The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Local churches provide safe space for LGBTQ+ community

As restricting legislation looms, many local churches offer respite for the LGBTQ+ community.
Ava Neumaier
A church leader speaks during a service at Sanctuary Community Center, a church in Coralville, on Sunday, March 3, 2024. Adey and Tom Wassink are pastors who advocate for women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights within their organization.

Rooted in their passion for an open, inclusive church, Adey and Tom Wassink left their denomination and started their own.

Sanctuary Community Church in Coralville has grown into a supportive space for the LGBTQ+ community.

It took 16 years for the couple to fully extricate themselves from their previous denomination and form their own church. In 2016, Sanctuary threw a “coming out party,” said Senior Pastor Adey Wassink, announcing an official switch to becoming an openly inclusive church for LGBTQ+ members.

“We had no idea what the gift of queerness would bring to us,” Adey Wassink said. “We have been hugely shaped by the community and are super grateful to be able to have a church like this that is openly inclusive and supportive.”

Sanctuary, among many other Iowa City churches, offers respite and support for the queer community as proposed legislation looms over LGBTQ+ Iowans.

This legislative session, Iowa lawmakers introduced over 40 bills that would affect LGBTQ+ rights, according to One Iowa Action, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group. Since the first legislative deadline passed in February and another swiftly approaches in seven of the bills remain viable.

Nationwide, over 400 proposals were filed in 2023 to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, specifically transgender people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Iowa’s most recent proposed legislation includes measures to legally define “man” and “woman” in state law, requiring new birth certificates for transgender Iowans to identify both their gender assigned at birth and their current identity. A bill was also proposed that would prohibit discipline for K-12 teachers who don’t use a student’s preferred name or pronouns.

In a Feb. 1 news release, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said her bill defining “man” and “woman” and placing new requirements on identification, is “common sense” and further compared the bill to a law in 2022, which banned transgender women from participating in womens’ sports.

At a public hearing for the bill, Denise Bubeck, a lobbyist and member of conservative Christian group The Family Leader, said “it is time to codify biology” and “protect women’s spaces.”

Bubeck said females are losing access to safe spaces while biological men are gaining access, and women and girls “who speak the truth” about biological differences are being silenced and canceled.

Many churches push to become a welcoming, supportive space for LGBTQ+ members, and some, such as Sanctuary, go as far as to engage in political activism.

Iowa City churches voice opinions on legislation

Religion is not a traditional source of support for the queer community and is often used for the exact opposite. However, legislation that affects LGBTQ+ individuals has spurred many Iowa City churches to openly voice their support and engage in inclusive practices specifically for the queer community.

Members of the Iowa City United Church of Christ traveled to the state Capitol in Des Moines for Rally Day on Feb. 5 to learn more about the legislation impacting LGBTQ+ people in Iowa.

A year ago, in response to legislation, the congregation formed an LGBTQ+ subcommittee to educate themselves about the queer community and learn how to become a better ally.

Hope Spragg serves on the church’s Mission Board, which is where the subcommittee stems from, and helped coordinate the trip to the Capitol.

The four members who attended the rally learned the basics about how bills become law at the state level, then dove into the specific legislation targeting the queer community, and spoke to Iowa Rep. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, Rep Adam Zabner, D-Iowa City, and Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville

Spragg described the experience as uplifting, affirming, and inspiring.

“It’s really important for Christian churches to be overly inviting just because it has been a point of trauma for so many people in their church in the past,” Spragg said.

Spragg said the church is “trying to fly our flag a little higher” to let people know that they provide a safe space, which is part of the reason the subcommittee was formed.

“It’s not only a safe and welcoming place to be,” Spragg said. “We want to be allies and we want to stand next to and in front of you.”

Linda Muston of Iowa City has attended the United Church of Christ for about 10 years and said the church’s support for the LGBTQ+ community is nothing new.

Muston said it’s a “real mystery” as to why other churches and congregations are not as welcoming and supportive of the queer community.

“It’s part of the fiber and fabric of who we are and what we believe,” Muston said. “That’s why I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be a part of this because it’s just business as usual for us.”

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City is on a roster of LGBTQ+ affirming and inclusive faith communities and holds a title as a reconciling in Christ congregation, meaning they welcome and advocate for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.

However, Gloria Dei Pastor Sarah Goettsch said it means nothing if the community doesn’t know the church is welcoming, and that they can’t expect people to just “walk through the door.”

Goettsch wanted to extend the church’s support outside of their building and into the broader Iowa City community, so she reached out to local drag artists who perform at Big Grove Brewery and asked how the congregation could offer their support.

“We want to be a visible and active support of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Goettsch said. “We want to support the drag community, and I said, ‘How can we do that?’”

The conversation sparked an ongoing relationship between the congregation and the drag artists of Iowa City. The congregation holds a table at the performers’ monthly drag shows at the brewery. Goettsch herself has only missed one performance in over two years.

Changes in the church

The Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church approved a new vision two years ago, allowing same-sex marriages and ordaining gay clergy to serve without fear of church charges, resulting in the loss of more than 142 Iowa churches that chose to disaffiliate from the denomination.

Before disaffiliation within the church, the United Methodist Church was the third-largest denomination in the nation, but disputes involving LGBTQ+ policies caused the departure of more than 7,650 churches across the country, or over a quarter of the total U.S. congregation.

The Wesley Center at the University of Iowa separated from the United Methodist Church in 2022, citing a misalignment between the center’s commitment to LGBTQ+ students and the denomination’s official stance that resulted in “direct attacks from the church body that once supported [the organization],” as written in a statement from the center.

Although the center is rooted in Christian tradition, it is no longer connected to any particular Christian denomination and holds space for people of all beliefs, said Rev. Sean McRoberts, director of operations and development.

The Wesley Center is the only queer-led campus spiritual community at the University of Iowa, and offers a Tuesday Table program, a gathering for a meal and conversation, drop-in hours, and occasional short-term programming at its location in Old Brick.

Adey Wassink said it’s not unusual for churches to preach directly against the LGBTQ+ community on a Sunday morning, and many members of the queer community have had terrible experiences in churches.

“We are praying with them; we are crying with them. We are saying ‘Oh, God, we are so sorry that that happened to you.’ Part of our support is just saying ‘We care, and your love matters to us, and we want to learn how to be in it with you,’” Adey Wassink said.

Tom Wassink, staff pastor at Sanctuary, said those who have been excluded from church come to the center of the organization to shape it, to have a voice, and to produce influence.

Furthering advocacy in church

As a spurt of legislation in Iowa threatens the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in the state, Iowa City churches are speaking out and attempting to implement long-lasting change.

Rev. William Lovin with the United Church of Christ said his biggest concern about some of Iowa’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is that it uses the protection of religion as a way to discriminate.

Lovin said the congregation supports the LGBTQ+ community and all people because they understand God as one who loves all people.

“We want to invite people into that kind of relationship with God and God’s love,” Lovin said.

UCC Mission Board member Spragg described the legislation as unnecessary, damaging, and a poor use of resources. She said supporting the LGBTQ+ community is a biblical calling and the designation of Christians.

Spragg said she desires fast change from the legislature, but ultimately it is a “long game.”

“The change that I like for my children and my friends in the UCC to do is to plant seeds, and whether those seeds are ready to germinate and grow right now, or if they’re just seeds that we can support and nurture and water that will someday … build and grow outward,” Spragg said. “We just have to take the small changes or the small wins and then just keep doing the work.”

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About the Contributors
Roxy Ekberg
Roxy Ekberg, Politics Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.