Perhaps have the words discussion and dialogue have not been used so regularly during one week as they were leading up to Monday. But for all the buildup and concern about the conversations with the visiting gay rights activist group Soulforce, the university received exactly what it said it wanted out Monday’s forums: dialogue.
Students had the opportunity to talk in groups and individually with others their age who struggled with and have come to accept their homosexuality. Many of them have reconciled their homosexuality with their belief in God.
Students here do not often have the opportunity to sit down and talk freely with a person who holds such beliefs on campus.
Students did not have complete control about topics discussed Monday as many of the forums were moderated by administrators about specific areas of homosexuality.
Some students expressed frustration that Monday night’s open forum regarding sexuality in the media dealt so much with the film Brokeback Mountain and not about other issues involving homosexuality.
That’s not to say the discussion on campus was not good. It simply underscores the fact that we need more of it on campus.
Discussion Monday tended to focus on personal stories of the Soulforce members, and it shied away from larger theological discussions about what the Bible says about homosexuality. However, hearing the stories and testimonies of the Soulforce members likely raised theological questions among students about why many Christians condemn homosexuality and how members of Soulforce could justify it.
Future discussions on campus about homosexuality need to focus on the theological questions raised among students by Monday’s visit.
Students proved Monday they can handle a difficult subject even when they are confronted with it by people who bring a different point of view.
That was in question soon after the announcement in January of Soulforce’s intent to come here. When Dr. Royce Money, president of the university, announced the university could have Soulforce members arrested for coming on to campus, a smattering of students cheered and clapped at that notion.
But Monday passed without any major incident. Students didn’t openly protest the arrival of Soulforce. They didn’t carry inappropriate signs. Instead, those who wished to participate had peaceful conversations with the members of Soulforce.
If we can treat an outside group that disagrees with many Christians’ views on homosexuality with such respect, surely we can treat those within the university with respect during future discussions about homosexuality.
Members of Soulforce hoped ACU students could learn something from them during the day’s activities, and ACU administrators hoped members of Soulforce could learn something from them. Both groups succeeded in that.
By cooperating with each other and meeting face to face, both groups could move past stereotypes of each other. Members of Soulforce could see there is more to Christianity than the extreme conservative viewpoint often portrayed in media. Students at ACU could talk to real people dealing with homosexuality. Instead of discussing the topic only theoretically as an issue, they could discuss it on a personal level.
If it took an outside group to jumpstart serious conversation on campus about homosexuality as well as other contemporary issues, then Soulforce’s visit Monday was worth it.
Now, the university must take up these contemporary issues and lead the discussions to prepare students for what they inevitably will face when they graduate.
We’ll be better students for it. We’ll be better people for it. And we’ll be better Christians for it.