20 March 2007

History Repeating Itself: Soulforce, Again

Ahhh. Spring is in the air, the flowers are thinking about the possibility of blooming, students are strewn all over BYU quads just free of snow, and Soulforce is coming to BYU.

Yes, again. For those of you who didn't catch the drama last year, here's the recap:

Hurray. Interesting things are already happening with this year's visit. First of all, BYU sent out the following email to students:
Similar to last spring, a group known as Soulforce, Inc. is planning to come to Provo on March 21 and 22. Based on our experience last April when Soulforce violated university policy, which is applicable to all those coming to campus and which was explained to Soulforce in writing before its arrival, the university has informed Soulforce that it will not be allowed on campus this year as a group or as individuals. Soulforce made it clear last year that its intent was not to seek dialogue but to be arrested and to create a staged media event.

This year, we hope that Soulforce will respect BYU’s right as a private university to disallow any organization from using our campus as a public forum or to engage in a public expression event. As we clearly communicated to Soulforce before its trip began this spring, BYU will not change its policies or practices to accommodate any group’s desire to promote its initiatives.
Despite the fact that banning Soulforce from campus seems a little closed-minded, I have to agree with BYU's decision. The arguments I heard from this group last year were basically misinformed, narrow, and absolute: there was no reason for BYU students to talk with them. As Doug pointed out at the Writing Center today, Soulforce seeks to counter theological arguments with sociological arguments, which doesn't work. They aren't really interested in discussion so much as just having us yield our point of view to theirs. If they really wanted to discuss the position of homosexuals in the Church, they'll need to do a lot more research and be willing to listen as well as be listened to. Maybe it'll go better this year, since they have some Mormons on the trip, including a former co-worker of mine from the Cougareat.

What does concern me is this letter Soulforce received from Church headquarters, informing the "riders" not to visit Temple Square. I understand the Church probably has concerns about the possibility of protest by the group. However, this trip to Temple Square seemed like the first genuine thing Soulforce has done to try to understand the Mormon mindset. It really doesn't reflect well on us that we won't let that happen.

Well, the talk has already started on this year's visit. Perhaps I'll go back and finish my "Thoughts on Homosexuality" series in honor of the occasion.


Not Too Pensive said...

Me? Inflamatory? Surely you jest! =)

Connor said...

However, this trip to Temple Square seemed like the first genuine thing Soulforce has done to try to understand the Mormon mindset. It really doesn't reflect well on us that we won't let that happen.

C'mon, do you really think that these people are out to "understand the Mormon mindset"? You give them far too much credit.

This is nothing more than a masked attempt to drive the grinded axe into the heart of the Church and annoy more people who can't stand their rhetoric and immoral campaigning.

Liz Muir said...

NTP: Uh-huh. Yup. 100% jesting, all the time.

Connor: Actually, I do believe their intent was sincere. I mean, they wanted to tour Welfare Square, for heaven's sake. What would be the use of protesting there? But there I go again, being optimistic about people's motivations. It's my one true weakness.

Not Too Pensive said...

I would have to side with Connor on this one.

"Soulforce" set its self up for a win-win scenario on this one. Their MO is to show up and make fools of themselves wherever they go, get their picture taken doing so, and "shame" others. Failing this, they attempt to show others as "intolerant" by refusing them entrance and then generally attempt to do the same thing.

So, "Soulforce" wins either way with this one. If allowed, we can expect more of what we saw on BYU campus last year - the use of private property for their own agenda. If not allowed, they will wail about the intolerance of it all and then, possibly, show up and do the same thing. In either case, they get a message out and look "good" to their constituents and funders - any attention is good attention. The use of Welfare Square only makes them look all the better - I can already hear the ludicrous cries of, "but we only wanted to help and do service!" coming from them.

It's a shrewd move - one that there is no effective means to truly counter. They're better prepared this time.

Their objective is to change church doctrine and structure - not to understand it. This isn't the first time they've visited a temple. I admit to being more of a cynic on this than most, including yourself, Liz, but I believe this is the strategy.

onelowerlight said...

I read excerpts from the Deseret News article on soulforce coming to Temple Square, and the statement from the church was that temple square is open to all people who want to come simply to learn more about the church, but closed to activist activity. If the members of soulforce wanted to come to temple square simply to take the tour, I think they could do it fine if the different members came at different times, and if they didn't wear any soulforce insignia. It's not like they have security guards at every entrance with mug shots of all the soulforce activists to look out for.

