It is curious law societies across the country should be lining up to deny accreditation to a proposed law school at Trinity Western University. Have historic Christian standards become so abhorrent?
Latest to do so was the law societies of Nova Scotia and of Upper Canada, which despite its claim to recognize the "foundational nature... of the right of equality and the right to freedom of religion" used other values to deny accreditation.
As many news reports have already indicated, the offence for TWU rests in the covenant students are asked to sign, which calls on them to abstain from "same-sex intimacy."
The covenant also asks them to refrain from other actions including gossip, obscene language, prejudice, harassment, lying, cheating, stealing, pornography, drug use and to observe the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.
Schools such as TWU are not merely being told they should not ask students to refrain from certain behaviours. They are being told they should not exist because they no longer conform to conventional societal norms. Earlier in the school's history, it had to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada before it could offer students training to prepare them for careers in education.
We are engaged in a huge social experiment in Canada. It asks us to believe the overthrow of historic and traditional norms around sexuality and marriage is not merely good and right, but also conforms to what is real and true. Those who desist or decline to follow are treated as pariahs, ignorant and, most importantly, as intolerant. For anyone who now dares voice an opinion that violates conventional wisdom on this subject, the consequence could well mean the loss of a job and searing social ostracism. One source of encouragement is the fact the Upper Canada's vote was split 28 to 21, with one abstention. That suggests good arguments were offered against the decision.
Marriage has become a legal construct and gender identity one of a possible 58 options, as a Free Press article suggested a few weeks ago. A school such as TWU is told to embrace this notion in practice or give up any hope of teaching law.
Trinity Western University is an explicitly Christian university. When it asks its students to embrace a covenant of behaviour, it is merely asking them to adhere to standards of conduct that would have been understood as appropriate at almost any point in the history of Christianity. This is nothing strange to Christians who take the direction for their faith and behaviour from the teachings of Jesus or those of biblical writers.
TWU's covenant deals with more than just homosexual practice. Sexual morality in Christian church teaching has classically been "committed to the defence of family and married life and everything outside it is seen as a threat and outrage," British author Peter Coleman has written.
Marriage in the scriptures has always been understood as between a man and a woman.
The Anglican ethicist Oliver O'Donovan says "Whatever happens in history, Christians have wished to say, this is what marriage really is. It is God's creative intention for human relationships on Earth."
There are many Christian lawyers in Canada who believe exactly as O'Donovan. They do not embrace the social experiment Canada has now legalized (mainly through the courts, it should be added). Even though they acknowledge those who claim gay or lesbian identities and might support domestic partnerships for them as well, they would stop short of recognizing such partnerships as marriages. Yet they can practise law as fairly as anyone within the legal community. No great insight is needed to recognize virtually every lawyer or judge comes to their roles with perspectives and values of one kind or another. If the legal societies of Manitoba and the provinces refuse to accept the presence of a law school informed by orthodox Christian perspectives, all of Canada will be the poorer.
Canada needs what a law school at Trinity Western University would bring. Churches represent the largest source per capita of charitable dollars, a disproportionate source of volunteers for all causes and the base for a huge amount of community-building institutional activity.
It should be an offence to all Canadians that active, orthodox Christians who want to remain true to their beliefs should now be seen as a threat to Canada and not the source of healing and health they truly are.
Harold Jantz is the retired editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald and ChristianWeek.