Opinion

Christian law school makes mockery of its faith by abandoning morality pledge

Making this move now looks like a sellout by Trinity Western University, writes an alumnus.
Mon Aug 20, 2018 - 8:43 pm EST
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August 20, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about church life:

. . . I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.  But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols.  You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. . . .

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.  God will judge those on the outside . . . . [1 Corinthians 5:9-13, NLT]

I’m wondering how this may or may not apply to the August 14 announcement from Trinity Western University’s president, Bob Kuhn, that “the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”1

A proportion of TWU students aren’t actually Christians; and even among the ones who profess Christ, not all would identify with TWU’s predominant evangelical subculture.  To use the local church as an analogy—and in keeping with 1 Corinthians 5—we would neither expect nor wish church elders to attempt to hold non-Christian visitors to the same lifestyle-standards as “anyone who claims to be a believer” (v. 11).

So could the same principle be applied to students at a Christian university, if staff and faculty are likened to “church members,” and students to “visitors”?

Perhaps.  A philosophy of Christian postsecondary education doesn’t necessarily require holding students themselves to the same behavioural standards as faculty and staff.  A “looser” philosophy regarding student behaviours could still allow for on-campus rules: “You aren’t permitted to do [X] on campus—but we aren’t going to hold you accountable for what you do off-campus.”  Even non-Christian universities sometimes have rules pertaining to their own campus grounds.2,3

If TWU had begun with such an approach, today there may not be any law-school controversy.  I don’t know.

The problem is that TWU didn’t start with that approach.  In fact, even through the 2016-17 school year, the stated objective of the Community Covenant was, in part:

  • “to foster a positive educational environment that reflects the values cherished by our community.  Students are called to maintain TWU’s positive environment by being accountable to the community and its members for their own actions.  The actions of each member have a direct effect on the other co-owners of the community.”4
  • “[A]dministrators, faculty and staff . . . along with students . . . covenant together to form a community that strives to live according to biblical precepts, believing that this will optimize the University’s capacity to fulfil its mission and achieve its aspirations.”5
  • “It is hoped, therefore, that the accountability process may ultimately challenge the pursuit of change, godliness and character development within individuals.”6

A mere two years later, what does Trinity Western’s restriction of this covenant to faculty and staff imply about the university’s rationale from two years ago?

Do university administrators and board members “suddenly” no longer believe that holding students accountable to these standards “reflects the values cherished by our community”; that the “actions of each member have a direct effect on the other co-owners of the community”; or that the standards are useful for “challeng[ing] the pursuit of change, godliness and character development within individuals” . . . ?

And what about the pre-2018 assertion that the community standards would “optimize the University’s capacity to fulfill its mission and achieve its aspirations”?  Well, that’s now been supplanted by Kuhn’s new claim that ceasing to hold students to those standards “will successfully position us to better fulfil [sic] the TWU Mission”!7

Abandonment of the Community Covenant for students, as a response to losing a court case, has the unintended effect of appearing to mock the previously held rationale for holding students accountable to that very covenant.  Going forward, how can the Christian community take seriously whatever new rationale is published for a shrunken Covenant domain, if the prior rationale was jettisoned merely because the university didn’t get its way in court?

Making this move now looks like a sellout by TWU; a desperate ploy to get the State to pat them on their collective head.

Moreover, if this gambit of shrinking the covenant circle fails to work—what compromise will TWU make next . . . ?

I don’t presume to know the heart of Bob Kuhn himself or any TWU administrator or board member, but my honest impression from the outside—the only perspective I can ever have—is that this university seems to think God “needs” their law school.  It seems they believe this so strongly that they’re willing to compromise their previously declared convictions in order to, I suppose, “help” God’s kingdom advance.

Nevertheless, I’m willing to hope that they’d agree with me when I say that God doesn’t need TWU’s law school.  God doesn’t need TWU.  God doesn’t need any of us, in fact.  But His go-to agent in society is the Church, the global Body of Christ.  That’s Plan A.  There’s no Plan B.  Parachurch ministries (such as Christian universities) aren’t “wrong”—but the Church needs to be the Church.  And a uniquely Christian law school—a fine idea in itself—isn’t required to make the Church “the Church.”  Such a school isn’t actually required for God to insinuate His people “in[to] the various marketplaces of life.”8

But if the Church in Canada, or the West in general, isn’t being what God’s called her to be—if we place more faith in our own ministry ideas and agendas than in the power and wisdom of God Himself—then what’s the point of a “Christian” law school?

Andy Doerksen is a 1997 graduate of TWU, with a B.A. in communications.  He lives and works in Toronto, ministering as a Bible-teacher at his church.

 

Endnotes

[1] Robert G. Kuhn (TWU president), “TWU Revisits Community Covenant,” TWU.ca (14 Aug. 2018), https://www.twu.ca/twu-revisits-community-covenant (accessed 15 Aug. 2018).

[2] For example, despite the commonality of gun ownership in the U.S., numerous college campuses bar students from possessing firearms on campus.

[3] A reasonable compromise approach might be, as with the local church, to hold only Christian students to a biblical behavioural standard.

[4] Trinity Western University Student Handbook 2016-2017 (Langley, BC: Trinity Western University, 2016), 7 (emph. mine); downloadable at https://www.twu.ca/sites/default/files/student-handbook-2016-2017.pdf (accessed 15 Aug. 2018).  See also p. 34.

[5] Ibid., 35 (emph. mine); see also p. 41.

[6] Ibid., 41.

[7] Kuhn, ibid. (emph. mine).

[8] Trinity Western University Student Handbook 2016-2017, 6.


  christianity, trinity western university

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