I recently got to read a copy of a letter sent out by an administrator at one of the Christian colleges visited this spring by Soulforce. In it, he tells friends and colleagues about how the school prepared for the visit and how they welcomed the demonstrators. Among other things, the students who volunteered to participate were given ex-gay literature to read and coached by professors and ex-gay advocates in how to respond to the Equality Riders.
On the one hand it’s good to hear that the riders were welcomed and treated with kindness at this and several other schools. On the other hand I can’t shake the feeling that it was all a little bit... calculated. Students are being taught how to better engage with those that they disagree with, and that’s a good thing, but they’re also being "inoculated" by speakers who limit their instruction to a single perspective and tell them that anyone who disagrees in any way with every last bullet point is a tool of the devil who has nothing of significance to offer except error and eternal damnation.
Dialogue, then, has nothing to do with respecting or learning from others and everything to do with putting up a friendly facade for the sake of softening them up for the kill (as it were). I'd like to think that I'm being overly cynical with that description, but my experiences within evangelical circles suggest that it's all too close to the truth.
If we seriously believe that showing love to others is one of our highest duties as Christians, shouldn't kindness and mercy be ends in and of themselves rather than tools in the employ of some agenda, however noble we may think it? When gay individuals try to become active participants in their community and demonstrate that they're normal, productive human beings, it's nothing more than a devious ploy to advance the sinister "gay agenda." But when Christians do the same with the specific goal of converting and assimilating more people into the American evangelical subculture, how dare anyone be less than enamored by their thoroughly selfless efforts?
I'm hopeful that the next generation of Christian leaders will see through that double standard and rediscover the fact that the task of conversion has been given to the Holy Spirit. No amount of persuasion, manipulation or force on our part can accomplish that task. There's a time and a place for sharing the hope that lies within us, but neither the time nor the place is up to us. Our job is to love wholeheartedly, with no strings attached.