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Soulforce members are trained to face hate when they arrive on a Christian campus — but instead they found grateful optimism during three sessions at Lipscomb University on March 12.
Soulforce, a group that challenges the thinking of anti-homosexual religious leaders, sent its “Equality Ride” bus into Nashville recently. Members met with students, faculty and administration from faith-based universities Trevecca, Belmont and Lipscomb.
Lipscomb was selected in part because of its intolerance toward homosexual behavior in the student handbook, said Scott McDowell, Lipscomb’s dean of campus life. According to the handbook, “Sexual immorality of any kind including homosexual behavior … will be subject to discipline.”
In a statement to the Lipscomb community, university President Randy Lowry said Soulforce’s bus driver told him that in five tours he had not experienced the degree of gracious hospitality he experienced at Lipscomb.
“When (Soulforce) said they were coming, we decided to invite them in, instead of not allowing them on campus,” said sophomore Patricia Denney.
After the sessions, students said they were pleased with the discussion between the administration and Soulforce.
“I think it was a good move by the administration,” said senior Thomas Whisenant. “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.”
Others questioned whether 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. “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.’ ”
‘Difficult issue’ addressed
Sophomore Andrew Hunt added that he didn’t think Soulforce wanted to change the university’s code of conduct. He believes the group simply wants the policy to include a non-discriminatory clause, though Lowry said the visit did not change Lipscomb’s stance on what the university believes is immoral sexual behavior.
“We were able to model Jesus to our community as well as model how sincere people who disagree can come together to discuss difficult issues,” Lowry said in his statement.
“Families, churches and schools can pretend (issues surrounding sexual orientation) do not exist, or with compassion and courage address them in constructive ways,” Lowry continued.
Sophomore Rachel Bush said it seemed the university was taking the necessary first steps to creating a dialogue.
“This conversation is something that needs to be happening all over the Christian community,” Bush said.
Hunter Patterson is a journalism student at Lipscomb University and editor in chief at Lumination Network, Lipscomb’s official student news service.