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Soulforce  
 
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A nonprofit organization located in Lynchburg, Virgina, Soulforce was founded by Reverend Mel White and his partner Gary Nixon in 1999 to combat the anti-gay rhetoric and political actions of the religious right. Soulforce is named for Mahatma Gandhi's teaching of satyagraha, or "soul force," which he defined as a plan of action to transform society. The "soul force" principles of relentless nonviolent resistance were also practiced by social activist Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Workers Union in 1933, and by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

As the organization's vision statement emphasizes, "The mission of Soulforce is to cut off at its source--religious bigotry." It employs a "take it to the streets" style of activism to underline the connection between antigay religious dogma and the resulting attacks on the lives and civil liberties of glbtq Americans.

Sponsor Message.

Nearly 5,000 people responded to Mel White's 1999 invitation to take the "Journey into Soulforce." Since then, Soulforce has recruited and trained tens of thousands of volunteers in the "soul force" principles of truth, love, nonviolence, and voluntary redemptive suffering through its educational program, Journey into Soulforce. The training program takes about eight weeks to complete; each step contains information and ideas, assignments for personal reflection and writing, and recommended readings and videos.

There is no formal membership for Soulforce; everyone is invited to participate regardless of sexual orientation, religious belief, or attitude towards homosexuality.

In addition to White and Nixon, Soulforce is staffed by an executive director (Jeff Lutes) and a small cadre of other officers who direct the organization's campaigns, outreach programs, and development activities.

Soulforce's website offers a plethora of resources, including articles, books, and videos, many of them free and downloadable from the site. Mel White's two books, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America (1999) and Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right (2006), are available for purchase, as are such works as Soulforce: A Brief History, 1999-2006 (2007) by Kara Speltz et al., and Christian Youth: An Important Voice in the Present Struggle for Gay Rights in America (2004) by James Deaton, Jamie McDaniel, and Jacob Reitan.

Vigils and Protests

Soulforce volunteers have participated in silent vigils and quiet, nonviolent protests at national conventions of the United Methodist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic Churches in the United States and at the Vatican. More than 1,000 Soulforce volunteers have been arrested while protesting antigay policies and practices within those denominations.

In the first Soulforce action in 1999, 200 Soulforce volunteers spent an October weekend in Lynchburg, Virginia meeting with Jerry Falwell and members of his Thomas Road Baptist Church. Participants pledged in writing to refrain from violent thoughts, words, and actions. During the weekend, Falwell promised to tone down his antigay rhetoric, an important concession from the right-wing leader, though he failed to keep his promise.

In addition to meeting with Falwell and his congregation, the Soulforce contingent raised $22,000 toward building a Habitat for Humanity house in Lynchburg and $877 for the local food bank.

In February 2000, Soulforce volunteers protested in Los Angeles, challenging the Fox Family Network for its daily airing of Pat Robertson's antigay rants. Soulforce had been trying to negotiate with Fox for over a year before the protest was initiated. When the protesters arrived, Fox Family officials decided to close the building rather than endure the negative publicity that would come from the arrest of two dozen pastors, priests, and rabbis. As a result of the protest, Fox Family agreed to negotiate, but Fox ultimately sold the channel.

In 2001, Soulforce representatives and DignityUSA volunteers took their message to the Vatican during the Vatican's "Year of Jubilee." For three days, participants stood vigil wearing T-shirts proclaiming "God's Gay Children Bring Gifts . . . . Bless Them." No representative from the Vatican acknowledged the demonstrators. On the Feast of the Epiphany, the protesters kept a peaceful vigil for nearly three hours close to the Vatican's giant nativity scene. They prayed, sang, and told stories, and many people in the surrounding crowd joined them in the circle of prayer.

In 2002, Soulforce members protested at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D. C. Three Soulforce members entered the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and were refused communion. They returned the next day and were arrested for trespassing when they refused to leave the hotel where the bishops' meetings were being held. These three protesters became known as the "D. C. Three."

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Soulforce activists stand vigil at the United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, April 2008.
  
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