When the Soulforce Equality Ride bus rolled onto George Fox University's Newberg campus last Thursday, April 5, 60 Christian students were ready to meet the gay rights activists.
The Equality Ride bus was making its seventh stop on a western United States tour (a second bus is traversing the eastern part of the country), stopping at Christian universities—like George Fox—with anti-gay policies, to talk about religion-based discrimination.
"We're taking the message where it needs to be heard," says Tab Dansby, a rider from Corvallis.
The dual rides, which kicked off on March 8, have been bumpy. At Notre Dame and Brigham Young universities, a few Soulforce riders were arrested for stepping onto the campuses. The eastern riders have had an even tougher time—their bus has been tagged with anti-gay graffiti, and several riders have been arrested at schools like Central Bible College in Missouri, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Oklahoma Baptist University.
The welcome at George Fox University, however, was decidedly different. The students awaiting their arrival were official hosts, and the school practically rolled out a red carpet for the activists. For months, George Fox University had worked with the Equality Ride to plan breakfasts, classroom visits, and conversations between the riders and students.
"They saw value in it academically and spiritually," says Equality Ride co-coordinator Alexey Bulokhov.
Both ride organizers and school administrators stayed on message all morning, stressing the value of dialogue, civility, and respect—a much different atmosphere than most confluences of gay activists and evangelical Christians.
"We're hospitable, even though we clearly disagree on some things," George Fox University's Vice President of Student Life, Brad Lau, said. Bulokhov points out that the "storming in and demanding style of rhetoric doesn't work," but the sort of interactions his riders were having at George Fox can have an impact.
"I'm excited to have an opportunity to really engage with these people," says sophomore host Stephanie Geho, gesturing to a few riders assembled at the school's front gate. "We are a community of absolute love and adoration."
Though she and her fiancé, Brett Tharp—also a host—agree with the school's policies barring things like premarital sex, homosexual activity, drinking, and drug use, she's glad to have an opportunity to talk to the Equality Riders. "I feel like I see what their points are."