Activists charged with trespassing when they try to attend chapel service at school affilliated with Assemblies of God church
WAXAHACHIE — Three members of a gay-rights group on a nationwide bus tour of faith-based universities were arrested Wednesday, Oct. 29, after going to a private campus that had banned them, officials said.
Three members of Soulforce were charged with trespassing after they tried to go to a chapel service at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, a 1,900-student Pentecostal school, according to the Waxahachie Police Department.
The group earlier sent a letter to Southwestern Assemblies requesting a forum, but the president declined and asked Soulforce to stay off the campus, said university spokesman Ryan McElhany.
"It’s not a question that’s up for debate for us," McElhany said. "We love the people, but we do believe that homosexuality is a sin."
The Southwestern Assemblies handbook lists homosexuality as an offense for which a student can be expelled, but if a current student is struggling with such feelings, he or she may be referred to counseling instead, McElhany said.
Soulforce has already held forums at nearly a dozen campuses since the Equality Ride tour began earlier this month to promote inclusion at schools it believes have policies that discriminate against gay students. Several Soulforce members have already been arrested for trespassing at three schools in other states.
"We never want to get arrested; our goal is to spread a message of hope and fairness and to talk to students and meet them where they are," said Soulforce spokeswoman Caitlin MacIntyre. "Three men really wanted to attend the [Southwestern Assemblies of God University] chapel service, and we would have reached more people, but the university put up boundaries."
She said more colleges welcome than reject the group. Dallas Baptist University has been the most receptive during this tour because last week’s forum was a daylong event in which Soulforce met with its administrators, faculty and students, MacIntyre said.
Before the Wednesday arrests, about 15 Southwestern Assemblies representatives — including administrators and student leaders — had a "low-key discussion" with the 15 or so Soulforce members, McElhany said.
Afterward, the bus remained parked in a public area near campus and some students went there throughout the day to talk to group members, he said.
The school also provided the group with drinks and snacks, he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 31, 2008.