The Power of Hospitality
Christian college administrators feared the Soulforce Equality Ride even before the series of protests was announced. They had seen the trouble that the homosexual advocacy organization's founder, Mel White, had caused for his former employer, Jerry Falwell, at Liberty University. And they were not at all interested in becoming media poster children for so-called "religion-based discrimination" against gays.
Indeed, when the protest tour was launched in March, targeting 12 members and 3 affiliates of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, news outlets looked ready to dance to the old Sexual Oppression Waltz. National headlines touted trespassing arrests at Liberty and Pat Robertson's Regent University. When someone sprayed "Fags Mobile" on the Soulforce bus outside Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, it looked like Christian colleges were going to be painted as Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps training camps or, as Equality Ride leaders put it, "epicenters of intolerance and oppression."
But the Lee University stop also marked a change in response to the Equality Ride. The protesters were welcome to walk around campus and speak to students. An entry ban and arrests "would have served their purposes, but not ours," Lee president Paul Conn explained. "Their goal was to stigmatize us as a bunch of fundamentalist bigots. We weren't going to give them that opportunity."
Instead, Lee students washed the graffiti off the Soulforce bus. During the next seven weeks, other Christian colleges rolled out the welcome mat. Several offered the riders food and housing during their stay. Many offered to host open forums and panel discussions, with faculty and students offering counterpoints to the protesters' claims that ...