Judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay. Those are the top three terms used to describe the Christian church by young people in a recent Barna Group survey.
Soulforce is working this year to change those attitudes about Christianity with several events, including an action that seeks to go to the source of the problem – evangelical mega-churches that perpetuate those images of the faith.
Families participating in “American Family Outing” will visit six mega-churches around the country to try to engage in dialogue with emerging evangelical leaders like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren.
“We hope to share a meal together, worship together, have some structured dialogue about faith, family and sexuality and hopefully change a few hearts and minds in the process. We believe the spirit will be with us and create the kind of conversations that need to happen to create change,” said Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce.
The visits will take place between Mother’s Day (May 11, 2008) and Father’s Day (June 15, 2008), as gay and straight families visit churches like Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and Bishop T.D. Jakes Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas among others.
“We doubt we’ll cause a major theological shift in one weekend, but the Spirit works in surprising ways and sometimes this may be the first link in a series of things that may cause a chain reaction that affects change within the church,” said Lutes.
Soulforce will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a direct action at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 26-27, 2008. Lutes said there could be anti-gay measures before the conference this year.
“There is a very conservative faction within the UMC that plans to introduce legislation banning (gays and lesbians) from being members all together. Some denominations are moving slowly and surely toward confirming us as clergy, but the UMC seems to want to go backward,” he said.
Lutes said their protest will be peaceful, but vocal against any discriminatory policies.
“Soulforce’s job is to make sure discrimination doesn’t fly in under the radar. We’re going to make what’s happening inside the conference very public to educate the general public,” he said.
Soulforce will also sponsor its third annual Equality Ride as Soulforce Q youth travel the nation to visit colleges and universities with anti-gay policies. Several historically black colleges will be on the tour this year, which happens in October and November instead of in the Spring as past rides.
The organization also has a new resource written by Lutes, a psychotherapist with 20 years experience. “What the Science Really Says About Homosexuality” explores the ten most common questions around homosexuality like, “Is it a choice?”, “Do our relationships last?” and, “Can gay and lesbian people raise children?”
“The research shows it’s not a choice, that coming out is extremely important to the mental health of our community, that we can and do sustain long and loving partnerships and that many of our couples do raise children and do so just as well as heterosexuals,” Lutes said.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.