Freedom Ride 2012: Get on the Bus!

It’s been said that “the micro is the macro.” If you look at something in particular, you are looking at a microcosm of things that are strikingly similar on a larger scale. The state of North Carolina is a specific state that may be said to portray the United States as a whole. I could of course point out examples of that state’s gorgeous and diverse geographic beauty, its gorgeous and diverse flora and fauna; and its gorgeous and diverse people — and then go on to show how this is a reflection of our gorgeous and diverse nation.

That, however, is not what I feel called to do at this time. I’d like to think that we could take all of what I just stated for granted, but tragically, we cannot. When it comes to the third of those three elements, “gorgeous and diverse people,” neither all of the citizens of North Carolina, nor of our great nation, would describe the diversity of our population as “gorgeous.” Some are scared of diversity. Some call it sinful. And some act on their fear and hate.

What I am called to do is to hold a mirror up to both the specific state of North Carolina, as well as to our entire nation, to show us the wrinkles and blemishes that we don’t wish to see. I’m referring to the acne of racism and the warts of homophobia. To the extent that the recent news that has come out of North Carolina stem from racism and anti-gay bigotry, we are a racist and homophobic country. We have some “metaphorical spinach” stuck to our teeth and true friends point that out to each other.

First, a Christian pastor by the name of Sam Harris told his flock to “punch effeminate-looking or -acting boys in their families.” That a pastor would advocate, let alone condone, child abuse is most disturbing.

Not long after this, the majority of the citizens of North Carolina who showed up to vote in the most recent election passed an amendment to their state’s Constitution that prohibits gay weddings. Their actions violate the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment and may very well eventually be ruled unconstitutional. But then again, given that “the micro is the macro,” there’s a very real possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court may bless that state’s new unjust status quo.

Then Charles Worley, another North Carolinian pastor, apparently sought to out-crazy the other fellow by telling his flock that “gay people should be placed into concentration camps and made to starve to death.”

And then, to complete a terrible trifecta, the local KKK clan in a community north of Greensboro, NC, sent out notices inviting their white residents to come to a public cross burning event. You read that right. A cross burning — in 2012. Unbelievable right? Believe it. It happened.

Clearly, it would be unfair for the rest of America to judge North Carolina by the actions of a few of their citizens. But the thing is, we can’t help it. In the same way that it’s unfair to judge black people or gay people by the actions of isolated black and/or gay people, in our humanness, we do exactly that. Let’s admit this.

With this in mind, many Americans who are concerned about racial and sexual orientation justice are considering how to respond. Some are considering boycotting North Carolina. I’ve considered it too. Frankly, as I write this, I’m still in the process of considering it. While I ponder this some more, I’d like to offer the following responses of a few other concerned citizens:

The first is an insightful statement from the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance.

The second is an equally wise statement and sensible response by the Rev. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who contacted the IRS about some of these goings-on. See also this Huffington Post article.

And the third is from a very articulate gay man who uses “his pulpit,” YouTube, to help offer a healing, compassionate, prophetic, and encouraging word to his fellow LGBTQ citizens around the nation.

Okay, I’ve pondered this some more and am concluding that calling for a boycott is not the best way to proceed. Sure, we’re angry and feel like punishing those who would allow such discrimination to happen in their state, but vengeance is never healthy. And the carrot is far more helpful than the stick. Besides, it’d be unfair — and engaging in an unfair response would be hypocritical when we’re seeking to promote and encourage fairness. As Gandhi put it, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way” — meaning, the message and the medium to convey it need to be in harmony.

The matter of marriage equality for homosexual persons — and gay rights in general — is the civil rights crisis of our day. What’s needed is a new Civil Rights Movement in the non-violent tradition that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., helped to lead in the 1960’s. Instead of a boycott of North Carolina, I’m calling for a Freedom Ride — “Freedom Ride 2012.”

For the benefit of our younger readers, the Freedom Riders were a movement of concerned citizens (black and white) from northern states who took buses down to various southern states in the 1960s to help motivate the citizens of those states to end immoral policies of segregation and legally sanctioned discrimination against people of color.

As it happens, many hundreds (if not thousands) of citizens from outside of North Carolina will be descending upon that fair state to participate in the 2nd annual Wild Goose Festival from June 21-24. The Wild Goose Fest is a “Woodstock” type gathering for progressive and emerging Christians to join in fellowship, compare notes, and learn from and inspire each other. I am a speaker at this year’s festival and will be calling for many of the festival’s attendees to attend a rally in North Carolina’s capital of Raleigh on Monday, June 25th from noon-1:00 p.m.

The rally will include speakers and music — much in the spirit of the original Freedom Riders. I am seeking to have my former professor, Dr. Vincent Harding, (one of King’s speech writers and biographers) and other veterans of the original Civil Rights movement participate. North Carolina’s Rev. Mark Sandlin will be a speaker and Greensboro singer-songwriter Bryan McFarland will assist with the music. Details to follow.

This is a call for my fellow citizens to mark your calendars for Monday, June 25th and come to Raleigh to participate in Freedom Ride 2012.

There are many states (both northern and southern) that should be visited by citizens of other states who seek to hold up the mirrors of truth that need to be gazed into. Perhaps you may feel moved to continue this wave of Freedom Rides by creating rallies in other locations. We are all “our brother’s keepers” and we need each other to be the best that we can be. Some will be inspired by their progressive Christian values and others will be motivated by their love of the Constitution and desire for all of our states to honor it. Many of us will be prompted by both.

I’m applying for a permit to hold the rally at the grounds of the Capitol; should it not be granted, another location will be secured at the same time on that day.

If you are passionate about this issue, please come and consider actually taking a bus. Yep, a Greyhound. Now is the time. Let’s covenant to be on our best behavior, act respectfully, and spend some of our hard-earned cash in their state to support their economy. Perhaps also consider bringing signs, Bibles, copies of the U.S. Constitution; and actual mirrors to hold up to invite North Carolina, and all of us, to gaze into. This isn’t an adversarial action. It’s not “us” against “them.” This is micro you and micro me seeking to bring forth in ourselves that which we dream our collective macro to be.

Stay tuned. Get on the Bus!

If you cannot attend the rally, please consider signing this petition.

The Rev. Roger Wolsey is Director, Wesley Foundation, University of Colorado-Boulder and author of  “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”


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