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PRESTIPINO: An open letter to Chi Alpha and the University community

Chi Alpha’s exclusion of LGBTQ+ students is a stain on the Christian community

Chi Alpha’s theology on LGBTQ+ issues is toxic. It hurts people.
Chi Alpha’s theology on LGBTQ+ issues is toxic. It hurts people.

To Chi Alpha staff and membership, 

During my fourth year at the University, two of the first people I “came out” to were fellow Chi Alphans. At the time we were all students, but they are now members of Chi Alpha’s professional staff. They treated me with love, respect and dignity. Almost five years later, I still consider one of them among my closest friends. Though we live 1,000 miles apart, we saw each other three times in 2019. Twice, unfortunately, in moments of great personal tragedy. Chi Alpha used to say that the friends you make within the group will stand beside you at your wedding. Perhaps even more telling is who will stand with you at the funerals. The relationships I formed in Chi Alpha were, and are, deeply valuable to me. So, I want to ground this letter upon this foundation of love — my words are not meant to demonize any of you, but to point you to a higher call. 

Chi Alpha’s theology on LGBTQ+ issues is toxic. It hurts people. As someone who grew up in an Assemblies of God church — the denomination with which the fellowship is affiliated — this was not new to me, but it was painful nonetheless. When I first entered the University, I was a seemingly perfect fit for Chi Alpha. I quickly became a servant leader and was even nominated for Chi Alpha president at the end of my third year. But beneath my facade, I felt suffocated. It took me almost two years of work in the Religious Studies department to understand these feelings and to build a queer-affirming theology. I knew I wasn’t alone, there were others who shared my beliefs, but I knew that the institution itself was against me. 

All it took was the introduction of your conversion-therapy adjacent Shalom Groups, to remind me that I wasn’t safe to be my whole self at Chi Alpha. For those who don’t know, these “Shalom Groups” were introduced at the widely-attended “Monday Night Live” service roughly like this — Shalom is a term that means more than simply peace, it means wholeness, a state in which all is made right. Sometimes there are things that upset our shalom, like addiction to pornography and same-sex attraction. If you’re struggling with any of those things, God wants to bring you to a place of shalom. 

Suggesting to students that their experience of “same-sex attraction” is what stands in the way of “wholeness” is extremely damaging and ethically irresponsible. There were also groups for people struggling with eating disorders and trauma from sexual assault. There are so many psychologically harmful messages embedded in this that I cannot begin to unpackage them all in this letter. 

You try very hard not to address Chi Alpha’s stance on homosexuality publicly. This silence is painful and deceptive. Heterosexuality is the baseline assumption embedded in the student leadership standards. When staff preaches on sexual purity, the issue is skirted. You attempted to tackle the “tough questions” about Christianity and culture through events such as “Elephant in the Room'' and “Hoos Got Questions,” yet your stance on LGBTQ+ issues was never brought up. However, all it takes is a google search to find the national, institutional stance on these issues. 

We have many theological differences. I don’t expect to reconcile them. But why not talk about them? I wish first-year students entering your ranks would know that there are communities of faithful, deeply committed Christians on Grounds and all over the world who hold a queer-affirming theology. Why not invite the questions, why not create real space for theological diversity in your organization? Can’t your “anchored” faith withstand it? 

Certainly, promoting theological diversity would cause tension with the Assemblies of God. But making your current institutional stance on queerness more explicit will “harm your witness.” In doing this, you will continue to alienate students who are genuinely seeking a passionate religious community but are not willing to compromise their own values of inclusion. For now, it has been determined that you are technically operating within the bounds of Virginia Statute §23.1-400, which allows student organizations to limit their membership based on commitment to their stated political or religious mission. But is this the low standard by which you wish to judge yourselves — anything legally permissible?

Is there no higher call? I stand with members of the Student Council in questioning whether Chi Alpha should maintain its CIO status if it will not allow openly LGBTQ+ students and allies to maintain leadership positions. I do not believe that the organization should have access to tuition/taxpayer funded resources otherwise. I support Student Council’s efforts to lobby the Virginia General Assembly to change this statute. 

Putting these more pragmatic implications aside, perhaps the worst part of your incessant insistence on restrictive definitions of personal piety is that it distracts from the life and message of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus was born a refugee, fleeing persecution. He led a poor people’s movement that challenged the Roman Empire and its proxies in the religious institutions of the day. He and his followers dwelled on the margins of society. For them, bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth was both a spiritual and a political reality in which their people, the Jews, would no longer be exploited. In which the hungry would be fed, the sick would have care. He was executed by the state for his rebellion. Until you learn to read scripture from the margins, to listen to the voices — queer voices —  calling from the outside, where Jesus himself resided, you will not hear his message. 

In his sermon “A Knock at Midnight,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warns that “if the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions ...” I would like to think that if Rev. King were alive today, this same man who marched arm in arm with Baynard Rustin would add “queer” alongside “economic and racial” justice.

For thousands of queer and allied students and alumni, Chi Alpha is an irrelevant social club with no moral or spiritual authority. I ask you, is this the legacy you wish to maintain? Staff, it’s in your hands. 

Rachel Prestipino is a 2016 graduate of the College. 

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.