Lynchburg, SoulForce, and Exgays
Firmness in Truth, NonViolent Response
tidh home
by Maggie Heineman November 4, 1999

Part   I - Firmness in Truth - Nonviolent Response

Part  II - Jerry Falwell's friend Michael Johnston

Part III - Love Your Children,  Love Won Out

Part  IV - Matthew 5:38-48, Romans 12:14-21

Part   V - SoulForce Principles & Bridges-Across

Epilogue - From a Ministry Director to Chuck Colson



Satyagraha: Firmness in Truth
There are so many consequences to us not being truthful. The biggest one being, anyone believing us.      --- Anna G.
Steve Schalchlin's report on the Lynchburg event starts out by explaining: "Our job was to confront Jerry Falwell. To tell him our stories. To let him see our faces and to know us. But Mel White told us that our GOAL is our OWN personal, spiritual renewal." 

Steve has it right. From a SoulForce perspective, those of us in the Lynchburg200 do not judge the success of the October weekend by Jerry Falwell's actions, but by our own renewal and our adherence to the principles we espouse. 

Throughout the weekend I was totally impressed by the 200’s understanding of, and fidelity to, the principles of nonviolence which Gandhi called satyagraha a word which can be translated either as "Truth Firmness" or as "SoulForce."

Bob Kunst, a gayrights activist who protested the Lynchburg event, said of Mel White, "He's such a masochist."

Tapasya (willingness for self sacrifice) is not an easy concept. Mel translates it as the "vow to volunteer suffering" and presents it this way:

I promise to take on myself without complaint any suffering that might result from my confrontation with untruth and to do all in my power to help my adversary avoid all suffering, especially that suffering that may result from our confrontation.
The Basic Concepts of Satyagraha webpage says:
"Tapasya" --- willingness for self-sacrifice. 

A) A satyagrahi (one who practices satyagraha) must be willing to shoulder any sacrifice which is occasioned by the struggle which they have initiated, rather than pushing such sacrifice or suffering onto their opponent, lest the opponent become alienated and access to their portion of the truth become lost. 

B) The satyagrahi must always provide a face-saving "way out" for the opponents. The goal is to discover a wider  vista of truth and justice, not to achieve victory over the opponent. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous Letter from Birmingham City Jail is extremely helpful in understanding the theoretical basis for Mel White's approach to the culture war. [Excerpts: Letter from Birmingham City Jail]

My report on Michael Johnston and his surprise appearance is more complete than you have read elsewhere. The Lynchburg200 wore buttons quoting Jerry Falwell: "Is it true? Is it loving? Does it need to be said?"  I communicate with people in the exgay movement on a daily basis. People on both sides of the divide trust me to be accurate. I have come to the conclusion that yes, it is loving and necessary to report on the exgay aspect of the Lynchburg event.

Satyagraha: NonViolent Response

The Dinner with Jerry unexpectedly turned out to be sitting around tables with Poland Spring Water as the repast. We had been told earlier that it would not be a sitdown dinner but a buffet. The morning of the event, we were told it would just be snacks. As it turned out, there was only water. 

How did the Lynchburg200 respond? 

By absorbing the blows in accordance with the principles of nonviolence. We understood and accepted Falwell's dilemma, that he was challenged by both parishioners and allies for eating with sinners.

On an email list I read a suggestion for an announcement, "We've arranged a special table for people who don't want to eat with sinners. All of you who are without sin should move to that table now." 

It is not so simple. The complexities of evangelical understanding of I Corinthians 5:11 are not generally understood, therefore I provide a link to Sonia Balcer's explanation of 1Cor. 5:11.

Steve Schalchlin and I had arranged a ride to Falwell's church thus didn't need to return to "SoulForce Central" (a local pro-gay church) at 2:30 for carpooling.   I didn't hear the story of what had happened about the food until 10 days after the event. For Steve, who has diabetes, a three hour delay in getting food is not a trifle. Steve is not a complainer. His reports on the event are full of agape love. 

Here's the story about the change in plans as reported by Julie Burke

We gathered at 2:30 to carpool over to Jerry's Church, the renowned Thomas Road Baptist Church, and learned that Jerry Falwell had just had to ask Mel if we could skip dinner b/c his critics were harassing him for offering to break bread with known heathens and the sexually immoral. There is a passage in Corinthians 5 which says something to that effect...

He said he had his caterers ready and waiting but he'd rather have people gripe at him for meeting with us rather than eating with us and the decision was ours. Hands down we agreed to go and share water with them. 

A reporter asked me on Sunday if I was outraged b/c Jerry didn't keep his offer of eating with us. I explained the above and said it merely shows how deeply the animosity out there runs: ‘Don't even eat with such people’ according to the Bible.

Jerry gave us a choice and we let him off the hook --- it was a positive compromise. The man's got thousands of hate letters from his own people to deal with now as it is. He had far more to lose than gain in talking to us. What he did by meeting with us was simply doing the right thing in trying to promote peace and understanding on both sides. I respect him for that. Some will say he's only doing this for political gain. After this weekend I'm fairly convinced he's really not.

Reverend Falwell made repeated comparisons of gay and lesbian people to prostitutes, unwed mothers, drug addicts, alcoholics, and, on one occasion, the Mafia -- groups of sinners to whom he would offer loving ministry to help them repent and leave their sinful ways. 

How did the Lynchburg200 respond? 

By absorbing the blows in accordance with the principles of nonviolence. Until now both sides have been fueling the culture war by finding the worst things that the opponents have said and pulling those quotes for display. That approach has gotten old. The way of peace takes the opposite approach.

The Lynchburg200 were looking for, and emphasizing, the positive: appreciating Falwell's apology for the horrific statements that were still on his website, hearing Falwell's promise to review fundraising letters sent out over his signature and to moderate fundraising rhetoric, and praising Falwell's advice to parents to cherish their gay children. 

Michael Johnston, who spearheads National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day, was an unscheduled, unexpected speaker at the press conference. 

How did the Lynchburg200 respond? 

By absorbing the blows in accordance with the principles of nonviolence. However, truthfully and lovingly we must speak up, saying that Falwell's "easier to seek forgiveness than permission" approach was a step backward in the trust building exercise. We cannot pretend it didn't occur. We can accept the circumstances and the apology, while making it clear that surprises don’t build trust. 

Next... Jerry Falwell's friend Michael Johnston

Basic Concepts of Satyagraha

Letter from a professor at  Liberty University

Lynchburg Report: Steve Schalchlin

Lynchburg Report Randy Thomas

Lynchburg Report Bob Stith

Lynchburg Report Julie Burke

I Cor:5:11

Pictures from Lynchburg



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