(WNS) -- Psalm 100, a Christian a cappella group at the University of North Carolina, struck a few dissonant chords around the Chapel Hill campus as school started when its members voted to expel a fellow singer because of his views on homosexuality. The decision to remove openly gay student Will Thomason sparked a backlash against the group and prompted school officials to launch an anti-discrimination investigation.
Psalm 100 is just the latest Christian student group to run afoul of school policies that favor inclusion and tolerance over freedom of religion.
Critics are lambasting the group for its "intolerance" in posts to its Facebook page and letters to the campus newspaper, which first reported the story, but Psalm 100's members say they made their decision only after many tears and lots of prayer.
Blake Templeton, general director of the group, said the decision was tough, especially because so many people thought it was done out of hatred.
"That's so far from the truth," he said. "I want the power of God's love to be so, so clear."
Templeton stressed that the group made its decision out of love for Thomason, not hate.
Joseph Shelley, a sophomore in the group, said the decision was the most difficult he had ever had to make. Two members quit after the vote, leaving the group with eight singers.
Psalm 100, whose mission is "to spread the joy of the Lord through song," operates under a constitution based on Biblical standards, and the group concluded that Thomason's views on the group's constitution did not match up with its standards.
The university's official policy seems to support the group's ability to expel a member based on religious belief. It says: "Student organizations that select their members on the basis of commitment to a set of beliefs (e.g., religious or political beliefs) may limit membership and participation in the organization to students who … support the organization's goals and agree with its beliefs." However, the same policy says a student cannot be excluded from membership based on "sexual orientation."
Templeton said the university approved Psalm 100's original constitution, which allows its decisions to be made based on the Bible. And he stressed that it was Thomason's disagreement with the group's constitution, not his sexual orientation, that got him kicked out.
But Winston Crisp, the school's vice chancellor for student affairs, confirmed to the campus paper, The Daily Tarheel, that the removal has prompted his office to launch an investigation. Despite the controversy and criticism, Psalm 100's remaining members say they believe the situation will bring God glory.
Templeton called the controversy a good thing on a "campus where God is seldom talked about." The Christian community on campus has come together in support of the group, with ministries organizing a meeting this Friday to pray for Psalm 100.
And all of the attention has fueled interest in the little known group. After the story broke, Psalm 100 held auditions on Tuesday and Wednesday. The number of people who wanted to try out surprised Templeton.
While its decision might have lost the group some friends around campus, it does not appear to have damaged its relationship with the one person most affected -- Will Thomason.
"I love all members of Psalm 100 and know they love me as well," he said.
Publication date: September 2, 2011