[Note: I apologize for the length of this post, but I deeply and sincerely believe this is worth everyone’s time to read. — Heart]
At this point, if I think about it in too much depth, I will melt in my tears… I came here to promote love. I came all the way from California to introduce myself so you could see with your own eyes what a gay Christian looks like. I left my young son to do this. I wish to be recognized as a sister in Christ. I have been a Christian all my life.” — Jillian Nye, 29, Soulforce Equality Rider
If you would like to gain insights and understanding as to the shape of things to come should the Religious Right/Patriarchy Movement/Quiverfull/Christian Reconstruction movement achieve its ends, if you care about the future of this nation and of the entire world, please, please educate yourself by watching the video I’ve posted above and by reading what I have to say here and clicking on the links.
The Work of Soulforce
As part of its ongoing practice of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience to lesbophobia, homophobia and transphobia, and its work to end oppression of lesbian, gay and transpersons, Soulforce, an organization of devout lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians has just completed its 2007 “Equality Rides” across the United States, carried out in the nonviolent tradition of the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights era, and inspired by the teachings of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Jesus of Nazareth. In the course of the “Equality Rides,” 50 young adults on two routes, traveling in buses, visited 32 Christian colleges and universities whose policies were discriminatory. Typically, the Equality Riders spent two days at each university engaging campus communities in panel discussions, campus-wide forums, and informal interactions as well as in times of worship, potlucks, and fundraisers. Sometimes the 2007 Equality Riders were graciously welcomed and discussions went reasonably well. Sometimes the Riders’ buses were defaced with graffiti, they were told they were not allowed to set foot on campus at all, and if they walked onto campus anyway, peacefully, they were arrested. During last year’s Equality Ride, Riders were arrested at Brigham Young University, Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, at West Point, at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, at Oral Roberts University and Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Over the course of this year’s Equality Rides there were 40 arrests.
Soulforce focuses on Christian universities in the belief that at this time in history, religion is the primary source of false and inflammatory misinformation about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. Their belief, consistent with the teachings of Gandhi, is that they have a moral obligation to refuse to cooperate with evil and to confront the lies of religion with the truth.
Patrick Henry College
Of particular interest to me is the Equality Riders’ visit to Patrick Henry College, the college established by Michael Farris, the attorney who worked with the defendants in the lawsuit I brought against the Religious Right.(1)
Michael Farris was a leader in the homeschooling community during the same years I was a leader, in the early ’90s. Sometimes we shared speakers’ tables at conferences where we were both speaking. Although I had been introduced to Farris, and he certainly knew who I was — I spoke throughout the country and published a national magazine which was widely read by homeschooling parents, and we were both Washingtonians — he never spoke to me, greeted me, or acknowledged my existence or my now-ex-husband’s existence, even when we were seated at the same dinner table, as we were at a conference in Colorado in 1993. I didn’t know what to make of this, but Farris seemed rude and arrogant to me. His reputation for losing his temper and acting out when he didn’t get his way was well-known, a reputation which has turned out to be well-deserved, given, for example, the recent walk-out of one-third of the faculty of the college he heads and Farris’s treatment of the resigned professors,
In particular I recall Farris’s presentation in Dallas, Texas in April of 1994. I am, in general, an energetic and engaging speaker, and by the time I am done speaking, my audiences are encouraged and inspired. My presentation in Dallas was no different, so the effect of Farris’s presentation, which followed mine, on the audience was striking. Farris spent his alotted time telling conference participants how afraid they should be of their many enemies, invoking God’s judgments and commands, and eventually telling his by-then intimidated (and vulnerable-feeling) listeners that they were under such heavy attack, they needed protection, — his, of course, which they could buy for a hefty sum, renewable annually.
In fact, by 1990, homeschooling was legal in all 50 states, and homeschoolers did not need Farris’s or anyone’s protection in order to homeschool in peace and safety. But protection was not what Farris’s HSLDA was actually about; in reality, it was about lobbying legislators and amassing Congressional and public support for conservative, right-wing legislation and causes by using, manipulating and bragging about its by now sizable membership base of fearful and psychologically dependent homeschooling parents, most of them committed ideologically to the importance of submitting to “leaders” and “authorities.” Under Farris’s watch, as I wrote in an article in a recent issue of Off Our Backs, Farris opened Patrick Henry College in 2000.
Eighty-five percent of its students had been homeschooled; the available majors were political science and liberal arts. Between 2000 and 2004, 22 Republican legislators employed Patrick Henry College students as interns. One of those interns eventually worked as a paid staff member for Karl Rove. When Bush signed legislation banning late-term abortions, Farris was one of five prominent conservative Christians invited to be present at the White House. Though Patrick Henry is a tiny college, averaging 240 students, during some years it has supplied nearly 10 percent of the 100 total White House intern positions. Farris has used his access to the President and to the Republican legislature and his commitment to ending the separation of church and state, along with the support of his homeschool constituency, to push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage , to oppose the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women , to work for the elimination of the tax penalty on marriage , and to support John Ashcroft (whose wife sits on the board of Patrick Henry college) in his appointment to Attorney General. (2)
Soulforce at Patrick Henry College
Soulforce Equality Riders at Patrick Henry College facing 50 or more law enforcement officers called in to guard PHC and to arrest any member of Soulforce who set foot on campus. The yellow sign reads, “Call for Open Dialogue.”
