Last week my wife Tracy — who is also a campus chaplain — and I declined to speak to The Sun about our relationship to Chris Donohoe ’09, and the circumstances regarding his removal from leadership in Chi Alpha, until we had the opportunity to speak with all the parties involved in the dispute. This was in accordance with the advice of the Cornell United Religious Work administration.
However, over the last several days I have watched as our relationship with Chris has stirred much debate. Much of the information has been true, but not all. For example, Chris was asked to step down from leadership in August 2008, not November or last week. In addition, it is important to mention that Tracy and I are not University employees. It is also important to point out that we do have a formal affiliation with Cornell through CURW. We received our status as affiliate staff during the ’06 / ’07 school year. Our ministerial commissioning comes through the Assemblies of God, which is the governing head of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries located in Springfield, MO. We live between two governing worlds, as does every Chi Alpha chapter in the United States. On the one side we believe in and uphold the values and biblical convictions of Chi Alpha. And on the other we look to honor and respect the Cornell campus policy and community.
When we officially began working on Cornell’s campus in the fall of ’06, Chris was one of five key students who made an immediate impact on our community. For those who know Chris, that comes as no surprise. Chris is both intellectually gifted and socially engaging.
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.
Since the beginning of the fall semester our relationship to Chris has not changed, until recently. He still attended all of Chi Alpha’s functions and no one treated him any differently than before. Chris was the only student I had a standing weekly lunch appointment with and I also filled out a recommendation form for him to get a job after he graduates. This semester, Chris stepped away from Chi Alpha and I honored his request for space, although Tracy and I deeply missed his company on a personal level.
I am sure that for many, my statements will not change your view of Tracy and me, Chi Alpha or the Christian community at large. I am sure that there are those who still think that when I say I love Chris and am not angry with him at all, I am being insincere or contradictory. But if you know Chris, ask him. You will discover that this situation is more complex than most students on campus seem to believe.