A busload of homosexual activists descended on Columbia International University today demanding unfettered access to students at the evangelical school. Their mission was to convince the students the Bible does not say what it says: that homosexuality is a sin. Soulforce, as they call themselves, has created havoc at most Christian college campuses they have visited, often trespassing and getting arrested when they didn’t get their way.
Representatives of the group called the Columbia Police Department before they arrived to ask about arrest procedures.
CIU officials denied them total access to campus, but some students and faculty members had an impromptu visit with the protesters. Here’s how the Associated Press reported it:
Gay rights group visits Columbia, SC, campus
By KATRINA A. GOGGINS – Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. —
More than a dozen students and faculty at a private, Christian university crossed police tape Monday to meet with gay rights activists protesting the school’s policy against openly gay students on campus.
Sitting inside a school-designated protest area with bibles opened, gay rights activists and students at Columbia International University debated scripture and the college’s policy.
It was a stark contrast to a similar demonstration at Bob Jones University in Greenville last year when three gay activists of the group Soulforce were arrested and bible toting, anti-gay protesters held signs and preached through bullhorns.
Soulforce, a Lynchburg, Va.-based organization, informed campus officials months ago they would attempt to enter the campus despite threats of arrest. The group initially decided Monday not to trespass, but were reconsidering after talks to show a Soulforce film on campus came to a halt.
“We never go to a campus wanting to be arrested,” Soulforce spokeswoman Caitlin MacIntyre said. “We’re hoping to be an affirming voice, the first that some of them have ever heard.”
Soulforce’s national bus tour of Southern faith-base colleges began last week at Liberty University in Virginia.
Columbia International University spokesman Mike Blackwell said Soulforce refused an offer to meet with faculty, staff and student leaders off campus. The university won’t invite any groups to campus that advocates beliefs contrary to school policies, he said.
“We just didn’t see any reason to give them a forum to communicate something that we didn’t believe in,” Blackwell said.
The university student handbook states that “certain behaviors are expressly prohibited in Scripture and therefore are to be avoided by members of the University community. These include theft, gambling, lying, dishonesty, gossip, slander, backbiting, profanity, vulgarity (including crude language), sexual promiscuity (including adultery, homosexual behavior, premarital sex, and pornography), drunkenness, immodest attire, and occult practice.”
Students who enroll at the school sign the school’s code of conduct, Blackwell said.
Soulforce organizer Katie Higgins said she doesn’t think homosexuality should be put in the same category with drunkenness or occult practice.
“All of these things are incredibly harmful to individuals, while we believe that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is out of place in this line,” she said.
The group has received several letters from gay Columbia International University students scared to speak out – even an anonymous one from a former student that was kicked out of the university, Higgins said.
A university spokesman said he couldn’t provide details about the case and that the university had no openly gay students.
Students who met with the protesters said they supported the school’s policy and didn’t feel the campus invited discrimination against homosexuals.
“We don’t believe in what these people stand for, but we do love them … as people,” said 19-year-old communications major Israel Markle. “We want to show them that just because we disagree with them doesn’t mean that we hate them or that God hates them.”
Joy Via, a 19-year-old junior psychology major, said she didn’t think the policy creates intolerance against gays at the university.
“The school is not going to allow any type of sexual sin on campus,” she said. “If you’re living in any type of sexual sin, whether you are straight or homosexual, that’s not allowed on this campus, but neither is stealing or any other kind of sin.”
The multi-denominational, Christian school was founded in 1923 by a group of women wanting to establish a place for bible study, school officials said. Formerly known as Columbia Bible College, the school’s 400-acre campus is home to around 800 students.
Soulforce will visit South Carolina State University in Orangeburg on Tuesday. The historically black school invited the group to speak on campus, Higgins said.
The visit was remarkable in that the protesters didn’t try to trespass and get arrested, their favorite way of getting publicity. Instead, they met, discussed and left peacefully. It’s safe to say neither side convinced the other, but that’s not the point. The hardened, trained protesters who have created intentional chaos on other Christian campuses must have seen something in the CIU representatives that made them change their game plan.
Those of us familiar with CIU and its mission know what it was: Christ-like love. They did not talk down to the protesters and treated them with respect, and they did it without compromising their Christian worldview.