The 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride began today, with two different busses embarking on a tour that will visit 32 different Christian schools around the country. The fifty riders–split between the two busses–will stop at the Christian campuses as part of an effort to dialogue with “tomorrow’s conservative leaders” who are currently attending Christian colleges. According to the Soulforce Equality Ride, Christian colleges are the fastest growing segment of higher education, thereby directly threatening attempts by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community to gain equality. At many of these universities, LGBT students are silenced, forced out of schools, or referred to “ex-gay” therapists who attempt to “cure” them while the universities promote an anti-gay version of Christianity. Around the country, more than 200 schools and universities have policies that discriminate against LGBT students.
The tour will make two stops in Grand Rapids on April 23 and April 24, a fact that is not particularly surprising when one considers the philanthropy and activism of prominent families such as the DeVoses and the Princes who have for years provided significant monetary support to the religious right. The April 23 visit will take place at Cornerstone University, a non-denominational university of 2,600 students. Cornerstone University has a “lifestyle statement” that requires students to adhere here to a variety of principles designed to advance a particular interpretation of Christianity and the Bible ranging from agreeing to regularly attend church to the anti-gay statement that students will “avoid every form of immorality, including immoral sexual behavior, homosexuality, lying, stealing and cheating.” Students are also encouraged to consider their entertainment choices; with the student handbook containing a “Discernment Policy” that warns students about homosexuality on television.
These positions are consistent with positions taken by Cornerstone president Dr. Rex Rodgers and the Board of Trustees in recent years. In 2004, the Board of Trustees adopted a statement on “Human Sexuality” that articulates the University’s belief in “biblical views of human sexuality.” It goes on to state that “God defines all forms of sexual immorality as sin, and God condemns any and all alternatives to monogamous, heterosexual marriage.” In addition, Cornerstone President Rex Rodgers has made various statements critical of the LGBT community over the past several years. Rodgers has argued that “the homosexuality issue” is a major issue for Christian universities and that it is the duty of a Christian university to be both critical of homosexuality and advocate for biblical views of sexuality by seeking “to influence public morality.” Rodgers has asserted that homosexuality is a “moral choice” and that is not based on biology or chemistry. Rodgers also has stated that there is a “gay agenda” that must be combated by Christians, both politically and morally. Because of the media’s “presenting and promoting of homosexuality”, Rodgers has argued that Christians must step up to the challenge of “biblically and lovingly” refuting homosexuality.
On April 24, the Soulforce Equality ride will stop at Calvin College, another small religious school here in Grand Rapids. Calvin has a larger enrollment of 4,199 and has an affiliation of the Christian Reformed Church, which is home to several prominent local supporters of the religious right. In fact, one of Calvin’s trustees, Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen, was the top individual contributor to the 2004 anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in Michigan and has also been an active member and supporter of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, two of the largest Christian right organizations attacking equality for the LGBT community. According to Soulforce, Calvin College’s handbook takes the position that “marriage is understood by the College and the Christian Reformed Church, with which it is affiliated, to be a covenantal union between a man and a woman.” Calvin’s position on homosexuality is less overtly hostile than Cornerstone’s, and indeed the Calvin has announced that it will welcome the Equality Ride to campus and will use the visit as a way of enhancing debate around the issue on campus.