The thing is, if they are indeed trying to come to Temple Square in a large group, and with their soulforce insignia, they AREN'T trying to learn more about us as a church, or listen to us! It's a publicity stunt and civil protest, nothing more. And as for their visit to welfare square, I'm very skeptical of that - it seems to me to be more of a publicity stunt aimed at building their political capital with the Mormon rank-and-file.

If this group was more diplomatic in its relationship with the church, perhaps they would be trusted to come and take the tour. But they aren't trusted (rightly so, from past experience), and their goal ISN'T to bridge out to us. It's to impose their values onto ours and make a statement, regardless of our reaction. If it weren't, we would be seeing different behavior and rhetoric from them.

I would classify soulforce, it it's temple square activities, as another one of those anti-Mormon activist groups that stages protests around conference time. The LDS church has had a lot of experience with these protesters, and I think they handle it well. Activist activity is permitted at the gates and on the sidewalks, but not on the grounds themselves. To my knowledge, that's exactly the kind of boundary they're setting for soulforce, and considering the scope of soulforce's mission, I think that this is the best position to take.

Connor said...

Actually, I do believe their intent was sincere.

So an organization whose sole intent is to push their "equality" agenda on opposing organizations all of a sudden decides to shift gears and go on a field trip to patronize the Church and check out their potato pearls? Hmmm.. How's that optimism goin' for ya! ;)

Boyd K. Packer:

"The world is spiraling downward at an ever-quickening pace. I am sorry to tell you it will not get better.... I know of nothing in the history of the church or in the history of the world to compare with our present circumstances. Nothing happened in Sodom and Gomorrah which exceeds the wickedness and depravity which surrounds us now...." (via Quoty)

Wise words.

This post is a good one on the subject as well.

M&M said...

I think the fact that Temple Square doesn't allow any kind of activist activity makes this a pretty reasonable request. Like someone said, anyone could visit Temple or Welfare Square if interested. They don't have to come dressed as a group. They can come as individuals if they want to. But announcing Soulforce's visit smells of activist activity, and that is simply not allowed by church policy, for any group.

It is disheartening, though, that they will be able to use this for their benefit, as someone said above.

m&m said...

I thought this Deseret News articles helps us understand their intentions rather clearly:

"Herrin made the case in her article that concentrating on BYU and BYU-Idaho gives the Equality Riders the best cost-benefit ratio.
"'Where is it the darkest? [For them, this means the most opposition to their cause, I think.] Go there,' she wrote. 'At that place will be all the controversy you need to generate media attention.'"
(emphasis added)

Anonymous said...

If the members of soulforce wanted to come to temple square simply to take the tour, I think they could do it fine if the different members came at different times, and if they didn't wear any soulforce insignia. It's not like they have security guards at every entrance with mug shots of all the soulforce activists to look out for.

Actually, if you were on temple square, that's exactly what happened. Church security had a book of headshots (procured, I would guess, from the soulforce website) and were looking out for anyone who matched the description.

Full disclosure: I have friends on the ride. While I do not agree with their tactics (for the reason that I think that Mormons don't understand or appreciate civil disobedience), to say that three return missionaries, all from BYU, don't understand Mormonism is a bit of a stretch.

I fear this campaign is going to shake down like the issue of blacks and the priesthood--where individual church members felt besieged and used that feeling to justify expressions of hate. Already on campus and on the internet I am seeing the beginnings of this ("drive the grinded axe into the heart of the Church"? Come on, don't be that dramatic). Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't make them less of a human and a child of God. We all have to watch our rhetoric and our judgment, or else how can we call ourselves Christian?


Steve M. said...

I know I'm coming into this discussion well after it ended, but here are my two cents.

I agree with the Church and BYU on this one.

As a liberal BYU student who's sympathetic to gay rights, detests the homophobia and intolerance frequently encountered on campus, and really wouldn't be bothered at all if his gay neighbors were married, I was disappointed with Soulforce's visit to campus last year. I was impressed that BYU let them on campus at all, and that's where Soulforce showed their true colors.

They completely disregarded the terms they ostensibly agreed to and proved that they were more interested in making a scene and causing a controversy than engaging in real dialogue.

Unfortunately, Soulforce has made it unlikely that more mature, dialogue-based gay rights groups will ever be permitted to visit campus in the future.