JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Three members of Soulforce, a homosexual activist group, were arrested Nov. 10 for trespassing on the campus of Union University in Jackson, Tenn. The group rejected accommodations university officials had made for a dialogue requested by Soulforce and instead created a public confrontation, according to a Union spokesman.
Union was the next-to-last stop on the 2008 “Soulforce Equality Ride,” an annual tour of schools the group uses to get publicity for homosexual issues. Soulforce has used similar campus visits in the past to create disturbances and get media attention for their cause.
The group’s website says the purpose of the Equality Ride is to engage academic communities in dialogue “through informal conversation and educational programming [to] explore concepts of diversity, comparing the effects of inclusive and exclusive viewpoints.” It also states that Soulforce seeks “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.”
Arrangements were made for dialogue when the group informed Union leadership they would be stopping at the campus, said Tim Ellsworth, Union’s director of news and media relations.
“With exchange of viewpoints in mind, Union University allowed the Equality Riders onto its private property and set up a place for them in Luther Hall with conversation areas, a kitchen and restroom facilities,” Ellsworth said in a prepared statement. “A private donor offered the riders lunch and dinner for Monday and Tuesday, along with soft drinks and snacks throughout the day. Union University announced to all interested students, faculty and staff that the riders were available to engage in informal discussions inside or outside of Luther Hall. Union University also offered to set up a meeting between riders and faculty members at Luther Hall.”
Soulforce leaders rejected those arrangements shortly after their arrival, Ellsworth said.
“Instead [of accepting Union’s preparations for dialogue], members of the group chose to stand vigil outside in areas where traffic flow made it difficult for people to stop and initiate discussions,” he said. “Three members of the group chose to disrespect Union’s private property rights and advance into an area that had been described several times as off limits to the riders. They were arrested without incident after several warnings to vacate the area.”
Union’s president, David S. Dockery, said in a prepared statement that the school had no intention of legitimizing the activist group with an official forum and had decided to limit their presence “to a portion of the campus away from residential life and the academic buildings.”
While Union sought “to be kind and courteous in every way, it would be irresponsible of us to offer any public forum on such serious issues to a group of individuals that we do not know and who do not know us,” Dockery said. “We must recognize that this group has not been invited to Union and has no investment in or accountability to our academic community or campus life.”
Soulforce activists participating in this tour have been arrested at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Central Baptist College in Conway, Ark.; and Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss. In 2007, 12 members were arrested during a sit-in at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and 24 were arrested in March 2006 for trespassing on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.