Soulforce’s Equality Ride is coming to Wheaton College, April 20-21. I didn’t even know what Soulforce was until this morning. The goal of the Soulforce Equality Ride is to change the policies and practices of the institutions they plan to visit, which includes fourteen Christian colleges that are member institutions of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
Soulforce states its purpose to be: “Freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.” A visit to the Web site of Soulforce http://www.soulforce.org/ reveals that the organization has built its Equality Ride agenda around the philosophy and practices of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. In their own words: “At military and religious colleges around the nation, bans on gays, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender enrollment forces students into closets of fear and self-hate. These bans devalue the life of GLBT people and they slam the door on academic freedom. The Equality Ride empowers young adults to challenge those college bans.”
So why visit Wheaton College? Well, Wheaton has a Community Covenant that includes a scripturally-based position on sexual morality. This statement includes a clear and biblical statement on homosexual practice.
What I applaud in this planned visit for April 20-21 is the response Dr. Stanton L. Jones, provost of Wheaton and the author of Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate (InterVarsity Press), one of the finest treatments on the subject that I know, offered to students and faculty in a letter to the college community. Said Jones, We must make it our priority to “obey God’s commandments.” He added that “He (God) commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves” and concluded that “we will extend to our visitors courtesy and hospitality as an extension of our commitment to live as Jesus lived.”
Because Wheaton is a college community, with clear educational goals shaped by Christian belief and practice, Stan Jones added this counsel:
We would be failing you, our students, if we did not view this visit as an opportunity for each of us to grow in our understanding of the many complex issues surrounding the morality of homosexual conduct. We hope this visit will be an educational opportunity for our entire community that will bear fruit for the Church, the Church you will soon be called to lead. We will seek to ensure that the Equality Ride visit is a learning opportunity for students in keeping with our mission as a Christian liberal arts institution.
I love my school and do not wish to be a cheerleader for everything Wheaton but this is an outstanding response in my judgment, one that I fear the Soulforce Equality Riders might not meet at every stop. But Stan Jones doesn’t stop with these words. He also advises the college community that such a controversy must not:
. . . Cause us to lose sight that there are faithful brothers and sisters among us who experience same-sex attraction or grapple with other sexual identity issues and who embrace living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, affirming with integrity Wheaton’s common understanding of that faith as expressed in our Community Covenant. These brothers and sisters deserve our unwavering love and support as we help each other grow to be more like Christ.
Wheaton College is a place, concludes Stan Jones, “where visitors who disagree with our commitments can be welcomed to discuss these and other vexing issues with integrity, truthfulness, and love.” To this end Wheaton plans to offer opportunities for dialogue between the Equality Ride visitors and Wheaton’s students, staff, faculty and administration. The college has even contacted Soulforce to arrange for such dialogue to take place in a manner that is agreeable to them and Wheaton. A chapel, led by the president of Wheaton, various educational materials, and other discussions will precede their visit in April. Jones’s letter ended with a call to prayer for Wheaton College. As an adjunct faculty member in evangelism I have already begun to pray and would most certainly plan to meet Soulforce personally if I were not scheduled to be away from campus on that day.
I commend this type of response to the Church at large, especially to mission organizations, colleges and other Christian organizations who will face this issue time and again in the coming years. I have to say, if you will forgive me the smile of approval that I have as I write these words, that I am very proud of Wheaton College for this thoughtful response. I pray that it may it become a model for many others.