When the leaders of Soulforce, a group of activists supporting gay, lesbian, transsexual, and transgender people, decided to launch their “The American Family Outing” project by sending out letters to some of the country’s biggest evangelical mega-churches suggesting a series of “get to know you” meetings, they did not know what kind of response they would receive. It turns out that many of the churches they contacted were eager to host them for a conversation.
Soulforce targeted some of the nation’s largest and most recognizable congregations: Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Bishop T.D. Jakes’ The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, Bishop Harry Jackson’s Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, and Dr. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Many of these congregations agreed to a meeting.
Tangible progress and agreement on the larger issues surrounding anti-homosexual rhetoric, homosexual Christians, and the role that churches sometimes play in violence against gays, lesbians, transgender, and transsexual people has not been forthcoming, but both church leaders and the leadership of Soulforce agree that face to face conversations are important. Doti Berry and her partner Roby Sapp visited Willow Creek as one of the families sponsored by Soulforce. “You can’t hate someone whose story you know,” Berry, told the Chicago Tribune.
Everyone involved hopes that these conversations represent only the first steps in what is sure to be a long conversational journey, but reactions from evangelicals have been mixed. Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church seemed genuinely moved by Soulforce’s openness to dialogue and their willingness to come for a visit. In his closing remarks to the visitors from Soulforce he was gracious, but in an interview later with CBN his tone was more combative. The Bishop’s ambivalence may represent a growing dissonance within evangelical churches. Soulforce hopes that this dissonance may offer them an opening for convincing evangelical churches to join them in the fight against violence and intolerance.
Watch an interview of Harry Jackson with CBN.
Manya Brachear is a blogger for the Chicago Tribune. Read her reflections on the above story.