Campus ministry causes controversy

With the return of Chi Alpha to campus this year, many students are curious about what is going on. What exactly happened last year? Has anything changed? What does this mean for students’ comfort and safety, especially LQBTQ+ students? Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship (XA) is a national network of Christian ministries sponsored by the Assemblies of God which operates specifically on college campuses.

Their mission statement, as posted on their official website, is as follows: “We reconcile students to Christ, equipping them through Spirit-Filled communities of prayer, worship, fellowship, discipleship and mission to transform the university, the marketplace, and the world.”

The organization’s mission has seemingly harmless intent and provides a space for Christian college students to organize and talk about their faith. However, last year the club appeared to do more harm than good.

So, let’s catch up. Last year, several students, a large majority of which were LGBTQ+, reported being harassed by Chi Alpha staff members on the Hendrix campus. Maddie Clendening, the chair of the Committee on Gender and Sexuality (COGS) at the time, gathered these stories and crossed them with the Ethical Framework for Religious Life on Campus (EFRLC) and presented it to Dean Jim Wiltgen. These stories included several instances in which Chi Alpha staff members promoted conversion therapy and texted students, questioning their faith if they didn’t come to XA meetings. One unnamed staff member specifically told students that their sexuality had changed after accepting Christ into their life.

“I find this highly problematic. It’s adjacent to, and could even be considered, conversion therapy because they are putting it into people’s minds that if they accept Christ, their sexuality will change…It’s a dangerous precedent to set. I think it’s in bad taste and in bad faith,” sophomore Jack Sparkman said.

After discussing the stories in reference to the EFRLC, it was determined that the Chi Alpha staff undeniably broke the code of ethics and the club was asked to leave campus for a year.

Now that the new year has started, the organization has returned and is being given another chance, though many students are leery. After junior Roth Coats delivered a statement as to why he and many other students are uncomfortable with XA being back on campus, the XA students agreed to issue a statement to the student body addressing their intents as an organization and the faults of the previous year.

The XA leadership met twice with the Student Senate exec. team to construct the message and allow Senate to edit the statement. After reaching a final draft, the XA team presented the statement to the entirety of Student Senate, allowing for comments, many of which were those of disapproval. The statement, unedited, was then released to the student body shortly after. Some students, upon reading the statement, felt that it didn’t effectively address the issues at hand and that it didn’t relieve the discomfort that they felt about the organization’s presence on campus.

“I don’t believe that students can fully apologize or be fully held responsible for the actions of the staff. I do believe that an apology should be made by the staff. Do I think that’s ever going to be made? No,” Sparkman remarked.

Though much of the tension and distrust still remain, many Chi Alpha students are attempting to have conversations with students in order to gain a better understanding of how they can improve their organization’s perspective and approach.

“We want our LGBTQ+ students and students of other faith backgrounds to feel safe; that’s a priority,” senior Maddie Clendening said.

Perhaps, with effective communication and understanding, Chi Alpha will again earn the trust of the student body. But until then, discomfort remains prevalent, and tensions unresolved.

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