Equality Ride meets opposition at first Christian colleges visited

The upcoming visit in April by Soulforce’s Equality Ride has become a major issue on Eastern’s campus. But it is not as major as what has happened to the ride members elsewhere.

Out of the first five schools that the Equality Ride has visited, they have been arrested at three of them.

They are anticipating that their visit to Eastern will be different, and they are even looking forward to it.

“We are disappointed in those decisions,” said Equality Ride co-director Jacob Reitan. “I think their choice to arrest us reflects on them.”

At Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, over 20 gay rights activists were arrested on the charges of trespassing on March 10.

“I’m not sure how many students actually knew about Soulforce getting arrested, because it happened the day Spring Break started and a lot of the students had already left to go home,” said Alicia Wotring, editor-in-chief of the Liberty Champion, the student newspaper, in an e-mail. “I think really all the arrests did was to add more fuel to Soulforce’s fire.”

At Regent University on March 14, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, six members of the Equality Ride were arrested after crossing the yellow police tape. They had been warned prior to their arrival that they would not be allowed to enter the campus.

According to Reitan, several Regent students had dinner with the riders at a local restaurant and apologized for the way they were being treated by the Christian community.

When the group was at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee on March 16, their bus was defaced with the words “Fags Mobile” written with pink paint. The next day a group of Lee students scrubbed the message off the bus.

While at Lee, the riders were not allowed to address the students in their classrooms, read the letters from closeted Lee students or pass out literature. Instead they attended a chapel service and held a picnic and concert off campus at a park nearby.

At Union University in Jackson, Tennessee on March 18, students were just finishing up their Spring Break. The Equality riders were accompanied by a police escort starting at the county border. Instead of being taken to the center of campus as they requested, the riders were directed to the soccer field where they were then read a list of restrictions.

On March 20, the Equality Riders arrived at Oral Roberts University to find over 25 police officers waiting for their arrival at the gates of the school. When the administration continued to refuse admittance onto campus, eight riders and community members were arrested. The students at Oral Roberts were not allowed to come back on campus if they crossed the line to meet with the riders.

The first school to allow Soulforce onto their campus will be Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. Of the 20 schools that the Ride is visiting, half of them are allowing the riders onto their campuses.

Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois is also one of those schools.

“We will extend to our visitors courtesy and hospitality as an extension of our commitment to live as Jesus lived,” Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones said in a letter to students.

Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California will also welcome the riders.

“Maybe not with open arms, but it seems that this institution is wanting to do it with at least open palms/hands, and most importantly open minds, hearts and ears,” APU junior Shea Thompson said in an email.

According to Bettie Ann Brigham, vice president of student development, Eastern is working on finalizing a schedule for the day. When the riders arrive on Sunday night, April 23, members of Central Baptist Church in Wayne will be hosting them overnight.

Their day on campus tentatively consists of breakfast, presentations, class visits, lunch with tables designated specifically for the riders and Eastern students to dialogue, more class visits and presentations and finally a dessert and social time. The day will be concluded with a prayer vigil hosted by the student chaplains.

“We decided that we would rather have them on campus as our guests and have our students learn from it because it is not something that is going to go away,” Brigham said.

The general attitude is that Eastern students will treat the riders with dignity even if they disagree on the issue of homosexuality.

“I think the students at Eastern will be respectful and have challenging questions,” psychology professor Landi Turner said. “They will come with their own beliefs and history, but be willing to dialogue about it.”

Reitan said that the Equality Riders are looking forward to their time here at Eastern.

“They say that they see us as different from other schools they are visiting and I think it’s genuine,” Brigham said.

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