It makes sense that Patrick Henry College would be on Soulforce’s 2007 Equality Ride list. PHC’s response to Soulforce’s request for dialog, while not particularly surprising to me, is disturbing, sobering and instructive and deserves to be widely disseminated and analyzed. Having received Soulforce’s invitation to discussion and dialogue on the PHC campus, PHC’s first and immediate response was a hardy and resounding, “No.” Its next response was to contact law enforcement — lots and lots of law enforcement. The number of police officers surrounding Patrick Henry’s campus on the day Soulforce arrived was equal to or greater than the total number of Equality Riders. PHC locked down its campus the day of the scheduled Equality Riders action; nobody but staff and students and invited guests were allowed on campus property. The only communication to which PHC would agree was a debate, off campus, on the “Marriage Protection Amendment” to the Constitution, which, true to form, Farris and other HSLDA attorneys and staff have, via tortuous and disingenuous reasoning and logic attempted to make a homeschooling issue.
But Soulforce wasn’t there at PHC to debate the Marriage Protection Amendment, so called. As one Equality Rider in the video above said, simply and eloquently, “Human rights are not a debate.”
Equality Riders went to Patrick Henry College on the day appointed despite the threats and hostility, a band of human beings of the kind near and dear to my heart– infidels, rebels, smart, courageous, eloquent, with integrity, and passion, and above all a commitment to dignity and full human rights for themselves, for all people. They carried placards inviting PHC students to “dialogue,” inviting them to dinner off campus at the White Palace. They sang Christian songs. They were kind, gracious, honest and loving. Watching them on video, I was so touched, I broke down and wept and have been weeping off and on writing this blog post. The Equality Riders were completely nonviolent and peaceable. When they were not allowed onto the grounds of PHC, consistent with their conviction, as nonviolent resisters, that to cooperate with evil is immoral, two Equality Riders walked onto the campus of Patrick Henry College, carrying invitations to dinner. They were arrested and taken to jail.
The press release issued about these events by Patrick Henry College would be hilarious if it were not issued in all sincerity, if it were not real. Farris is the man who drafted the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act which was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress when it was written in 1993, and which, had it not ultimately been declared unconstitutional by the courts, would have tiered human and civil rights in favor of religious citizens. He was the Republican candidate, at one time, for Lt. Governor of Virginia. Farris has been a frequent invitee to the Bush White House and was one of the invited guests for the Bush signing, together with much pomp and circumstance, of the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. And yet to read PHC’s press release, Farris, his rich, and powerful, and multiple institutions and organizations, his thousands and millions of primarily white, Republican supporters with their thousands and millions of white, Republican dollars are somehow persecuted victims, oppressed and marginalized by these 50 young Christian Equality Riders intent on… dinner at the White Palace in town? Conversation with students and faculty? The press release is a textbook example of lesbophobia and homophobia which again, would be hilarious if this were Saturday Night Live or the Onion, but these guys are for real, dangerously, dangerously for real:
This is nothing less than a systematic effort by the homosexual movement to shut down that dissenting voice, to silence those who would reserve the right to call homosexuality what it is – immoral. Neutralizing Christian colleges’ freedom of speech to uphold biblical convictions on sexual morality is a fundamental battlefront in the culture war, with Soulforce’s ultimate aim to achieve blanket cultural and governmental sanction for homosexuality. Patrick Henry College is resolved to hold the line against their invasive coercion.
Uninvited, often trespassing illegally, the group imposes itself on to Christian campuses in hopes of engaging students in suggestive discussions about sex. By their own admission, organizers hope to indoctrinate young Christians to notions that God’s Word is supportive of the “gay” lifestyle, or that it remains morally mute on a subject about which the Bible actually has much to say, on behaviors it explicitly labels sin.
In its third year, the Soulforce Equality Ride has generated ample coverage of tactics it uses to infiltrate colleges like Notre Dame, Liberty University, Regent University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and many others. They can involve trespassing on to campuses, staging protests and waving signs (such as “We support the gay and lesbian students at Liberty University,”) and holding impromptu “worship services,” with activists quoting Scripture and singing Christian songs. If allowed, they have disrupted classes, libraries, and lunchrooms, and, in a growing number of cases, provoke police intervention and arrests. Soulforce as an organization presents itself as religiously motivated and ecumenical in character. The organization’s founders, its key leaders and many of its activist members present themselves as being emphatically Christian. In their literature and throughout their website, they portray themselves as being more deeply committed to the Bible than others. By claiming the authority of Christ and the Scriptures in their advocacy, speaking in the name of Christ and the Bible what is directly contrary to Christ and the Bible, they fall into the category of false teachers. Providing a platform for false teaching on the PHC campus is unacceptable.
Who, after all, can stand against this “silencing” and “coercive” onslaught of 50 Christian young people! Notre Dame trembles against their … commitment to the Bible! Men, stand your ground! Hold that line! If we have a discussion or go to dinner, what might be next! And what can lurk behind a request to “disrupt classes” with dialog!
