My long-awaited post on SoulForce

Here it is, the long-awaited post about SoulForce Equality Ride. I have been writing this blog since before they even came! This will discuss who SoulForce is, the preparations made for their arrival, the events of the day, the controversial outcome, and my thoughts. This is one long post :)

In case you don’t know what it is, the Equality Ride is a division of SoulForce, and their mission is to go around the country in a huge megabus “in pursuit of justice for transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people through engagement of action. This year’s ride will stop at 16 campuses in the Northeast, South, and Midwest–all with policies that are discriminatory to LGBTQ students. The ride in 2010 places a special focus on community work and will engage with campuses and their surronding communities. We will partner in volunteer work, host organizing forums, link students with communitiy members, and support existing justice work.”

They chose my school, Southwest Baptist University, because we have policies that they feel are discriminatory to LGBTQ students. According to page 7 of our Student Handbook, “Scripture teaches that heterosexual union is the only acceptable expression of sexuality and must be reserved for marriage and insists on sexual abstinence for those who are unmarried…All members of the University family should abstain from unbiblical sexual practices and from behavior which may lead to a violation of God’s standards on sexual activities.” When you are planning on coming to SBU, you sign a contract that says you will abstain from “premarital sex, extramarital sex, and homosexual behavior.” The contract also has other rules you are to follow as well (look at page 6 of the contract). If you don’t follow the contract, you are subject for dismissal. Rob Harris, the Dean of Students, told some faculty and students that in his five years as Dean, nobody has been dismissed for homosexuality. I, personally, stand by SBU’s view of sexuality as I believe that it is what Scripture teaches. I think that the policy is fair, as it doesn’t just target specific sins, it covers a lot more as well (read the student handbook for more).

SBU prepared for this visit for months. The Administrators did a lot of research, a lot of work, and a lot of praying. There were three panel discussions put forth open for all students on campus: (1) What the Bible says about homosexuality, (2) Homosexuality related to behavioral sciences, and (3) Interacting and conversing with individuals who have a different worldview. All of the sessions were extremely informative, extremely challenging, and just plain good!

SBU also asked for student hosts to hand out with the Riders all day. They talked to other universities who had done this, as well as plan an itinerary. The day went smoothly for all the other campuses, so SBU imitated this model. I automatically wanted to be a host because I think that I am one of the most least-judging and most easy-going people on campus. I had a lot of homosexual friends in high school, and I had a lot of questions about it in general. Plus, if I want to be a youth minister, I need to learn as much as I can about as many different things as I can, especially different worldviews. So that was my thinking :)

My biggest worry going into the actual day was the conservative people on campus who had never met a homosexual before. In my high school, as I mentioned previously, we had a good number of open homosexuals. I had good practice of treating them like everyone else because it was just normal for me. Very early in the school year, I went to Springfield with a friend from high school and a good friend I had made here. We were meeting up with two friends from high school, one who was openly gay. My friend here had never met a gay man before, which blew my mind! So if there was one person who had never met a gay man (or at least an open one) before college, there is no telling how many more there were. She didn’t know how to act or what to say, but I assured her that he is just like her–normal. I think it was a big learning experience for her. But I was very afraid that many people here wouldn’t know what to say or would say something rude out of ignorance. That is why there were sessions to educate. Days in advance people were increasing these fears, as there were a few students who said things out of ignorance…but don’t worry, you can be assured that I set them straight.

Okay, so we’re finally to Wednesday, the big day. That morning all of the hosts met bright and early at 8:15 in the Administration building. We prayed, and then met the Riders (who were 10 minutes early! Which made me happy–more talk time before I had to go to class!). I was one of the people who jumped into shaking hands, talking, and learning names. I had read and prayed over their profiles located on the SoulForce website before they came so that I would know a little bit about them before we met.

We talked a bit, mostly just open conversations getting to know each other. I had to go to class, so I’m not sure what happened in the board meeting.

After class there was chapel (missions week!). We had worship, and then this in-your-face speaker gave a message. I didn’t entirely agree with him, but that happens a lot. After chapel, all of the Riders were crying, hugging each other, and looked very upset. I was so confused. We went out of the Forum (quad) and the Riders got the opportunity to talk to students. Isaiah talked to the Stahl Twins and I about why we wanted to be hosts. Then she asked us what we thought about the speaker. She said that the speaker highly upset her. He spoke about missions, but she looked at it as our school is trying to go into countries and Americanize them. She was really upset that our university thought we could just go into any country we want and shove the Bible down their throats without regard to their culture. I explained to her that our school is very missions-oriented, and that it is something we are passionate about (after all, we are #1 in the country for sending out mission teams!). The purpose of Intercultural Studies (Missions) Major is to educate future missionaries on how to meet different cultures where they are and give them the Gospel in a way that meets their needs. After I finished explaining it, I guess she realized she was wrong, because she asked me where the bathroom was.

