Trinity Western University, Canada's largest privately-funded Christian university, will no longer require students to sign a Community Covenant agreeing to abstain from same-sex and other relationships outside marriage between a man and a woman.
The top-ranked university, which enrolls about 4,000 students annually, announced on Tuesday its decision to scrap mandatory agreement to the covenant as part of the admissions process. The decision was made at a recent meeting of its Board of Governors.
"In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, 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," the board said in a motion cited by university President Robert G. Kuhn.
A university spokesperson told CBC that while students will no longer be required to sign the covenant, faculty, staff and administrators will still have to sign it.
The decision comes some two months after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the denial of accreditation to the university's proposed law school due to concerns about the covenant and discrimination against LGBTQ students. The court found that in denying Trinity Western's proposed law school accreditation, the Law Society of Upper Canada "was entitled to conclude that equal access to the legal profession, diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ law students were all within the scope of its duty to uphold the public interest," Inside Higher Ed noted.
Michael Mulligan, an attorney who pushed for a special vote to overturn the British Columbia Law Society's original decision to accredit TWU, called the school's decision "a very positive move."
He noted that if teachers and staff at the proposed law school are still required to sign the covenant, it could still pose a threat to accreditation.
"To the extent that the university would still wish to fire or discipline staff members for being involved in consensual same-sex relationships, they may still have a serious issue about whether it would be in the public interest to grant them approval," Mulligan said.
In his statement on Tuesday, Kuhn made no reference to the accreditation of the proposed law school being a factor in the change to Trinity Western's admissions policy. He said the leadership of the university, located in Langley, British Columbia, believe the decision "will successfully position us to better fulfil the TWU Mission" which is listed in the covenant as "formed by a firm commitment to the person and work of Jesus Christ as declared in the Bible."
The covenant urging students to voluntarily abstain from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman" as described in Romans 1:26-27 and Proverbs 6:23-35, was previously considered "in keeping with biblical ideals."
Kuhn said the school's mission will remain "Biblically-based" despite the change in the university's admissions policy.
"Let there be no confusion regarding the Board of Governors' resolution; our Mission remains the same. We will remain a Biblically-based, mission-focused, academically excellent University, fully committed to our foundational evangelical Christian principles. We will continue to be a Christ-centered community; one that is defined by our shared pursuit of seeking to glorify God by revealing His truth, compassion, reconciliation and hope to a world in need," he maintained.