Soulforce takes aim at BYU
April 11, 2006
Brigham Young University has found itself in the sights of what appears to be a militant gay-rights group. The Soulforce Equality Ride came to Provo over the weekend with the stated goal of promoting a “dialogue” with BYU students on homosexuality.
We believe dialogue is not the point. What the group really wants is to make as big a stink as possible. Already, despite being welcomed by the school if they would behave, several of the group’s members have received trespassing citations. They violated agreements designating where they could go on campus and how they should conduct themselves.
We believe that was the plan from the start. It was expressed by one rider who described how being arrested trying to enter the campus of Regent University, a Christian school in Virginia founded by Pat Roberston, was the “highlight” of the national tour. “They put on handcuffs, and I considered it an accomplishment,” he said.
So there you have it. The ulterior motive appears to be provoking a negative response. So much for dialogue.
BYU is one of 20 private schools and military academies the riders are visiting. Among the institutions that have been visited so far are Oral Roberts University, Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and Regent.
Today, they’ll be walking onto BYU’s campus.
So far, BYU has not risen much to take the bait. A few tickets for trespassing and an escort off campus is a measured response, better than ringing the campus with police and hauling off the demonstrators as happened elsewhere.
BYU is well within its rights to issue citations. The university appears to have clearly laid out the rules for the group to follow, and the rules were violated. It’s the same as asking someone to leave your home because he is misbehaving.
We don’t doubt that even a rational response will yield a shrill cry of discrimination. Soulforce will say that the Mormons at BYU refused to give them a fair hearing. This is false, of course. The demonstrators themselves appear to be less than fully committed to a civil exchange of ideas.
BYU gets another bite at the public relations apple today. It’s going to be interesting, with or without handcuffs (we hope it’s the former). When the demonstrators come to the campus, we think the university and its students should treat them with courtesy, taking official action only if demonstrators rudely depart from the terms of the invitation.
Our guess is that most students will politely agree to disagree. And there it should end if students exercise sufficient discipline not to be drawn into a fruitless debate with radical troublemakers.
We would like to see the students of BYU exercise a measure of restraint that might reassure the administration that they can handle free speech anywhere on campus, that they can address controversial issues in a manner respectful of the views of others while honoring the principles of tolerance advocated recently by their LDS leaders. A confrontation will tend to keep the door closed to other attempts at open dialogue on campus.
The biblical proverb that a soft answer turneth away wrath while grievous words stir up anger applies here. A soft approach by BYU will be most likely to neutralize the angry wind that seems to fill the Soulforce sails.
If by some miracle Soulforce is interested in genuine dialogue, its demonstrators may learn as much about BYU students as they expect BYU students to learn about them. This would be positive.
One wrinkle is that the timing of the march roughly coincides with the conclusion of BYU’s regular Tuesday devotional assembly. Today, the speaker is Andrew C. Skinner, director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and former dean of Religious Education. The event is scheduled for 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center, with the Soulforce march beginning at noon at the university’s entrance on Bulldog Boulevard.
If the devotional gets high attendance, starts late and Skinner runs long, Soulforce may find itself playing to a mostly empty campus. More likely, the group will encounter crowds streaming back from the devotional — crowds we hope will have just been inspired with feelings of tolerance and goodwill.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A6.