Chi Alpha’s Side of the Story
This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
May 4th, 2009
Matt Herman, the leader of Chi Alpha, has provided more detail about the change in relationship between the organization and Chris Donohoe. I think it adds some useful perspective.
Over the last five semesters Chris and I met on almost a weekly basis to talk about life, spirituality, academics, sexuality and Chi Alpha. There is nothing we have avoided in our conversations. Recently, we agreed that our conversations have been some of the most in-depth and meaningful since we both arrived at Cornell. In addition to meeting over lunch, I have been to Chris’ diving meets, traveled in and out of the United States on service projects with him and for a very brief period of time Chris lived with Tracy and me as he was waiting for a summer internship to begin. My point in sharing this with you is that you come to understand one thing about our relationship with Chris: we are friends. I realize that this is hard for some to believe, but even through our conversations this month Chris reaffirmed to me, “I love you both dearly, and it was incredibly hard for me to drag all of this out into the open knowing that it would cause you pain.” His intention: “is not to punish Chi Alpha, but to work through a very complex issue alongside the group.”
In regards to Chris’ position of leadership in Chi Alpha, the process and decision was slow and deeply discussed. Before last summer, Chris sat down with Tracy, another student leader and myself to discuss some interpersonal issues, his changing view toward the Bible concerning homosexuality and his newly developing relationship with another male on campus. It was during this meeting when we communicated Chi Alpha’s nationally held belief that homosexual behavior is a sin and, as with any sin, those who insist and promote sinful behavior should not hold leadership positions. This point is key, so I will reiterate it. The issue is not that Chris feels same-sex attraction. The issue is that he now celebrates what the Bible calls sin. This is inappropriate for a Christian leader.
When the summer ended I had a long conversation with Chris in which he affirmed his decision to live an openly gay life and stated that he now completely disagrees with Chi Alpha’s theological understanding of the issue. It was at this point that Chris was asked to step out of his leadership position in accordance with our previous conversation. As we talked over the phone, we agreed that we did not want our friendship to change and clarified that he was not being asked to leave Chi Alpha.
Over the next few days Tracy and I contacted those leaders within Chi Alpha who had previous knowledge of Chris’ homosexuality and they affirmed the decision to have him removed from leadership, thus solidifying the decision by those leaders with prior involvement. Upon Chris’ request, we did not bring this to the Chi Alpha community at large and kept true to our commitment to keep the decision private until he began sharing the information with others.
I continue to assure religious organizations that gay people, gay couples, gay marriages, and gay lives are no threat to their religious freedom. I invite all of you to join me in making that true.
Gay student dismissed from Cornell Christian group
April 24th, 2009
A maelstrom of controversy has erupted at Cornell University, where Chris Donohoe was dismissed from a leadership position at Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship after he came out as gay. The fellowship receives university funding and is headed by pastors Matt and Tracy Herman, who ultimately forced Donohoe out.
Yesterday, the Student Assembly, which doles out funds to campus organizations, suspended funding for the organization and called for an investigation into the incident. Chi Alpha is subject to Cornell’s nondiscrimination policy, which covers sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Cornell Daily Sun published a wonderful editorial about it:
Those in Chi Alpha would say they gave Chris a choice to reject his sexual orientation and embrace god, or to embrace himself and reject the scripture. But no one at Cornell should be forced to make this choice — to deny who they are in order to gain acceptance from their peers. The University must monitor the role of religion on this campus and ensure that such discrimination does not occur.
Antigay responses to the incident have been typical: 1) the university in infringing on religious liberty 2) why aren’t gays tolerant of intolerance toward them?
In the same way that antigay religious groups argue that they have a right to assemble and set standards, the university has the right to do so as well. And because the religious organization operates under the auspices of the university, Cornell can impose restrictions on what the organization can do. In this case, the restriction is that no organization can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
This rhetoric might sound conservative, but tolerating antigay views does not mean one has to accept them. Chi Alpha’s actions deserve excoriation; they are an embarrassment to the university. Outside the university’s purview it may be legal, albeit immoral, to kick someone out of an organization for being gay, but it seems that antigay activists view any criticism of their actions as an infringement on their religious liberty. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech do not grant immunity from criticism.