy was enforced for everyone and not just students.
After the sessions, students said they were very pleased with the discussion the administration and Soulforce were having.
“I think it was a good move by the administration,” said Thomas Whisenant, a senior political science major. “I feel like it was important for Lipscomb to grow as a university and start to address some of these things that have been a dividing point on campus.”
Patricia Denney, a sophomore English teaching major, said she too was glad the university had Soulforce on campus instead of telling the group they were not welcome.
“I really liked having them in class,” said Denney after her Biblical Ethics class with members from Soulforce. “The discussion was not inflammatory. And when [Soulforce] said they were coming, we decided to invite them in, instead of not allowing them on campus. “
Some students said they were thrilled with having the group on campus but wish their time spent with the group could have been longer.
“I felt like they did a good job, but at the end of it, I felt like the dialogue and discussion was dangled in front of me and then the time was up,” said Mary Beth Adams, a sophomore nursing major. “I think it was effective, but I feel like it can be more effective.”
Rachel Bush, a sophomore elementary education major, also noted the exclusivity of the discussions.
“I liked the fact we had student ambassadors, but I think this is a thing that everyone needs to hear and to talk about,” said Bush.“I think this conversation is something that needs to be happening all over the Christian community.”
“Now, I feel like we are trying to be as Christ like as we can be at Lipscomb,” Bush added.
Some questioned if a visit from Soulforce was necessary.
“[Lipscomb might seem intolerant] if you look at the handbook or talk about official policies,” said Jackson Hearn, a junior biology major. “But overall I think the practices of the university are much more tolerant than what they can understand being from the outside. I don’t think, if [Soulforce] were here, they’d necessarily feel the need to overthrow Lipscomb’s ‘oppression.’”
Denney agreed, adding, “This is not a campus that is quiet about the issue.”
Sophomore Andrew Hunt said he does not think the group is trying to change the university’s code of conduct, though. He believes they simply want the policy to include a non-discriminatory clause.
More than a code of conduct change, Bush and Denney want the sessions to start a discussion among students and administration.
“I hope this starts a dialogue,” Bush said. “I hope that the administration and the students further the discussion to other students once all this has passed.”
“I feel like there are places that need it more than Lipscomb, but I think we need to talk about it more,” Denney said. “I think some people say they’re open, but behind closed doors there are a lot of not nice things said. I don’t think that we are an extremely open community, but I do think we are heading in the right direction for sure.”