There’s been a bit of a fracas lately over a Christian University in my neck of the woods. Trinity Western University was founded in 1962 as a Christian University and has continued as such, having now become the country’s largest independent Christian liberal arts institution. Last year the school was granted the appropriate permissions and accreditations to form a law school.
Given the school’s excellent academic standing with its A+ rating for quality education (The Globe and Mail) and #1 ranking in other NSSE categories such as academic challenge, student-faculty interaction and enriching educational experience (NSSE) it really cannot be said that TWU lacks in any academic standing or ability to produce top quality grads and the decision to award accreditation for a law school was largely uncontested.
The fracas developed because the Law Society of British Columbia proposed to disallow graduates of this school to practice law in the province. Their reasoning for this essentially boils down to: “We don’t like you, you can’t play with us.” You see, TWU has a Community Covenant Agreement that students who attend must agree to sign. Pretty much all universities do btw. A code of conduct agreement somewhere that every applicant signs agreeing to abide by the particular rules of the school they wish to attend. UBC for instance leaves its own so vague that they end up stating; “The following list sets out specific examples of prohibited conduct…: it is not an exhaustive list and students should be aware that their conduct may still be considered prohibited conduct under this Code even if it does not appear in the list below.” (UBC Conduct)
The difference in this case is that TWU – an openly and proud Christian University has based its covenant on Christian principles as set out in the Christian Bible.
Shocker. A privately funded Christian University wanting to promote and setting its on-site codes of conduct to Biblical principles. What madness is this?
In the first section, the covenant asks members to commit themselves, while members of the TWU community, to Christian virtues; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… to live exemplary lives characterized by honesty, generosity and integrity and to be responsible citizens. In the second part it asks that members voluntarily abstain from gossip, prejudice and harassment of any form, also drunkenness and underage or on-campus use of alcohol and the issue in question: sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. The full covenant can be seen here.
What did I find interesting about all that? Was that nowhere does the school ever say what you must be or think, just how you must behave while a member. TWU does not restrict its admittance to those of the Christian faith or to straights or to any other group. They have always admitted people of various faiths and students who declare themselves part of the LGB community. They have never demanded these people change who they are or what they believe – simply said that if you want to come to my House, you take your shoes off while you’re here.
People keep shouting about discrimination. But where is it? No group is being denied an education here, so who wins? Sexual expression or freedom of religion? How did we get to pitting one against the other when nothing is lost in this case? How can the University take any further steps without compromising their values? Not only their values but their Whole Religion?! This is the piece that I cannot figure out how went missing. Law Societies across the country (as well as other groups) are shouting for the University to change its covenant. How do they not understand that what they are asking is for them to not be Christian? If the University is going to declare itself Christian based, and take its principles from the Christian Bible, and therefore from the words of Christ… that’s what it says!! How often do you hear people of faith being slammed for just being a bunch of hypocrites?! Saying they follow one thing but never living like it? Just because society may not like their values does not give us the right to tell them to think differently. It will never be as simple as saying “We don’t like your religion, change it please before you can sit with us.”
Is imposing those values on their students for the duration of their stay going to make some of them uncomfortable? Yep. Anyone anywhere taking any sort of stand on anything is going to make somebody uncomfortable. If I, as a rampant carnivore and sometimes hunter wanted to attend a vegan culinary institute, would I walk in and demand they change their views because I was uncomfortable?! This seems ludicrous to me. Likewise, if the vegan culinary institute decided to run a carving program would I believe their graduates to be incapable of carving because of the school they went to?
This outcry that graduates from TWU will not be able to practice law in other provinces IS actually discrimination. They are being denied the right to practice (have a job) because of their religion. Saying a Christian couldn’t represent LGB issues is like saying someone who has never stolen anything on moral grounds couldn’t represent an embezzlement case. People are different. They believe different things and they each have their strengths. We can’t legislate away opposing views without destroying a free society. That’s why we have these schools. That’s why we have places for people to go who want to explore a religion, or a lifestyle, or a community group. To say “Well, if you graduate from there you can’t be a member of productive society with your degree” is exactly the behavior we are trying to get away from!
The bottom line is that either we tolerate other views or we do not. There is no room for “We don’t like you, so you can’t play with us.” In this case it seems the University has gone as far as they can and remain true to their beliefs. They have not denied anyone admittance or and education – the things they are in the business of doing. This is the part people are not getting – contrary to popular culture, declaring yourself to be a follower of a certain religion does not allow you to pick and choose the bits you’re going to take seriously and the bits you aren’t. It’s an all or nothing kind of thing. Rewriting holy books is not an option, neither is ignoring commandments or the words of God because you don’t like them. The Law Societies have strangely forgone actual law in order to deny graduates to practice. The 20-6 vote in BC to uphold the degree was based on the legal system and is a beautiful example of non-discrimination even when you just don’t like it. Many of those who voted in favor were strongly opposed to the principles of the covenant in question. So why did they uphold it? Because they left “We don’t like you, so you can’t play with us” in high school. Where is belongs.