The Chi Alpha group ministering to students at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, recently had its funding temporarily suspended by Cornell's Student Assembly Finance Commission (SAFC) while it investigated the forced resignation of one of the Chi Alpha student leaders.
According to Matt and Tracy Herman, Assemblies of God nationally appointed campus missionaries and advisors of Chi Alpha at Cornell, a student leader who has been with Chi Alpha for several years at Cornell, chose to embrace his homosexual feelings and began an active homosexual relationship last summer. Upon learning of this relationship and his ongoing determination to continue as a gay man, the student was told by the Hermans he was still welcomed in the group, but as of August 2008, could no longer be in leadership.
The student, apparently choosing to believe the Bible was inaccurate in its description of homosexuality as sin, according to reports, desired to prove homosexuality was legitimate in the eyes of God and thereby force Chi Alpha to open its leadership positions to gay and lesbian "believers."
When the issue went public this April, there was a campus outcry, as the school's non-discrimination policy on the basis of sexual orientation appeared to have been violated. According to the "Cornell Sun," Dean of Students Kent Hubbell evaluated the student's dismissal, stating ". . . we want to make sure this is a campus that does not discriminate in this way."
In addition, a student leader (Student Activities president) also weighed in, saying, "It is unfortunate that both a registered student organization and an SAFC-funded organization has mistreated its members and leaders in such an egregious manner."
With leadership for the school and students both publically coming out in opposition to the Chi Alpha decision prior to any formal public hearing or investigation, few were surprised when the Student Assembly met and temporarily suspended Chi Alpha's SAFC funding.
However, under Cornell United Religious Work (CURW), Chi Alpha — as is every religious group on campus — is protected by the covenant that permits religious organizations to make decisions based on doctrinal convictions, however a person cannot be excluded from an organization based on sexual orientation. As the Hermans made clear, the student was welcome in Chi Alpha, he just could not be in leadership.
In an open letter printed in the "Cornell Sun," Matt made the following excerpted statement concerning the student, who the Hermans still consider a personal friend:
"In regards to [the student's] position of leadership in Chi Alpha, the process and decision was slow and deeply discussed. Before last summer, [the student] 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 [the student] feels same-sex attraction. The issue is that he now celebrates what the Bible calls sin. This is inappropriate for a Christian leader."
After a weeklong investigation of Chi Alpha's actions, the Student Assembly Finance Commission announced that Chi Alpha's funding would be restored after no "formal breach of policy" was found.
However, the Cornell SAFC is looking to clarify for the future, that in a case where religious pursuits conflict with sexual orientation, which takes priority over the other. Depending on their ruling, this could possibly open the door for further challenges.
"This will continue to be a hot button on universities nationwide," states Chi Alpha National Director Dennis Gaylor. "All students can be members (attend) Chi Alpha without regard to race national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or religion, but we draw the line on leadership, believing this [denying leadership to a homosexual] is a free exercise of religion issue outlined in the Bill of Rights."
To read a more complete account and editorials of the confrontation at Cornell, see http://cornellsun.com/section/news and examine articles posted beginning April 23.
--Dan Van Veen