ST. PAUL -- A student at Concordia University in St. Paul is demanding protections for gays and lesbians after she said her relationship with another woman cost her a leadership role with a prominent student-led worship group.
Nikki Hagan, 19, of Woodbury said the student president of Concordia’s 908 student ministry asked her to resign her informal post as the group’s message coordinator soon after she posted on Facebook in November that she is bisexual and dating a woman.
“He asked me if I knew what the stance of the (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) church is against homosexuality,” Hagan, a second-year student, said Friday.
Hagan said she told him she didn’t think her sexuality would affect her responsibilities of lining up speakers for worship services, but he indicated he had no choice.
“He said that we’ve been forced to have you resign from 908,” she said.
The 908 president consulted with university pastor Tom Gundermann, who advises the group, before asking her to step down.
Gundermann on Tuesday said he feels terribly for Hagan and the group’s president. While his personal views align with the teachings of the church, he said he did not recommend that Hagan be immediately removed from her position. Still, he takes responsibility for the outcome.
“I did not instruct him to let her go that night. However, my personal view is the decision that he came to,” Gundermann said.
“I failed to slow the process down and include more people in the situation,” he added.
University president Tom Ries, who since has met with Hagan, said she should not have had to leave her position.
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation for everybody involved,” Ries said Monday.
“One individual made this decision asking Nikki to step down, and she agreed to do that. And I wish that hadn’t happened.”
The 908 ministry president could not be reached for comment.
Hagan said she hasn’t been invited back to her position with 908 but that she wouldn’t be comfortable returning anyway.
The university is one of 10 in the country operated by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which teaches that homosexual acts are sinful but that all people must be respected.
Synod members are divided on sexuality issues. According to surveys by the Pew Research Center last year, 56 percent said homosexuality should be accepted, while 31 percent said it should be discouraged. Forty-five percent said they support same-sex marriage, while 48 percent said they oppose it.
Among all U.S. adults, 62 percent say homosexuality should be accepted, and 53 percent support same-sex marriage.
Ries said homosexuality is “an ongoing topic on our campus,” but Hagan’s story has given the issue greater prominence than in years past.
Hagan said friends urged her to press the issue. Supporters are holding a series of events this week, including a protest rally on campus Friday afternoon. A GoFundMe site has garnered more than $600 in donations, and supporters are using the social media hashtag #IStandWithNikki.
Hagan said she has received tepid support from school leaders. She said they’ve promised to create a dialogue about respecting people’s differences.
“They have tried stuff like that before, and it has obviously not worked,” she said.
Hagan wants sexual preference included in the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which so far covers only “age, race, color, disability, gender, national and ethnic origin.”
Ries said he supports the idea, but he’s uncertain about the legal implications of such a move and said it would require input from the church.
“I feel we don’t discriminate, but to the extent that we can (change the policy), I’d like to see that happen,” he said.
More immediately, Ries said he wants to establish a student support group for LGBT people and their allies. Of the 10 Concordia campuses, only Portland, Ore., has such a group.
“Each time that I’ve tried to do that, it’s kind of come to a dead end” because of a lack of interest, he said. However, Ries said, this time could be different.
Hagan, who grew up Catholic, said she has enjoyed being a part of a Christ-centered university. But she’s been troubled by the church’s stance on homosexuality and she’s not sure she wants to stay through graduation.
“I just want Concordia to practice its ‘Christ is honored, all are welcome’ mission statement,” she said. If you don’t follow traditional gender roles, she said, “You’re obviously not completely welcome.”
By Josh Verges