LGBTQ students wrestle with tensions at Christian colleges | National

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — As monks chanted prayers at Saint John’s University church, members of the LGBTQ student organization, QPLUS, gathered in their hall at the Minnesota institution’s sister Benedictine college, a few miles away. distance.

For Sean Fisher, a senior who identifies as non-binary and helps lead QPLUS, its official recognition and funding by Saint John’s and the College of Saint Benedict is good proof that schools “recognize that there are students queer”.

But tensions linger here and at many of the hundreds of Catholic and Protestant universities in the United States. The Christian teachings they ascribe differ from societal values ​​on gender identity and sexual orientation, because they assert that God created humans in unchanging male and female identities, and that sex should only occur within the marriage of a man and a woman. woman.

“Ambivalence towards genuine care is clouded by the attitudes of Jesus. Like ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ it has an asterisk,” Fisher said.

Most of the 200 Catholic institutions that serve about 900,000 students have made an effort to be welcoming, said the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Among Protestant institutions, some go further and most hope to avoid controversy, according to John Hawthorne, a sociology professor and retired Christian college administrator.

“The denominations won’t budge, so the colleges will need to lead the way,” Hawthorne said, adding that in the future there may not be enough students interested in conservative colleges. “Today’s college freshman was born in 2004, the year Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage.”

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Most Christian schools list “sexual orientation” in their nondiscrimination statements, and half also include “gender identity,” much more than in 2013, said Jonathan Coley, an Oklahoma State University sociologist who maintains a Database of LGBTQ student policies at Christian universities. .

But putting non-discrimination into practice creates tensions and backlash. At some conservative schools, discrimination complaints have been filed, while some parents and clergy argue that more affirmative institutions are betraying their mission.

“We have to learn to live with this tension,” said the Rev. Donal Godfrey, chaplain at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution in a city with a history of LGBTQ activism and a conservative Catholic archbishop who opposes cross-marriage. same sex. .

“Catholic colleges and universities … are the most LGBTQ-friendly places in the church in the United States,” Francis DeBernando said. New Ways Ministry, the advocacy organization for LGBTQ Catholics he runs, maintains a list of Catholic colleges it deems LGBTQ-friendly.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which advocates fidelity to church teaching on Catholic education issues, maintains its own list of recommended schools.

“For these universities, being ‘Catholic’ is not a watered-down brand or storied tradition,” Newman President Patrick Reilly said by email.

Other university leaders see tension in Catholic teachings that tend to be conservative on human sexuality but progressive on social justice.

“It’s kind of a tightrope,” said John Scarano, director of campus ministry at John Carroll University, a Jesuit school near Cleveland.

To parents and prospective students torn between John Carroll and Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, Scarano says, “Here, your Catholicism will be challenged.”

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At Franciscan, “we do not stray from the truth of the human person as found in Scripture, Church tradition and the Church’s teaching authority,” said the Rev. Jonathan St. Andre, a prominent university leader. , adding that Franciscan does not tolerate bullying from those who disagree.

Student safety is a top priority, said Mary Geller, associate rector of Saint John’s and Saint Benedict. Single-sex institutions in Minnesota now admit students based on the gender they identify with and consider transfers for those who transition.

That infuriates some parents, like one father who complains “that we have students with boy parts in a girl’s dormitory,” Geller recalled. “I just said, ‘Sir, I don’t check the body parts.'”

Last year, LGBTQ students or former students at federally funded Christian schools filed a class action lawsuit against the US Department of Education, alleging that their religious exemption allows schools to unconstitutionally discriminate against LGBTQ students.

In May, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched a separate investigation into alleged violations of the rights of LGBTQ students at six Christian universities, including Liberty University.

The independent evangelical university has vastly expanded its prohibitive rules, banning LGBTQ clubs, same-sex displays of affection and the use of pronouns, bathrooms and locker rooms that do not correspond to a person’s birth sex. Liberty’s student handbook prohibits statements and behaviors associated with what it calls “LGBT states of mind.”

“Liberty is very anti-gay,” said Sydney Windsor, a senior who came to Liberty to quell her attraction to women and now identifies as pansexual. “These are years of irreversible trauma.”

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