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Equality Ride Visit Wraps
posted May 2, 2007

When the local CBS affiliate visited Calvin’s campus on April 24 to do a story on Equality Ride they were surprised to see a plethora of other activities on campus, including tents on the Commons Lawn as part of a 30-hour famine, white t-shirts fluttering in a warm spring breeze as part of sexual assault awareness month and a blood drive and bone marrow registration project in the library lobby.

Calvin vice president for student life Shirley Hoogstra let them know they should not have been surprised. It was a quintessential Calvin day she said and after her interview she expanded on that sentiment.

“This is who we are,” she said. “Equality Ride’s visit took place in a larger educational context. So the fact that their visit happened on a day on which we had all these many other activities may have been surprising to the media, but it’s not surprising to those of us who live, study and work here. We’re a place that values education inside and outside the classroom.”

Indeed when Calvin was approached in the fall of 2006 by Equality Ride, a group of college-aged people on a nation-wide bus tour who invited themselves to college campuses to have dialogue on the topic of homosexuality, the college’s response was to consider the visit as an educational opportunity.

“We have been having conversations about human sexuality on campus,” Hoogstra said, “and we wondered if the Equality Ride could become part of that series of conversations. Also a hallmark of a Calvin education is that we are willing to listen to other points of view, even those with which we are in disagreement, and we also appreciate opportunities to share our points of view."

Calvin vice president for enrollment and external programs Tom McWhertor said that in making a decision on whether or not to allow Equality Ride on campus the college also leaned on sage advice from the Christian Reformed Church, with which Calvin is affiliated.

In a recent report called "Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members," the CRC challenged its agencies to do a better job creating dialogue and understanding, saying that CRC institutions and agencies associated with the church need to do a better job creating a Christian attitude in the churches as well as in society as a whole.

McWhertor said he believes Calvin has been working hard at following that CRC advice, including a dozen or so educational activities leading up to the April 24 Equality Ride visit.

“We didn’t want the (visit by the Riders) to take place in a vacuum,” he said, “so the student life division planned a number of excellent events for the spring that would help our community think about these issues prior to the ride.”

Those events included everything from a talk by Calvin graduate Mark Yarhouse on “How Christians Make Meaning of Same-Sex Attractions” to a trio of “Uncommon Conversations at Commons” where students heard the traditional, orthodox Christian viewpoint about homosexuality to a panel presentation by Calvin students and parents on what it is like to be Christian, a Calvin student and gay.

In addition Calvin chaplain Dale Cooper penned a series of weekly meditations available on the Equality Ride visit website, provost Claudia Beversluis held conversations with Calvin faculty and weekly prayer times were held in the Calvin chapel. Also, the college sent a letter to all CRC churches in the US and Canada asking them to pray and giving context for Calvin’s response.

Hoogstra said the work involved in preparing for the visit was substantial but worthwhile.

“There were many good things that came out of this visit,” she said. “We emphasized over and over that our identity is in Jesus Christ, a very counter cultural message. Indeed the message of the Sunday-evening LOFT service attended by the riders emphasized that we must find our home in Jesus Christ. We asked people to pray for us and they did. We provided meditations, time for prayer, worship and time for learning prior to the visit.”

But, said Hoogstra, what took place before the Equality Ride visit must continue after the bus’ departure from campus.

“Our own educational efforts were invaluable,” she said, “but they are just the beginning. Equality Ride reminded us that silence on issues of injustice cannot be tolerated. We stand with them on that issue. But there were also significant places where we had vigorous debate.”

Calvin chaplain Dale Cooper agrees.

"This was a very complex and difficult thing for which to prepare," he says. "To give right Christian welcome to and to carry on right conversation with those whose message we, at least in part, disagree with is no small thing. Hence our plea for focused and ardent prayer, our careful planning and our attempts to prepare ourselves spiritually."

Cooper says the question he was asked often before the visit was why the college allowed the Equality Riders to come onto campus.

"To which the response is," he says, "We believe that we couldn't have been obedient to our Lord and the commands of his Word and not done so."

He adds: "People may disagree, of course, about the prudence of our decision to allow the riders to come. But if they perceive that we tried to be faithful to our Lord and to his Word, even as we faced a situation that was admittedly complex and fraught with the possiblity to go awry -- well, I hope that they will at least understand what prompted us to do what we did and know that we were striving to remain faithful to our central mission and calling around here."

The planning team that worked to prepare for the Equality Ride visit had four clear goals for the day, all of which were stated on the Calvin website set up to explain to people what the school’s position on the ride was all about. Those goals were:

  1. That Philippians 1:27 would be true of the visit: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
  2. That the day would be without incident and an opportunity for learning for all involved.
  3. That the Equality Riders would leave Calvin saying of the campus: “They love God above all and their neighbor as themselves.”
  4. That the visit would be marked by Christian characteristics: civility, conviction, and sensitivity.

So, were the goals met? Hoogstra believes they were.

“The Calvin community conducted itself in a manner worthy of the gospel,” Hoogstra said. “I do think the riders went away knowing we loved God and showed love to them and to our students and I do think our event was marked by civility and sensitivity.”

She noted that some of the one on one conversations on campus were more helpful than the bigger seminar presentations.

McWhertor concurs. He was part of some of those one on one conversations, many of which took place over shared meals, and he said he believes the riders were learning a lot about Calvin during those times together.

“The fact that one rider at one of the forums urged us to reconsider our policy regarding celibacy suggests to me that our position on homosexuality was heard,” he said.

Karin Crompton, a journalist with The Day, a newspaper based in New London, Conn., would agree. Crompton and photographer Tim Cook joined the bus in Grand Rapids for the final week of the tour and spent time with the riders both at Calvin and Cornerstone.

In an April 29 story for her paper Crompton wrote: "Here, the prevailing belief is that feelings of homosexuality are acceptable, but acting upon them is not."

The riders themselves seemed to appreciate the fact that Calvin could greet them with hospitality and love, while also challenging some of their assumptions.

On a blog one male rider wrote of the Calvin visit about the many disagreements among Christians.

"There always has been and there always will be," he said. "Folks at Calvin get this. They understand this.” But, he added: “People can disagree and still live in peaceful accord and with love.”

For Hoogstra that sentiment was encouraging.

"We hoped to do this well," she said, "recognizing that we would learn from the experience. While there are things I might change, overall I would say that not just the day, but also all of the events leading up to the day, met my expectations, and there is more work to be done."

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