When I got back, I saw Sabrina talking to a few of the football players. I saw them sitting on the sidelines earlier when I was talking to Isaiah, and I was surprised they were there. Athletes very rarely come to events on our campus. I later found out that she was talking to them about the diversity on campus (more on that later).

Next, we had lunch. We went to our private dining facility, where lunch was closed to only student and faculty hosts. The purpose of this, I think, was to have more honest conversation and less distractions (and so we could have good food!). I immediately began talking to Mia, a transgender woman (meaning she was born a man and now is living her life as a woman). She explained what transgender and transsexual mean. I ate lunch with her, another rider named Heather (who had a cute purse and was just plain adorable), Brandi (one of my closest friends), Kara (who lives across the hall from me), and Ms. Brashears (a counselor at school). Mia had very honest conversation with us, as did Heather. Heather asked Ms. B about this scenario: If a student came to Ms. B, saying they want to change from the homosexual lifestyle, what would be Ms. B’s reaction? Ms. B said that she would talk to them about where this attraction came from, where the decision to change came from, and help that person work through it. Heather hated that answer (which I thought was a very good one), and proclaimed that that person could not change who they were, so why would Ms. B participate in trying to change them? There were so many programs that were ruining lives and causing suicides from forcing gays to change. Ms. B pointed out that in the scenario, the person wanted to change. She believed that if a person wanted to change, they could change, no matter what it was they wanted to change. Heather was very adamant in saying that Ms. B was wrong. I thought the whole conversation was ridiculous, and that Heather was very forceful with her opinions. Mia, Brandi, and I just started having our own conversation about Mia’s life as a transgender. She informed me on a lot of things that I was ignorant about, not by my choosing. I learned a lot from her. I also had the opportunity to meet Brian, whose profile I read and was impressed with. He was a very solid guy, and had a lot of interesting things to say, a lot of which I agreed with. He told me I was cute :). I could tell that by this time, people were comfortable talking to each other, and that Mia and possibly Brian were both comfortable with me.

Next we had discussion with faculty. One thing by this time I noticed was that we were taking the long way around campus. I knew that there was a person who has handicapped and in a wheel chair, but all of the riders were taking the handicapped route around campus, even when Colin wasn’t around. I realized that the Riders were family, and I had great respect for them. I also realized that SBU is not very easily handicapped-accessible, that in order to get places you had to walk completely out of the way in some cases.

Discussion was easy-going again, at least on my part. I loved talking to Mia. I realized, though, that other riders were comforting each other through out the day. From mingling with others, I saw the sensitivities of some of the riders when dealing with students, so I didn’t think anything big out of them comforting each other. Obviously, we disagree on things, and that can be stressful. So I didn’t think anything big of it.

We went to the panel next…probably the most stressful part of the day. There were 5 Riders on panel (Stuart, Brian, Jess, Lindsay, and Andrew), along with 3 of our faculty {Dr. Manis (phiolosophy), Dr. Reeves (new testament and Dean of the College of Theology), Ms. Langford (Honors Program Director)},and 2 students (Lydia Nebel and Mallory Roth).

The questions were reviewed before asking. Both sides participated in each question. In the end, there were a few frustrating results. Stuart said that he could never be friends with someone who didn’t affirm his homosexuality and didn’t agree with his views. To him, that is how you love someone–you affirm everything about them. Langford disagreed, saying that when you love someone, you don’t always have to agree with everything they do. In fact, you should be able to discuss the things you disagree on with the people you love. The Equality Riders defined oppression as basically disagreement–people who disagree with homosexuality are oppressors.

I was really excited that Brian was one of the panelists because his profile made him sound super intelligent about the Bible. However he didn’t say much of intellectual merit, but was very emotional about the whole situation. I sat there and cried whenever he spoke. Looking back, I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to talk to him about anything intellectual. But he definitely made me emotional about the oppression that the queer community has been put through.

Another big moment was when Jess said, “God made me exactly the way I am.” Her point was that God made her in His image, that she is perfect just the way she is. Manis pointed out that none of us are perfect, that none of us are the way that God wants us to be. We are all sinful, so to say that God affirms us in our sin is wrong. Also, the riders seem to find their identity in this sin, but if one is a Christian, they should find their identity in Christ, not their sin. In the end, it all came down to the same disagreement: The Riders do not find homosexuality a sin, even if they are a Christian. SBU says that the Bible specifically calls out homosexuality (or homoeroticism) a sin.

After that we said our goodbyes, and as I held back my tears I hugged Mia. I started crying, and I had to go back to my room because I just couldn’t watch the bus leave. I lied on my bed in my room for three hours, numb. I cried and prayed and asked God a lot of questions. The people I met that day had a lot of hurt bottled up inside of them. They were honest with us, and vulnerable. I questioned God about homosexuality, but mostly I just lied there with His arms wrapped around me. I posted on the Equality Ride’s Facebook Page:

Heather Lea Campbell

Heather Lea Campbell You guys DEEPLY touched me today at SBU. I thank you for the opportunity to have dialog about things that I as well as others were ignorant about. I also would like to thank you for your vulnerability with us; for sharing your stories with us as well as your beliefs that are different from ours. I applaud your bravery and courage on this Equality Ride. I hope that you will gain the love and respect of more people in the campuses to follow as you did mine.

