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The times leave university behind

Religious institutions like Trinity Western must adapt to a constantly changing culture

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Is the church in Canada in danger of being persecuted?

That's what Bob Kuhn, president of Trinity Western University, maintains. In an interview in ChristianWeek, Kuhn stated that the opposition to Trinity Western's proposed law school could mark the beginning of "a new era of persecution" against the church in Canada.

"It's sudden and swift and very powerful," Kuhn said. "I have never seen anything quite like it in terms of the sea-change, a tsunami of societal offence against Christians and Christian views."

Kuhn was speaking about decisions by the law societies of B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia not to recognize graduates from the evangelical university located in Langley, B.C. At issue for them is Trinity Western's community covenant regarding marriage and sexual relations, which many in the legal community interpret as anti-gay.

Is Kuhn right? Is the opposition to Trinity Western's law school the first sign of the persecution of the church in Canada? I don't think so.

What's happening here isn't persecution -- it's being offside with changes in Canadian society.

Canada has changed considerably over the past 50 years. Divorce, abortion, gay rights -- things that once were considered either illegal, immoral or both -- are now normal, accepted and the law of the land.

Churches are free to criticize these changes, and to encourage their members to live differently. But they shouldn't think they are being persecuted because they don't agree, or because society is critical of them.

If Kuhn is wrong about persecution, he is right about one thing: Canada is a very different place today than it was in the past, as far as Christianity is concerned.

The church in the 21st century is much less influential than it used to be. No longer does it hold a place of preference in political and cultural life. No longer is being a Christian considered an advantage in politics, business or other aspects of life. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

That's the view of Katie Chatelaine-Samsen of Sojourners. Writing on that magazine's website, she suggests the changing landscape should be welcomed by Christians -- not lamented.

"Christianity as we used to know it is fading," says Chatelaine-Samsen. But, she adds, "This is a good thing!"

For Chatelaine-Samsen, the change signals the end of Christendom -- the uniting of church and society -- in the West.

Christendom dates back to 313 A.D., when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.

On the one hand, his conversion was a good thing for the church -- no longer were Christians persecuted and killed by the state. But many today believe it was also a bad thing; as the church became part of political and cultural power structures, it lost its ability to speak prophetically about injustice and oppression.

Now that we are beginning to live in a post-Christendom world in North America, the church can recover its true purpose, according to Chatelaine-Samsen.

Now, she says, the church is free to follow the example of "this crazy, passionate, table-turning, world-changing, radical, fully human yet fully divine person named Jesus. We were given the job to tell people what he said about caring for the least among us, to welcome the stranger in his name and to heal communities that have been broken by poverty, violence and inequality."

For her, the church's loss of status in society is a chance to start afresh. "I think we're at a time in the life of the church where we are wondering, 'What's next?' " she says.

For her, what's next is "not the work of self-preservation, of reclaiming the kingdom of Christendom, of being the cultural norm, of witnessing of self -- but witnessing to Christ to the ends of the Earth."

For those who remember the days when the church was more influential, this loss of position and prestige may be a tough pill to swallow. But for others, it's the dawn of an exciting new day. As Chatelaine-Samsen says: "I am confident that a new way is being born."

As for Trinity Western, I believe it should be permitted to launch its law school. I think its graduates will -- as the church has historically done, and as church agencies continue to do around the world -- serve everyone and anyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.

I think they will make good lawyers. But I don't think the school should be surprised if many in Canada don't feel the same way.

jdl562000@yahoo.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 D15

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