Notice the egregious and relentless twisting and distortion of facts in a way that results in what can only be described as propaganda, something which is very familiar to those of us who have watched, and been victimized by, Farris over the years. The Equality Riders become “trespassers,” rather than the guests they could have been had PHC actually behaved in an ethical Christian way. Hospitality is required of Christians whether it is to the stranger or to the sister and brother. The Equality Riders were not “false teachers,” they weren’t teachers at all, they were young people, asking for some time, asking to be heard. The request to meet and discuss issues, their standing in a line outside police barricades singing Christian songs, the press release characterizes these as “invasive coercion” in what can only be described as a willful blindness to the power disparities obvious to any thinking person: these are 50 young people, most of them poor, all of whom have signed on to rejecting the amassing of wealth, all of them disenfranchised, marginalized and oppressed because they are lesbians, gay or transgender persons, addressing a university backed by all of the money and influence and power of the Religious Right, and yet they are described as “invasive and coercive.”
Which, of the above men, has power, the man being arrested, Josh Polycarpe, left, or Michael Farris, on the right? Who has influence? Who is being “coercive”? Whose ideas and behaviors are “invasive”? Who is the “false teacher”?
The distortions-cum-propaganda are important because they pass for the truth and are understood by millions on the Religious Right, by conservatives, by too many reporters to be truth. They are important because they are published by Farris and men like him– people who have political influence and power, “power” defined as possessing the capacity to make what you want to happen, happen in the real world. This is something that clearly the Soulforce young people did not have. They went straight to jail for daring to say what Michael Farris and others at his college did not want to hear. In the meantime, Michael Farris and his associates pretend they have been victimized.
Most discouraging to me is that in the publicity over the Equality Riders and the arrests, the Religious Right and lesbophobes, homophobes and transphobes everywhere unite once again around their favorite scapegoats. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that in all likelihood, 10 percent of the students and staff at PHC, at least, experience attractions to, have had or are having romantic relationships with people of their own sex. It doesn’t apparently occur to them that 10 percent, at least, of the children in their own, often gigantic, families are going to have same-sex attractions and may have or may have had same sex relationships. To this, they make themselves blind.
Soulforce is Engaged in Activism Consistent with Historic Feminism
One reason I object to the dismissive and derogatory term “godbags” used for religious people is, the Soulforce Equality Riders are, in fact, conservative Christians on the risky, scary, fraught-with-danger front lines, engaged in a fight that is central to the destruction of male supremacy, and they are deserving of the support of feminist and progressive people everywhere, therefore, whose goal this is. Dismissing these freedom fighters as “godbags” hurts us all and deprives us all of the opportunity to support them in the work they are uniquely suited to do. They are confronting male supremacy at its root, at the heart of it, in a way outsiders cannot. People should not have to leave their faith communities in order for feminists and progressive people to take seriously the work they do which benefits all people.
Where male dominance and female submission are ordained by God, as the Religious Right believes they are, and all other institutions and relationships are governed by these same notions of male power and female submission, what will happen if males reject traditional masculine roles, as gay men do? If females reject traditional feminine roles, as lesbians do? And if transgender persons blur the boundaries of gender such that transgressions of stereotypical roles cannot be punished? If these columns crumble, the building falls.
In order to survive and maintain its influence in society and culture, the Religious Right must forbid and teach against same sex relationships, it must make these relationships illegal, must punish them, must even view them as punishable by death, as the Christian Reconstructionists do, because if same sex relationships become acceptable and common, then male supremacy — in the home, the church, the world — is threatened. Women who do not need, want or depend on men in any way for intimate relationships or for anything at all, men who reject traditional sex roles and masculinity in favor of loving relationships with other men, threaten male heterosupremacist power, which requires traditional male and female roles and essentialist and binary notions of gender in order to continue. Where male dominance and female submission are ordained by God, as the Religious Right believes they are, and all other institutions and relationships are governed by these same notions of male power and female submission, what will happen if males reject traditional masculine roles, as gay men do? If females reject traditional feminine roles, as lesbians do? And if transgender persons blur the boundaries of gender such that transgressions of stereotypical roles cannot be punished? If these columns crumble, the building falls.
Underneath the rhetoric, the propaganda, the sermonizing and theology, this is the fear. It is a legitimate fear for those who find their safety in the rigid and dogmatic binaries of patriarchal religion. For those of us dedicated to human and civil rights for all people, it is a legitimate goal and hope, and those on the front lines, as Soulforce is, deserve our encouragement and support.
(1) In 1994 I sued eight organizations on the Religious Right in Federal Court for conspiracy to restrain trade in violation of the Lanham Act, for violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, and for several other causes of action. The defendants publicly, nationally excommunicated me, then via a conspiracy, destroyed my publication in ways from which they profited financially. I won my case in 1998 and was awarded a large judgment. Michael Farris was not a defendant because I did not become aware of the extent of his involvement with the defendants until discovery in my case was almost completed and adding him as a defendant would have been too costly. He was a columnist and legal advisor to one of the defendants in my lawsuit, and provided counsel as to how the defendants should proceed in my national excommunication.