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Soulforce visit to ACU marked by respectful, peaceful dialogue

For immediate release
March 28, 2006

Abilene Christian University's students, faculty and staff spent Sunday night and Monday having peaceful conversations with about 35 Soulforce Equality Riders who chose to stop at the university as part of a 20-stop bus tour to promote greater understanding of issues relating to individuals who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender.

"I know that many hours were spent in prayer and discussion over this issue, and I think that as a university, we extended Christ-like love to the members of Soulforce without compromising our scriptural beliefs," said Heather Alkire, junior elementary education major from Abilene.  "The forum (Monday) morning and the conversation that followed in my class helped me to examine my response as a Christian to this issue and the people affected by it."

Soulforce notified ACU in early January that our campus would be included as part  of a cross-country bus tour designed to discourage discrimination and violence against GLBT individuals and to promote greater acceptance.

“After careful consideration and discussions about who we are as a university, we decided the best way to affirm our core Christian values would be to treat Soulforce as Christ would – to have peaceful, patient dialogue about these issues while respectfully and clearly articulating why we believe as we do," said Dr. Royce Money, ACU president.

During the visit, the Equality Riders and ACU students and employees discussed topics related to discrimination and violence toward GLBT individuals, as well as theological implications of homosexual behavior.  In each session, ACU faculty and administrators helped facilitate the dialogue and guide the discussion.

ACU planners of the event said they were proud of the university's students.

"Our students were kind, and they engaged in lively conversations, asked thoughtful questions, and showed Jesus to the visitors to our campus," said Dr. Michelle Morris, ACU vice president for university relations.  "Members of Soulforce, though strongly disagreeing with us on key issues, listened and responded respectfully. Although both Soulforce and the ACU community recognized that we would leave the day with continuing disagreements on issues, we listened to one another's hearts."

Soulforce members said they knew ACU continued to affirm the belief throughout the day that God intended sexual relations as an expression of love between a married man and woman.  They also agreed that ACU offered the love of Christ, despite theological and academic disagreements.

"I think that in some ways, we can disagree but still acknowledge each other's humanity," said one Equality Rider in a discussion session. "I don't want to be here to push an agenda. I want to be here so that we can learn more about each other."

Dr. Dwayne VanRheenen, provost, said, "Part of our calling as Christian educators is to prepare our students to think through a wide variety of issues they will face while in college and after graduation.  This visit showed students that there are real people dealing with the issues we hear about in the national press – and that these issues are complex and require deep, critical thinking to understand and to respond to as Christians."

"I believe Soulforce was unprepared for the depth of the love they would be shown by people on this campus," said Dr. Wayne Barnard, associate provost and dean of Campus Life.  "The Equality Riders expressed several times how unfamiliar that experience is for them, and we pray that somehow we touched their lives in a positive way."

Morris said, "We planted seeds that we pray other universities along the route will water in the hearts of the young people who visited here."




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