Group seeks 40 LGBT volunteer families to participate
Soulforce is looking for 40 volunteer families from Texas to help initiate a dialogue on LGBT issues with prominent Christian evangelists including Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House in Dallas and the Rev. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston.
Each family will visit The Potter’s House and Lakewood Church, as well as one of four other U.S. megachurches, in May as part of Soulforce’s “An American Family Outing.”
The goal of the event is to change the hearts and minds of congregations led by those who’ve taken the reins of the evangelical movement from noted anti-gay preachers Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and James Dobson.
“We’re aware of what many people are referring to as kind of a new crop of up-and-coming evangelical leaders who not always but for the most part try to steer clear of the controversial issues, the LGBT community being one,” Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes told Dallas Voice. “They certainly don’t use it as a wedge issue or a fundraiser, but nonetheless when asked directly where they stand, their theological position is much the same.”
Bishop Jakes, who leads the 30,000-member Potter’s House, has called homosexuality a “brokenness” and said he would not hire an openly gay person.
Osteen, who leads North America’s largest and fastest-growing church with a weekly attendance of some 42,000, once was asked about his views on homosexuality on CNN’s Larry King Live.
“Well, to me Larry, it’s not God’s best,” Osteen said. “The scripture clearly defines that it’s not it’s considered a sin.”
Osteen also has defended a decision by his brother-in-law, the Rev. Gary Simons of High Point Church in Arlington, to refuse to host a funeral for a gay man last August.
Representatives from The Potter’s House and Lakewood Church did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Fundamentalist Christian groups already are condemning Soulforce’s efforts. Caleb Price, a research analyst for Dobson’s Focus on the Family, compared Soulforce to the serpent that tempts Eve in Genesis.
“And I think perhaps the biggest lesson we can take from that account is it’s best not to talk to snakes,” Price told AFN’s OneNewsNow.com. “Scripture clearly teaches us that there will be a great falling away in the last days and there will be wolves in sheep’s clothing who will try to enter into the fold and deceive even the elect.
“These churches that have been targeted by Soulforce need to be clear about the real agenda behind these staged actions. It’s not for dialogue and greater understanding it’s to tempt them to embrace a false doctrine, which will keep many from the gospel message of hope and transformation for those who are trapped in homosexuality.”
Lutes said Soulforce sent Jakes, Osteen and four other prominent Christian evangelists a letter prior to the holidays requesting an opportunity for the volunteer families to meet with members’ of their congregations. However, Soulforce has not yet received any responses.
Soulforce is well known for its Equality Ride, in which participants’ visits to Christian college campuses frequently result in confrontations and sometimes arrests. But Lutes said he is unsure whether An American Family Outing will take on a similar tone if the evangelists don’t respond or refuse the meetings.
“It’s totally in their hands, but we’re hoping they’ll decide it’s in everybody’s best interests to try to have this conversation and get past how divisive this issue has become in America,” Lutes said.
“We’re still holding out to see their responses, and we would talk about any contingency plans later.”
The families will travel to the churches between Mother’s Day weekend and Father’s Day weekend following a training session in Austin from Feb. 22 to 24. All travel expenses will be paid by Soulforce.
The families will be at Lakewood Church in Houston from May 9 to 11. They will be at Potter’s House in Dallas from May 16 to 18. From there, the families will split up into four groups of 10 to visit the other churches: Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga, Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
The event is co-sponsored by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the National Black Justice Coalition and Children of Lesbians & Gays Everywhere (COLAGE).
For more information or to apply for The American Family Outing, contact Lutes at 512-419-0600 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is Tuesday, Jan. 22.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 18, 2008