Christian group faces backlash from DePaul students after controversial post about LGBTQIA+ ‘lifestyle’



Statue of Msgr. John J. Egan in front of DePaul Student Center in Lincoln Park. Inscribed on the pedestal is “What are you doing for justice?”

DePaul sophomore Brigid O’Brien was sitting inside local coffeehouse the Bourgeois Pig Cafe Wednesday evening with her roommates, senior Alexandra Murphy and junior Grace Lewandowski, when her attention turned to an instagram post on Murphy’s phone.  

O’Brien’s eyes widened when she saw the post on screen. It was a post by a group with the username “vessel.oncampus,” which goes by “Vessel,” that included messaging both O’Brien and Murphy categorize as harmful. O’Brien herself identifies as bisexual. 

“We were super pissed,” O’Brien said.

Vessel, a Christian group meeting at DePaul, addressed the group’s view on LGBTQ+ “lifestyles.” The post stated as follows:

“We are non-affirming. This means we do not agree that the LGBTQIA+ lifestyle is supported by biblical text. Below are verses which support this.”

The post then cited 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, an excerpt from the Bible that in many versions says, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves … will inherit the kingdom of God.”

A screenshot from Vessel’s Instagram account, “@vessel.oncampus,” in which the group stated its beliefs concerning those who identify as LGBTQIA+. For reasons unclear, the group’s account was no longer on Instagram shortly after the post went up.

The messaging immediately upset the trio of roommates, who all felt a need to act. Still in the coffee shop, O’Brien and her roommates drafted a petition with the goal of barring Vessel from meeting on campus. It quickly garnered more support than she anticipated.

“It gained a bunch of traction and then by the end of the night, we had got maybe like 200-something signatures,” O’Brien said. “The next day, it just kept getting shared.”

At the time of publishing, the petition had received 550 signatures, showing O’Brien, Murphy and Lewandowski were not alone in their feelings that the group’s messaging was discriminatory.  

Though it is likely many students were unaware of Vessel until last week, Murphy said she has known of the group from its start in October. Previously, Murphy was a member of a non-denominational campus ministry group known as InterVarsity, which meets regularly on campus and is a registered group at DePaul. 

According to Murphy, Vessel originated in the fall quarter 2022 after a group of students left InterVarsity. Murphy said these members started this new group because of their non-affirming beliefs, a point of contention as many members of InterVarsity do not see those who identify as LGBTQIA+ the same way that most Vessel’s founding members do.

“I can say concretely that I know that’s why,” Murphy said. “[InterVarsity] had a retreat over the summer where two of the head leaders for Vessel had approached me and assumed that I believed the same.”

While Murphy and O’Brien both find the group’s messaging discriminatory, they also call into question two other issues concerning religious groups at DePaul. First, Murphy and O’Brien’s petition cast light onto the fact that Vessel was meeting regularly on campus property, a violation of DePaul policy as Vessel is not registered with the Office of Student Involvement (OSI).

In a statement to The DePaulia, university spokesperson Russell Dorn said that the Division of Student Affairs, “celebrates the diversity of student body, faculty and staff, and committed to social justice and service to others.” 

The statement also addressed the current situation regarding Vessel.

“Vessel is not a registered student organization and – it is important to note – has not been reserving use of space through the university,” Dorn wrote. “In addition, Vessel has not submitted an application to be recognized as a student organization at DePaul.”

Screenshots of the group’s Instagram indicate it did indeed aspire to become an officially registered group at DePaul, stating “we are not DePaul affiliated,” but “we are looking to become a club soon.”

Secondly, the episode illustrates what Murphy and O’Brien believe is a lax anti-discrimination policy in place at DePaul. In wake of Wednesday’s events and the attention their petition received, the two said they met with Associate Dean of Students, Leslie Watland on Friday. In the meeting, they soon found out DePaul’s discrimination policy does not prohibit the messaging used in the group’s Instagram post.

“Technically speaking, a group at DePaul can be non-affirming to the queer community as long as they don’t openly disclose it and [say] like, ‘okay, if you’re a certain sexual orientation, you can’t meet with our group,’” O’Brien said. 

A statement issued by Vessel to The DePaulia on Sunday.

O’Brien and Murphy said the policy does not give any specific guidelines for messaging with campus groups, nor does it state any regulations regarding organization communication that LGBTQ+ individuals might find discriminatory.

“[We’re] both frustrated about the situation, just because I don’t think it’s made very clear in the anti-discrimination policy,” Murphy said. “You know, it [doesn’t have] to be really bad discrimination and harassment for it to be a problem.”

While she expects DePaul to take action against Vessel as the group violated policy by holding meetings on campus without registering, O’Brien sees Wednesday night’s post as just one example of a group taking advantage of the ambiguity in DePaul’s guidelines.

“It’s kind of a loophole for them to use that language, because they can say they’re not affirming,” O’Brien said. “As long as they say they welcome everyone, it doesn’t go against anything.”

Soon after the post began to receive further attention Wednesday night, the Instagram account could no longer be found, the reason for which is unclear. Because of this, minimal information is available regarding the group, which Murphy said she believes has somewhere between 15-20 members.

The DePaulia contacted several members of Vessel in hopes of conducting an interview for this story. The group declined requests for an interview and instead issued the following statement to The DePaulia:

“Recently, our small group Vessel was questioned on our views of sexuality and relationships. In no way did we intend to harm, or seem to ostracize or reject the LGBTQIA+ community at DePaul. In fact, we would much rather focus on worship and community building, key aspects of our faith community. We have reached out to those who have raised issues with our group (none of these people have attended or attempted to attend a meeting) in order to promote conversation and understanding, but none have followed up on this. 

“Disagreement is not harassment, but we apologize for any hurt we may have caused in how we have communicated things. As Christ-followers we commit to finding better ways to communicate and peacefully coexist with those who disagree with the tenets of our faith. We believe all people are deeply loved by our Creator and that’s why our focus is on Jesus. We believe He wants a personal relationship with everyone. Our mission was to provide a space for all to discover what that looks like through worship, community building, and Bible study.”

Vessel, which identified itself as “small group” of Christ-followers in its statement, did not say whether it plans to continue to meet or register with OSI.

On Sunday evening, Spectrum DePaul, a community-based queer student organization posted a statement to its Instagram in response to Vessel’s Wednesday night post. In the post, Spectrum said it is “ashamed by the people in the DePaul community who would attempt to form an organization with values based on exclusion and bigotry.” 

While O’Brien and Murphy both hope the petition and its accompanying support garners a change in policy regarding the kind of language Vessel used, they cannot help but be disheartened by the use of it.

“In some way, with the quoting of the Bible verse, I think to an extent, that is still discrimination,” Murphy said. “Regardless of it being outward harassment necessarily, or being like, ‘you cannot come to our group,’ it’s discrimination.” 

For O’Brien, Vessel’s messaging and the DePaul policy that allows for it is an example of a deeper hypocrisy by religious groups that share this view of those who identify as LGBTQ+.

“I just wonder how you sit there with a good conscience and be like, ‘yes, our love is conditional, but it’s okay because that’s what God wanted,’” O’Brien said.


Editors note: No one involved in the writing, reporting or editorial processes concerning this story is affiliated with Vessel, nor does any of The DePaulia staff belong to the group.