Monday, May 5, 2014

Trinity Western's Community Covenant and religious freedom

Monday's Vancouver Sun has some excellent perspective this week from Dr Emma Cunliffe, associate professor in the UBC Law Faculty, about the controversial Community Covenant at Trinity Western University.

When the issue blew up a few weeks ago, with Law Societies in other parts of the country refusing to recognize TWU law grads because of that Covenant, I took a few minutes and actually read the thing. It's full of all sorts of subversive stuff, like respect others, love your neighbour, treat others with dignity and humility -- a cynic might suggest that's the very thing that would turn off the legal community -- but the section on sexual morality is the one that people are exercised about. Certainly, it's been construed as anti-gay, although the actual wording is pro-traditional male-female relationships, so it also excludes people who have sex out of wedlock and/or live together without being married.

(By the way, the love, respect, dignity and humility thing is something TWU would do well to apply to traveling fans of its sports teams. I work closely with the UBC Thunderbirds, and TWU fans are, far and away, the rudest, most obnoxious fans we can think of. I wrote a blog posting a few years ago, called "What Would Jesus Cheer?" and the response from some readers when a TWU student paper picked it up suggested I'd struck a nerve.)

But Dr. Cunliffe hit a point that moves this into a completely different realm. She contends that requiring students and teachers to live by this Covenant on penalty of expulsion "compels individuals to live according to a discriminatory moral code regardless of their true beliefs." I'd take it a step further: while the Professor focuses on the fact that gay or lesbian students would have to suppress their true feelings and/or beliefs, the notion of any organization imposing a particular code of conduct on those who want to be part of it smacks of cultism. Whether or not I agree with the principles is neither here nor there: the fact is, no one should be forced into agreeing.

God gives us freedom of choice. Having given us dominion over the earth, He is not about to make Himself a liar by manipulating us. Yes, He makes it clear which He would prefer us to choose -- I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that thou and thy seed may live ... and that thou mayest cleave to Him, for He is thy Life ... (Deut. 30:19-20 KJV) -- but the choice is still up to us. No institution should presume to take that choice away.

One is not known as a Christian by the things one hates or shuns: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

Love, in other words, is what defines a Christian. Is signing a Community Covenant part of that commandment?

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