Controversial Chi Alpha

On Jan. 5, members of Rainbow Alliance and other allies were alerted to the on-campus presence of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s conference that planned to discuss outreach among those living the “homosexual lifestyle.” This conference was largely criticized by the LGBTQ community at SLU for making comments against marriage equality and adoption for non-heterosexual couples.

This issue has largely been addressed, with President Pestello agreeing to review the terms under which SLU will allow outside organizations to rent out campus space.

However, another issue has surfaced regarding a different organization at SLU. Pastor Matt Herman leads the Chi Alpha organization at SLU, which discusses faith and Christ and has many other chapters across the U.S. What makes this chapter unique is the controversy surrounding the man that heads it.

In 2009, Herman was the subject of a dispute at Cornell University when he removed Cornell student Chris Donohoe from the leadership of their Chi Alpha chapter for “living an openly gay life.” Donohoe stated in 2009 that he opened up to Herman about embracing his sexuality because he “thought it would be an awesome opportunity to be an openly gay male in a Christian organization.” He ultimately decided to remain in the Chi Alpha chapter, albeit no longer in a leadership position, for the sake of greater dialogue regarding Christianity and sexuality.

In a commentary penned during the midst of the controversy in 2009, Herman stated that, “the issue is not that [Donohoe] feels same-sex attraction. The issue is that he now celebrates what the Bible calls sin. This is inappropriate for a Christian leader.” He further stated the two remained friends throughout this process and that he never asked Donohoe to leave the organization.

The Chi Alpha chapter at Cornell was subject to a one-year suspension of funds ($750) while the university investigated the suspected violation of university policy. Because the Chi Alpha branch was chartered by Cornell’s board of trustees and received funding from the governing student body of the university, the resolution stated that the chapter fell under the university’s guidelines.

At SLU, Chi Alpha doesn’t have any formal connection to SGA. It is not considered a chartered student organization (CSO), nor did they receive any funds from SGA for annual funding. The only connection that this Chi Alpha chapter has to the University is that the organization includes 15-30 SLU students and meets on SLU’s campus. Whether the organization pays for this space is unbeknownst to me. Because of this, Chi Alpha seemingly resides in a gray area in the University. Because they are not a CSO, they do not have to adhere to the SGA’s guidelines for organizations that include a non-discrimination policy based on sexuality.

So the questions become what can we do and what should we do? After hearing firsthand the ignorance and arrogance spouted by pastors at the ‘Taboo’ conference earlier this month, I admittedly have no more tolerance for people suspected of willful discrimination. I think someone who so openly espouses ideas that openly gay individuals should not hold leadership positions within their organization has no business on our campus.

However, this chapter at SLU has not (to my knowledge) committed any wrongdoing or discriminated against anyone. From conversations I’ve had with members of the organizations, the mission of this organization seems worthwhile and useful to students who wish to have greater depth in their conversations regarding faith and Christ. It is entirely possible that what had happened at Cornell College under the leadership of Herman will not occur at SLU. That is obviously the hope. Nonetheless, it is important that this University feels confident that such a breach of University policy would not occur on campus, that would be to the detriment of SLU students.

SLU could conceivably deny this organization from meeting on its campus and charging fines if they do. To allow an exclusionary group on a campus that so frequently espouses its commitment to diversity and inclusion is disingenuous. I believe we should hold SLU accountable to that standard.