A clash of faith and identity

Finding a safe place of worship has posed a challenged for some LGBT students.

By Hannah Weikel
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When psychology and computer science freshman Lily Dunk came to the University of Minnesota this fall, she searched for a place of worship that would accept her bisexual identity.

She found a United Methodist ministry — the University’s Wesley Foundation — to call home, but only after 10 other religious organizations turned her down.

She’s not the only person facing religious sanctions for her sexual orientation — the Mormon Church announced earlier this month it no longer accepts same-sex married couples or their unbaptized children.

But the change comes as a surprise to some Mormon followers, who say the church seemed to be liberalizing its views on homosexuality.

University English and history professor John Watkins said the church’s view on same-sex relationships has changed drastically over the years.

“It seemed like the church was moving toward a more gay-affirming, liberal stance [before this change],” Watkins said. “They have started to accept gay people but not gay acts.”

Music master’s student and Latter-day Saints Student Association President Sarah Keene said she was surprised when she heard about the new policy.

Still, she said she thinks the church made its decision to shield children from the confusion of learning about heterosexual relationships from religious leaders and going home to same-sex parents.

“From outside the church, it seems old-fashioned and strange,” Keene said. “But from inside the church, it’s clear the leaders are reaching for more of an understanding.”

Bob Haskins, a bishop at the Twin Cities Young Single Adult Ward, a local LDS church, said when a member feels same-sex attraction and wants to remain part of the church, there are steps religious leaders will help them take to realign with Mormon teachings.

He said the process is similar to addiction therapy and continues so long as the member refrains from marrying or engaging in sexual encounters with someone of the same sex.

Same-sex couples knowingly go against the teachings of the Mormon church when they enter into a marriage contract, Watkins said.

“They don’t align with the gospel and teachings,” Haskins said. “So why would you want to be a member of this church?”

John Gustav-Wrathall, senior vice president of the Minneapolis chapter of Affirmation, an organization for LGBTQ Mormons, left the Mormon faith when he came out as a sophomore in college. He’s rejoined the church since then and has been married to the same man for 23 years.

But since the change, Gustav-Wrathall said he’s not sure what will happen to his Mormon membership.

“The ruling disappointed people who thought a grass-roots change [in favor of same-sex marriage] would happen,” he said.

Some Mormon bishops accepted same-sex married couples and baptized their children before the international change, Gustav-Wrathall said.

But the new policy holds all Mormon bishops to the same standards, Watkins said, and creates a solidified position on same-sex marriage.

Still, younger Mormons are more accepting of gay marriage, he said.

“We know a lot more about sexuality than we did 50 years ago,” Watkins said. “Every religion changes over time — history happens.”