Profiles in Prophetic Voice - Richard Lindsay ’04 M.Div
After spending thirty-one years in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the last few in anguished expectation that the mainline denomination might start permitting gay ordination, Richard Lindsay is on the verge of leaving for a church that will accept him as a minister.
As he tells it, deciding whether to leave is an agonizing process. On the one hand, after getting a master of divinity degree from Yale Divinity School in 2004, he is fed up with waiting. And, even if the waiting ends, the dominant culture in the church may still be sharply negative toward gay clergy. On the other hand, he and his family are Presbyterians to the marrow, so much so that he credits the church’s emphasis on study and reflection with his parents’ highly unusual decision to have Lindsay out himself to his extended family. Plus, Lindsay believes that change is most effectively wrought from within an institution. “There is certainly always room for visionaries and idealists,” says Lindsay, currently a doctoral candidate in homiletics at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union. “But the people who really affect change are working within institutions… Ultimately, human beings and societies can evolve morally in the same way that we evolve physically.”
Lindsay so believes in the efficacy of reforming institutions from within that, last spring, he took part in a gutsy, crosscountry campaign to enlighten and provoke the students and administrations of colleges with discriminatory policies. Modeled after the Freedom Riders of the civil rights era, Equality Ride 2006 took thirty-two activists to nineteen institutions of higher learning, most of them evangelical Christian. Lindsay was the group’s media spokesperson, putting him front and center in places like Wheaton College, the United States Air Force Academy, and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Sometimes the Equality activists were invited to speak to students. Sometimes they were threatened with arrest if they set foot on campus. “We got very used to negotiating, to defusing a situation,” says Lindsay, still marveling at the experience. “When you have people who are willing to check their stereotypes at the door and really talk to people with opposing points of view, then you’re standing on holy ground.”
When the Equality Ride arrived in Virginia Beach to speak with students at Regent University, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, school administrators blocked access to the campus. “There was a small army of police waiting for us, on horseback, in riot gear,” recalls Lindsay. “The students were not allowed to cross the line.” So, Lindsay held up a placard with his mobile phone number on it. Students called and a later impromptu meeting at a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store ensued. “We came back the next day and some of the students knelt before us, asking for forgiveness.”
Nowadays, as Lindsay settles into what is likely to be a five-year stint earning his doctorate at GTU, there is a hint of wistfulness in his voice when he speaks about the fifty-one-day Equality Ride. “I’m feeling fidgety. I feel the need to get into trouble.”