The Washington Post Style section on Friday featured a front-page story on the gay-left group Soulforce and their so-called "Equality Ride" to conservative Christian colleges trying to stir up fights and publicity. Hanna Rosin's story was headlined "Young, Gay Christians On A Bumpy Bus Ride."
Soulforce is the organization of Mel White, a former speechwriter for Jerry Falwell before he came out of the closet and the author of the 2006 book "Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right." White warned that religious-right leaders "are not just Neocons dressed in religious drag. These men see themselves as gurus called by God to rescue America from unrighteousness. They believe this is a Christian nation that must be returned forcibly to its Christian roots." He describes conservatives as the forces of "spiritual violence." But Hanna Rosin never used the word "liberal" once in the story to describe this bus crusade, even as she explained the gay leftists are traveling to "conservative" colleges.
Rosin's story drew heavily on the idea that the gay youths were oppressed, much like blacks in the Jim Crow South:
The [bus] driving down Route 7 in Virginia yesterday was purplish on one side and orange sunset on the other. In huge letters it said "Social Justice for Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People." On the highway, fellow drivers either honked and waved or threw Coke cans. In Sioux City, Iowa, someone spray-painted the bus with "Fag, God doesn't love you."
....The 25 "equality riders" from a group called Soulforce have roughly followed certain routes of the Freedom Riders who battled Southern segregation in the 1960s.
Instead of bus stations and restaurants, they stop at conservative evangelical colleges they say discriminate against homosexuals. Last week it was Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. Yesterday it was Patrick Henry College, a seven-year-old evangelical institution in Purcellville, Va., with grand political ambitions.
This is an odd sentence. Is Rosin trying to suggest that evangelicals have "grand political ambitions," but the Soulforce "equality riders" do not? Rosin then allowed Soulforce's Robin Padrika Reynolds to unspool her theory of theocracy marching from Patrick Henry right into the Bush White House:
"All Patrick Henry faculty and students must adhere to a worldview that says the Earth was created in six days," Reynolds began. "The Bush administration loves them so much. As a tiny school they've had as many White House interns as Georgetown. Janet Ashcroft [wife of former Attorney General John Ashcroft] is on the board. That tells you so much right there."
Next, the riders sat around and read Patrick Henry's student handbook: "The practice of homosexual conduct or other extramarital relations is inconsistent with our faith position," it says. It also condemns legal structures that condone "inappropriate sexual activity or lust, heterosexual or homosexual."
Some Christian colleges list homosexuality along with rape and harassment, so the riders see this handbook as an improvement, but it's not enough for Reynolds. "What's scary is that these people are going straight to Capitol Hill and the White House without ever talking to people of different views," she said.
Reynolds had the makings of a public relations problem for Patrick Henry. She is African American, and the school is highly self-conscious of its inability to recruit many African American students (this year it has one out of a student body of about 325). She is earnest and polite and always speaks earnest evangelese -- "goodness gracious" and "my word" and "have a blessed day." Before she eats or takes a trip or makes a phone call, she prays to Jesus.
The Post website has a video story by Akira Hakuta titled "'Equality Ride' Hits A Roadblock." It spotlighted the Soulforce organizers describing their publicity aims, but it eventually aired the views of Patrick Henry students and college founder Michael Farris. At the end, Soulforce's Robin Padrika Reynolds declared "God has not ordered us here in vain." Soulforce's Jarrett Lucas says conservatives are forces of "political and religious oppression" and came to discuss "a school that has oppressive doctrines."
Typically, Rosin did not acknowledge the views of Patrick Henry students and Farris until paragraph 16. She presented the student who spoke as not very well-spoken and embarrassed Farris by ending the story with this testimony:
David Hazard, a friend of college founder Farris who had edited one of his books, also told Reynolds he was gay. When Farris heard that during an interview in his office, his jaw fell open, and he stared for a long time. "Oh. I'm so sorry for David," he said. "I think he's deluded." The place for someone like that, he added, "is on their knees repenting of their sin.
"But here's a good reaction for you: I still like him."
Near the end, just before lowering the Hazard boom, Rosin also reported that "Soulforce visits often bring gay students and alumni out of hiding, and this was no exception. Three alumni contacted Reynolds during the visit; she said one told her he was gay and that his time at Patrick Henry had been the 'hardest four years of his life.'" Does Rosin know who these alleged gay students are, or is she merely accepting the activist's claim without checking on it?
If a group of Christian conservative college students decided to go on a bus tour and undertake an evangelization tour of gay nightclubs, would the Post cover it? If so, would it seek to embarrass the gay nightclub owners and suggest that the Christians were a "public relations problem" for them? Fat chance.
The Post also devoted a whole story to promoting the Soulforce tour last year, on March 11, 2006. Reporter Michelle Boorstein also failed to describe Soulforce with a liberal or anti-conserative label, but explained that some campuses were welcome Soulforce to discussions as "an opportunity to replace the stereotype of the intolerant conservative Christian with a more compassionate 'Christ-centered' response -- albeit a response that still views homosexuality as a sin."
The same labeling imbalance happened in tiny Post squibs on the tour last year. On March 11:
Liberty University police arrested more than 20 gay rights activists on trespassing charges as they tried to enter the Lynchburg campus yesterday. Many of the activists are members of Soulforce, a group on a nationwide bus tour to promote gay rights at conservative Christian universities and military academies. About 60 people gathered for the morning rally outside the main entrance.
On April 27:
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Twenty-one gay rights activists from Soulforce Equality Riders were detained at the U.S. Military Academy and issued federal citations while protesting the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The academy was their last stop on a cross-country tour of 20 conservative Christian and military colleges that protest organizers say discriminate against gay, bisexual and transgendered people.