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ACU extends ‘Christ-like love’ to gay rights group

ABILENE, TEXAS — Abilene Christian University students, faculty and staff members engaged in peaceful conversations with about 35 gay-rights demonstrators during a planned visit recently.

The Soulforce Equality Riders stoppedat the church of Christ-associated university in March as part of a 20-stop bus tourpromoting greater understanding of issues relating to homosexuals. “Abilene Christian  University has extended a warm welcometo the Soulforce Equality Ride,” the gay- rights group said on its Web site.

Heather Alkire, a junior elementaryeducation major at ACU, said: “I know that many hours were spent in prayer anddiscussion over this issue, and I think that as a university, we extendedChrist-like love to the members of Soulforce without compromising ourscriptural beliefs.”
Alkire said the discussion helped herexamine her “response as a Christian to this issue and the people affected byit.”
“It is a testament to academic freedom,democracy and Christianity that ACU was willing to engage in this dialogue withus,” Haven Herrin, 24-year-old co-director of the Soulforce Equality Ride, toldThe Optimist, ACU’s student newspaper.
Mike O’Neal, president of Oklahoma Christian University,whose policies on homosexuality also have drawn criticism from Soulforce,praised ACU’s response.
“The people of ACU truly lived out themission of Christian higher education in treating these people as beloved ofGod, but not compromising the truth regarding the behavior being promoted,”O’Neal said. “I am grateful that the only messages they heard from our brethrenwere messages of love and responsive obedience.”
Wayne Barnard, ACU dean of campus life,said the group’s visit allowed all sides to move past stereotypes aboutChristians and homosexuals.
“In society and around the world, oneof our greatest struggles is painting groups of people with the same brush,”Barnard told the campus paper. “Not every Christian school is alike; not everygay person is alike.”
Soulforce notified ACU in early Januarythat its campus would be included in the cross-country bus tour designed todiscourage discrimination and violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual andtransgender individuals and promote greater acceptance.
“After careful consideration anddiscussions about who we are as a university, we decided the best way to affirmour core Christian values would be to treat Soulforce as Christ would — to havepeaceful, patient dialogue about these issues while respectfully and clearlyarticulating why we believe as we do,” ACU President Royce Money said.
During the visit, the Equality Ridersand ACU students and employees discussed topics related to discrimination andviolence toward homosexuals, as well as theological implications of homosexualbehavior. In each session, ACU faculty and administrators helped facilitate thedialogue and guide the discussion.
“Our students were kind, and theyengaged in lively conversations, asked thoughtful questions and showed Jesus tothe visitors to our campus,” said Michelle Morris, ACU vice president foruniversity relations. “Members of Soulforce, though strongly disagreeing withus on key issues, listened and responded respectfully. Although both Soulforceand the ACU community recognized that we would leave the day with continuingdisagreements on issues, we listened to one another’s hearts.”

May 1, 2006

Filed under: Partners Staff Reports

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