A student at Carson-Newman College says he was removed from leadership in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes after telling a chapter president he was voting for John Kerry.
That contradicts official reports from FCA leaders, who say the matter has been resolved and had nothing to do with politics.
Asked last month to respond to rumors about the flap, Joshua Sonoga, an east Tennessee regional FCA staff member who volunteers as a kicking coach for the Carson-Newman football team, told EthicsDaily.com the dispute was not over politics but rather theological issues that he declined to disclose.
That prompted the student in question, who had not answered previous e-mails on the topic, to write a lengthy response labeling Sonoga’s explanation “an absurd lie.”
John Dalton told EthicsDaily.com that he confronted chapter co-president Matt Sexton privately because he felt FCA meetings were too political. Dalton said he knew from comments made at the meetings that Sexton was supporting President Bush, and the other co-president, Brady Tarr, had passed out Bush pins at the front door of FCA meetings.
After he informed Sexton of his political views and his plans to vote for Kerry, Dalton said his friend sought to change his mind, criticizing not only Kerry’s views on abortion and homosexuality but other issues including his healthcare plan.
Two days later, Sexton called and asked for another meeting, where he told Dalton he had prayed about it and reached a conclusion that Dalton’s “spiritual discernment” was incorrect because of the way he was going to vote.
Dalton said Sexton quoted evangelicals who said a person could not vote for John Kerry and be right with God and told him there were two options in the election for a Christian: “to vote for Bush or not to vote at all.”
Dalton said he backed up his political beliefs with Scripture in a letter at Sexton’s request. A few days later Sexton asked for another meeting, this time including Sonoga.
Both men argued voting for Kerry was wrong for a variety of reasons. Dalton said Sonoga felt better after Dalton made it clear in the meeting that he agreed that abortion and homosexuality are wrong.
Dalton said he thought the issue was settled, but the next week he received another call. Though he had already voted, he was told there were “other reasons” for the meeting. At the second meeting with Sonoga and Sexton, Dalton said, they said he was too affectionate in public with his fiancÃ©e and overzealous in pursuit of a leadership position.
Dalton told EthicsDaily.com he had never been informed of those charges before and had received nothing but praise for his service to FCA, which amounted to about eight hours a week.
Dalton asked if the “other reasons” added up were enough to dismiss him from leadership and they told him no, but Sexton once again brought up concerns about Dalton’s “spiritual discernment.”
Dalton said he left the meeting angry and later called Sexton to make sure he had the reasons straight. “So it was my political preference?” he asked, to which Sexton allegedly replied, “No, it is your biblical worldview.”
By the next day, Dalton said, a new reason emerged: allegations that he could not sign the FCA’s Ministry Leadership Application. Dalton said he looked the document up on-line and agreed with everything in the belief statement and also met standards of a sexual-purity statement against sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.
Dalton said he confronted Sonoga with the fact that he could sign the leadership statement, and Sonoga apologized, telling him they had acted too quickly and that Dalton had “done nothing wrong” to warrant dismissal from leadership.
Dalton said he was satisfied when Sonoga told him he would apologize in front of the entire FCA, until Sonoga said in the public apology that it had nothing to do with politics.
“That is a lie,” Dalton said. “The conversations were all centered on politics.”
Dalton said even if Sonoga and Sexton admitted that politics were a small part of the reason, that would be too much for a religious organization.
“FCA should not be a political platform, but it has been used for that over and over by these two acting presidents,” he said.
Neither of the two co-presidents responded to e-mail requests for comment. Asked to comment about Dalton’s accusing him of lying, Sonoga told EthicsDaily.com: “I am the one who made the decision, and I can without a shadow of a doubt tell you that it was not political. If this doesn’t help you, then I do not know what else can be done or said.”
Dalton said he originally planned not to respond to EthicsDaily.com but became angry at Sonoga’s statement. “The fact is the meetings had everything to do with politics,” Dalton said.
Dal Shealy, who retires as president and CEO of the Kansas City-based Fellowship of Christian Athletes in March, also serves as a Carson-Newman trustee. He told EthicsDaily.com that he had investigated the incident and the word he received was the discussion was over whether FCA should be more tolerant of homosexuality but that amends had been made.
“FCA is not going to be a political forum,” Shealy said. While students may get into a political discussion, which may have happened at Carson-Newman, that is not an FCA action.
“We have Democrats and Republicans and lots of people of different denominations and different beliefs,” Shealy said.
“We were assured it was not about the political aspects of it,” Shealy said. He said FCA would not “take a liberal stance on homosexuals,” but “everyone is welcome to come to an FCA meeting.”
Dalton told EthicsDaily.com that interest in the controversy has died down in recent weeks, but some students are circulating a petition calling for an investigation.
David Nowell, Carson-Newman’s vice president for advancement, said the matter had been reviewed by both academic and student-affairs personnel.
“While there remains significant disagreement about precisely what precipitated Mr. Dalton’s dismissal as on officer of FCA, we are all in agreement that the actions taken were inappropriate,” Nowell said in a statement. “It is our understanding that the way has been cleared for Mr. Dalton to be reinstated if he so desires, and it is our hope that the lessons learned from this matter will allow this chapter to better reflect the high ideals of FCA and Carson-Newman College.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.