A United Ministry investigation has concluded and another College investigation is ongoing into whether Annenberg cook Larry Houston engaged in proselytizing.
Houston, who considers himself “ex-gay,” says he came to Harvard to help those “struggling with homosexuality.” Several administrators and other University officials have expressed concern over his presence on campus since a profile of Houston appeared in The Crimson three weeks ago.
Harvard’s United Ministry concluded on Tuesday that Houston is not officially linked with any campus ministry and therefore is not under its jurisdiction.
And Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 is investigating concerns raised among the deans that Houston may be proselytizing. He said he will present any evidence he gathers to Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS), Houston’s employer.
“If you know students who had a negative experience [with Houston], then by all means tell them to come to me,” Illingworth said.
Houston denies proselytizing to any Harvard students. He says that any allegations against him are just politically motivated. “Maybe I should put a bigger target on my back,” he joked.
A complaint by a chaplain prompted the United Ministry to investigate whether or not Houston is engaged in proselytizing. Last Thursday, the Executive Committee of United Ministry directed United Ministry President Rev. C. Irving Cummings to gather evidence on the situation.
His first order of business was to determine if Houston is a member of any chaplaincy. Only if Houston was officially linked to a chaplaincy would Cummings investigate whether Houston engaged in proselytizing. All chaplaincies of United Ministry must sign an agreement that says neither they nor their members will engage in proselytizing.
“I would consider him a member [of a chaplaincy] if he is known to those chaplains,” Cummings said.
Based on the Crimson article which described Houston’s involvement with members of Christian Impact (CI), Cummings scheduled a meeting with Pat McLeod, who serves as chaplain of Campus Crusade for Christ, an umbrella organization of CI.
In an interview with The Crimson, McLeod said he did not know Houston personally, asking at one point if he is a student.
“As far as I know, he’s not involved with CI at all,” said McLeod, a graduate student at Boston University who said he is “involved with [CI] students but not on a weekly basis.”
“This is not a Christian Impact thing,” he said, referring to Houston and the ex-gay movement.
After speaking with McLeod on Tuesday, Cummings concluded that Houston has “no connection with CI.”
“I’m not employed by any campus ministry,” Houston said. He has only attended CI events that he was invited to by individual members of the group, Houston said.
This year he is attending Alpha, a weekly CI Bible study “trying to acquaint people with Christianity,” according to Houston, although he has missed two of the four meetings so far.
“This is the limit of what we can do,” Cummings said. “There is no connection with him and us, so we really don’t have any authority with which to act.”
As an openly gay man, Cummings said he was in “an awkward position” during the investigation.
“I personally think he’s way out of line to be doing anything except doing what he was hired to do,” he said. “But that’s not my call to make. I’m not his employer.”
But some members of United Ministry wonder why the organization can’t take action against Houston.
“What happens when someone is acting in a religious way but is not part of the ministries?” said a member of United Ministry who asked not to be named.
“Can any religiously oriented person come here and set up shop on their own?” he asked.
“Students who are eating in Annenberg have a right to get their meals without anybody preaching at them,” Illingworth said.
He said he doesn’t have “an exact plan at this point,” adding that he is just “waiting to get more information.”
“We’re right in the middle of this right now,” he said.
But Illingworth emphasized that he doesn’t have any authority in dealing with Houston.
“If we get any evidence we will present it to Dining Services,” he said.
HUDS will ultimately make any employment decisions about Houston.
The day the Crimson article came out, Annenberg Manager Kay D’Andria told the dining hall staff not to talk about
the article with Houston.
“It goes to not giving him a hostile workplace,” HUDS Director of Marketing and Communications Alix McNitt said.
Houston said the article actually improved his relationship with his coworkers. They already knew why he had come to Harvard and would kid him about it, he says.
But in the past few weeks, “their respect has grown,” he said.
It’s not entirely clear what the HUDS policy regarding their employees’ speech is.
“[Houston] is entitled to say what he needs to say as an American,” McNitt said in an interview with The Crimson two weeks ago. “He has every right to say what he needs to say and feel whatever he wants to feel.”
But this week, she declined to comment on Houston.
And HUDS Executive Director Ted A. Mayer wrote yesterday in an e-mail that “neither the University nor HUDS has a specific, written policy regarding employee speech. Issues get resolved on a case-by-case basis.”
He declined to comment on Houston.
Houston said he wasn’t aware of the United Ministry investigation or the College investigation before being contacted by The Crimson.
“No one has called me about anything,” he said.
“Don’t these people have better things to do than discuss a newspaper article because certain people are offended?” Houston asked.
“There is nothing to complain about,” he added.
He said he thinks those making accusations simply disagree with his views.
“They’re trying to silence a voice,” he said.
Lately, Houston has been busy writing a book about his personal stories and “some of the lies and mistruths that the gay community puts out.”
His biggest recent letdown, he said, is that no student “struggling with homosexuality” has come to speak with him since the Crimson article.
“I’m kind of disappointed about that,” Houston said with a sigh.
—Staff writer Amit R. Paley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.