Three years after the events that sparked outrage across campus, Chi Alpha remains under scrutiny.
Chi Alpha’s presence on campus has been a contentious subject from the moment the group was formed. Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship (XA) is a national network of Christian ministries sponsored by the Assemblies of God that operates specifically on college campuses. Their name means “Christ’s Ambassadors.” For some, the organization is a source of faith and belonging, but for many others, it’s a source of trauma. During the 2018-2019 school year, Chi Alpha came under fire for its aggressive recruitment practices and homophobic beliefs. Hendrix barred non-student leadership from coming on campus for a year, after they violated the college’s Religious Life Ethical Framework. Now, Chi Alpha and its leaders are back on campus, leaving many wondering if the organization has changed since these issues first came to light. This article features interviews from Chi Alpha members (both former and present), Hendrix faculty, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and student senators in order to understand the tumultuous relationship between Chi Alpha and the college.
There are now two classes of students on campus who were not here to see what happened with Chi Alpha in 2018. A queer Hendrix student, who asked to remain anonymous, had a roommate who was a Chi Alpha member. The student felt pressure to join Chi Alpha due to their “intense recruiting process with multiple events a week.” Ultimately, the student went to a worship service thinking that there would be no harm indulging them once. However, going to a single service only increased the intensity of their recruiting methods, and the student felt pressured to become more active in the organization. Tiffany Richardson, a Chi Alpha mentor and adult leader, asked this student and her roommate to participate in regular two-on-one meetings with her (at her house, off campus), and the student reluctantly agreed.
After becoming a member of Chi Alpha, the student came out to their roommate. During a following two-on-one session, Richardson read a verse from the book of Romans that describes being gay as a sin. Verses like this are often used by conservative Christians as to justify their homophobia to the point that they have become known as “clobber passages.” Richardson stopped and asked if either of them had been struggling with this “sin,” saying, “Your silence is an answer, so we aren’t going to move on until someone says something.” Feeling like they had no choice, the student told Richardson about their sexuality. Richardson told the student that “being queer will keep others from coming to Christ,” because “sexuality labels are antithetical to everything that the Bible teaches.”
Richardson then invited the student to go on a “journey,” with the support of Chi Alpha, from the sin of homosexuality back to God’s intentions for them. Richardson suggested that part of each week’s two-on-one would be a check-in and discussion of the student’s progress. She assigned the student “homework,” which included praying, searching the Bible for verses that present being gay as a sin, and then beginning to commit those verses to memory. When the two-on-one ended, the student talked with their partner about the meeting and decided to send a text to Richardson. In the message, they left Chi Alpha and explained to Richardson that what she had said was wrong and hurtful. After this, regular correspondence stopped.
When the student shared their story with the campus, many other students came forward with similar ones. A 2020 Hendrix alumnus began gathering these stories to bring to the Student Senate. With so many students coming forward, it was clear to the Senate and to Hendrix’s staff that Chi Alpha’s behavior was not just a single episode but endemic to the group. The college determined that Chi Alpha had violated the College’s Religious Life Ethical Framework. Ultimately, senior leadership were barred from campus for a year, and the administration enforced stricter rules about when and where Chi Alpha can recruit students.
In the college’s discussions with Chi Alpha’s senior leadership, Richardson’s husband, Michael – a fellow Chi Alpha leader – promised she would take a step back from the organization, after Hendrix students and administration critiqued her treatment of LGBTQ+ students. However, according to the 2020-2021 Chi Alpha Constitution, Tiffany Richardson is still a member of the organization’s mentorship team. And, according to the Chi Alpha Instagram, she is just as involved as ever.
Interviewing current Chi Alpha members left me with more questions than answers. Every Chi Alpha member that was interviewed insisted that there was a difference between the national and campus organizations. Despite many students’ insistence that they are distinct, the two groups operate under the same name. Furthermore, Chi Alpha Hendrix’s Constitution states, “The chapter shall seek a charter annually with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, USA (National Chi Alpha) because of the common goals which both organizations pursue… Affiliation with Chi Alpha is a privilege. National Chi Alpha reserves the right at any time and for any reason to withdraw its charter from a chapter. In the event that National Chi Alpha rejects this chapter’s charter, this chapter commits to change its name.”
The sponsorship by the National Assemblies of God doesn’t help their case either. In an official position paper which the General Presbytery adopted in 2014, they state “There is also abundant evidence that homosexual behavior….is immoral and comes under the judgment of God.” They go further still, identifying “homosexual behavior” as a physical or mental problem. Linda Seiler is a national Chi Alpha Missionary and claims to be a “reformed” transgender person. Seiler openly advocates for conversion therapy and prayer to correct “homosexual desires and transgenderism.”
The disdain for members of the LGBTQ+ community is not just a national problem. Last year, a UCA student regularly gave her testimony about how she became a “reformed” bisexual and invited students struggling with their sexuality to talk to her. This homophobia was present in interviews with current Chi Alpha members as well. When an interviewee was asked about how Chi Alpha views members of the LGBTQ+ community, he said that “we hate the sin rather than the sinner…scripture is more clear on that issue in describing what Christ said and believed.” Chi Alpha is a part of a larger sect of Christian fundamentalists who take each word of the Bible literally, further suggesting that no significant changes to the organization’s practices and beliefs have been made in the last two years.
Wes, a transgender student who went to a Chi Alpha service just two weeks ago, said that speaker casually began to talk about suicide and mental illness during the sermon. The speaker said that if someone was mentally ill, then they needed God in their life because prayer has a power that can fix anything. Wes wanted to leave during the service, finding the message to be very triggering; however, all the doors to the room were closed, and he and his friend felt trapped. At this point, he was crying. They planned to leave as soon as the service was over, but many Chi Alpha members approached them, inviting them to Devotional Groups (D Groups) and trying to get their phone numbers. Despite it being very evident that he was crying, no one asked Wes if he was okay. Wes said that the looks he received when he told a few students that he was trans reminded him of the looks he used to get in his conservative hometown. He felt judged and disrespected, saying he “[didn’t] want to be there a second longer.” When speaking about the recruiting tactics, Wes said, “there’s a difference between welcoming and overwhelming… the things they were saying were not in support of… people like me.”
The Student Senate holds little power in the debate. Because Chi Alpha receives no funding from the college, the Senate cannot censure them. However, Chi Alpha’s association with the Assemblies of God likely still puts them at odds with the Ethical Framework. The Framework says that “Religious group directors, advisors, and their students should share their faith with others in a manner that avoids harassing, demeaning, or disregarding the integrity and freedom of other persons in making their own decisions in matters of religious faith and identity.” It is abundantly clear that this is not the case.
Hendrix has long been associated with its liberal student body. Because of this, it is baffling that so many students take part in an organization that aligns itself with these values. One of the students interviewed said that it is “frustrating and surprising to [learn that] people you consider friends are a part of Chi Alpha…. there are so many other queer-affirming faith groups on campus.” There is undoubtedly a degree of cognitive dissonance involved with Hendrix students who are a part of Chi Alpha. Many of them represent themselves online as allies, yet they actively align themselves with an organization that rejects the legitimacy of LGBTQ identities.
Looking forward, it is essential that we not forget these wrongdoings. Allowing such an organization to continue to exist unchanged puts our campus at risk of becoming complicit in the harm that it perpetuates. These stories must continue to be retold by future generations of Hendrix students so that history does not repeat itself.