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
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
Watch an interview of Harry Jackson with CBN.
Manya Brachear is a blogger for the Chicago Tribune. Read her reflections on the above story.