Third-year College student Alex Briegel wrote an open letter to the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at the University after they pressured him to step down from his leadership position, citing disagreement in religious beliefs after Briegel told them he was in a relationship with another man.
Briegel posted the letter to Reddit on Nov. 19 where it has since garnered over 150 comments from people who both echo and contradict Briegel’s experiences in Chi Alpha.
“I disclosed to Chi Alpha that in early 2020 I had a boyfriend,” Briegel wrote in the letter. “XA wanted me to step down as a leader because they claimed my views and actions clearly contradict Bible teaching.”
Briegel joined Chi Alpha in his first year and by his second year was leading a small group of students, called a Core Group, in weekly Bible studies and individual meetings.
“[Second year] was a difficult time … I really came to realize that I was gay, and by that time I was already beginning the process of becoming a leader in [Chi Alpha],” Briegel said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.
In October, Briegel said that leadership in Chi Alpha approached him privately and “pushed” him to step down as a leader in the Core Group when he told them he had a boyfriend. Briegel believes this action stemmed from his sexual orientation, and felt “distraught” by the conversation he had with Chi Alpha.
“[Chi Alpha] tried to frame this as an issue of trust or vulnerability, saying things like ‘Oh, we didn’t know you had a boyfriend, so there's been a breach of trust,’” Briegel said. “I don’t really think it’s about trust … if I had a girlfriend, it wouldn’t be the same issue.”
After the conversation, Briegel ultimately chose to leave Chi Alpha completely, feeling as though they would never see him “as an equal brother of Christ” because of his sexual orientation.
In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Chi Alpha expressed “regret” for Briegel’s decision to leave the organization.
“Alex chose to step down from a leadership role in Chi Alpha over disagreement with our religious beliefs,” the Fellowship said. “But he is and always has been welcome as a member in our community, as is any U.Va. student.”
To maintain status as a contract independent organization, Chi Alpha must abide by the CIO Agreement, which includes a non-discrimination clause which prevents restriction of membership based on “age, color, disability, gender identity, marital status, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, veteran status and family and genetic information.”
However, the agreement also includes a clause that was added after the decision of a 2010 Supreme Court case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The Virginia statute — § 23.1-400 — passed as a result of the court decision mandates that a “religious or political student organization” may determine membership based on commitment to “the organization’s religious or political mission.”
In accordance with this statute, the CIO Agreement also allows organizations to “petition to restrict its membership” based on members’ commitment to their primary “mission.”
Dean of Students Allen Groves noted the complexity of this agreement in an email to The Cavalier Daily.
“The critical inquiry in any specific case is defining the ‘primary mission’ of the student organization in actual practice, and then assessing whether the membership limitation — however defined by the group — does, in fact, further the achievement of that mission,” Groves said. “This would need to be a case-by-case determination.”
According to their website, Chi Alpha is a group of “body of college students earnestly following Jesus, who come together to worship our amazing God, to learn His Word and be discipled, to encourage one another and pray, and to have fun making friendships that will last a lifetime.” Their “primary mission” is guided by three anchors — “real devotional life, real community, and real responsibility.”
It is unclear whether their decision to limit membership based on sexual orientation furthers this primary mission, as Chi Alpha does not clearly state their beliefs about homosexuality anywhere on their website or other public social media platform.
On Tuesday, Student Council passed legislation denouncing discrimination against LGBTQ+ students by CIOs, in light of both Briegel’s letter and a similar instance in Young Life College at the University. They called for CIOs to be “more transparent about their religious, political and ideological beliefs so that all students can make informed decisions about whether or not to pursue affiliation with them.”
After some debate among members, the legislation passed with 26 representatives voting to pass, one against and three who abstained.
Briegel made it clear that his goal in publishing the letter was not to “dismantle” Chi Alpha as a CIO, but rather to encourage them to “do better.”
Ultimately, Briegel wished Chi Alpha was more transparent with their beliefs. He said that Chi Alpha had a sermon about relationships called “DTR,” or “Define the Relationship,” but that they never brought up LGBTQ+ relationships in these sermons and avoided discussing their beliefs in a public sphere.
“I think the next time [Chi Alpha] does that series, they need to make their viewpoint very clear — that they do not support homosexual relationships,” Briegel said. “I think it should be something Christians talk about with humility, love and respect, and I wanted people to know this.”
He emphasized his gratitude for the support he has received so far from strangers and friends alike, but made it clear that he did not sanction comments that were “malicious” toward Chi Alpha.
“I really appreciate so much of the support … people reaching out over Facebook, over Instagram,” Briegel said. “I also have seen comments from a position saying that Chi Alpha is a cult, saying terrible things about the organization, and I don’t appreciate that. It is full of such wonderful people and was really a home until recently.”
In the future, Briegel hopes to hold open conversations with other religious organizations about his experiences as a Christian and a gay man. He also hopes to start his own fellowship on Grounds that is welcoming towards the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think a lot of queer studens who are also Christian feel like there’s no place for them,” Briegel said. “I want students to know that we can make a place.”
Briegel said that Chi Alpha has not directly reached out to him about the letter.