Wed at 6:02pm · · · Report

I finally decided to get up, make some sweet tea, and move on with my life somewhere around 7:30ish. I went to the bathroom for some water and I hear Kellie and Natalie talking. They asked me how I thought the day went, and I said well. They asked me if I knew about the protest. I was confused…WHAT protest? They continued to tell me the following: We were told we were the worst school they had ever been to. The Riders called Kurt Caddy (head of missions) racist. They verbally attacked Rob Harris. Over the next day I learned more and more. A rider posted a blog posted about the whole thing. We were attacked about a lot of different things. I don’t encourage you to read it, but if you would like to, go ahead. I can barely think or look at it anymore. It made me absolutely sick to my stomach.

Some other riders posted things all over their facebooks:
“Jaxon Feels like I’m at church camp… So weird, makes me concerned for these students!!!”
“Despina experienced highly spiritual violence today at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri….. actually experienced what the students are experiencing for the 4 years in this University every day…. i heard everything today…….my prayers and thoughts are with all these students that suffer in silence and suppress their feelings and their identity…..”
“Mac is listening to love songs and trying to let all of the spiritual violence he endured today drain out of his heart…”
“Isaiah’s soul feels uneasy. Southwestern Baptist was the most spiritually violent school we have encountered yet. I am broken.”
“Mia had a crazy day today at SBU…I am uber tired now, but much work to be done.”
I’m very good at getting information that I want off of Facebook…but we know this ;)

Well, that is all of the information. And I’m processing. Here are my thoughts:
I am deeply sad. I have a deep place in my heart for social rights and activism, and this group is a poor example of one. Their message was one of love, and taught against oppression. Their definition of oppression is disagreement. If I disagree with you, then that is oppressing you. Webster defines oppression as an “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.” In the end, they oppressed SBU. They used their authority as an activist group to force themselves on our campus and tell their opinions of us as a university. They would have came whether we let them or not. They showed no mercy in giving us their opinion of us. They didn’t care about what we had to say, wouldn’t process it, and at the end of the day told us we couldn’t be friends because we didn’t agree. They looked at everything with tinted glasses–if you are wearing blue glasses, everything you see will be tinted blue. They were extra-sensitive coming to campus. They were looking for specific things, and saw them. I really do think that they believe what they are saying about our campus, don’t get me wrong. But they sought out the things on campus that they claim. Just like when you read the Bible, if you are wearing those tinted glasses, you can make the Bible justify what you believe. The solution is to take off your glasses, and try to understand what the author is trying to say, what the true message is. SBU took of their glasses for SoulForce. Students and Faculty took the day to educate themselves, to understand SoulForce’s message. We did not force our opinions, we learned about theirs. And at the end of the day, we didn’t agree. I think what frustrated the Riders the most is that although we disagreed, SBU showed them love. This does not line up with their view of “love”–that we must affirm their acts. So they retaliated. Lydia and I talked about how sometimes we get sooo angry when we are expecting someone to be mad at us for something we did, but they love us. We hate that! So then we try to pick at them. SoulForce did that to us.

Should we disregard everything they said? Heck no! There are lessons to be learned from all of this, there is growing that has and is still taking place on our campus. I understand that we are a conservative college whose students as a whole need to learn more about different cultures and get out of the ignorant bubble that they have grown up in. But that doesn’t mean that we struggle with sexism, ableism, racism, etc. There just needs to be more education and growing experiences. Everybody on campus can sit there and complain about what the Riders said, but nobody wants to think critically about it. At this point, my motto kind of rings in my head–“Never complain about something unless you are willing to change it.”

I think that SoulForce’s visit helped the education. SoulForce may have negated their message of love and justice with their protest/vigile. However, we should take away from this the need to educate ignorance and create “safe places” for discussion about all kinds of issues.

**The purpose of this blog post is NOT to diss the SoulForce Equality Ride. It is to educate outsiders of what happened here at SBU. This has been a big event in my life, and I need to express what happened in my own way. I am still processing a lot of things that happened, but I feel like I’m finally at a point where I can post this. Again, if you are reading this and going, “Man, that group sucks!”, quit. And look at the things in your life that make you suck more. I want to grow from this, but I want others to as well. Also, I want to thank those who have been constantly affirming me in the last few weeks. You guys have really helped me in my processing.

One thought on “My long-awaited post on SoulForce

  1. Heather, I've been looking forward to this post from you. I heard about everything that was going on and happened that day. And honestly, I wanted your opinion on it out of everyone. I'm glad you're still working out the issues for yourself. And I admire you for the stand you took that day. It took some courage, girl!

    Love you and miss you!

    Ashley Wyatt

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