Will the Sexual License Mandate Destroy Christian Educational Institutions?

Expand | Collapse
(Photo: Trinity Western University)Trinity Western University

The predicament of individual Christians faced with legal or organizational requirements to acquiesce in the sexual revolution and provide goods or services that contribute to sin, reviewed in a recent article by the present author, is mirrored in a similar requirement being made on Christian institutions. The difference is that whereas individuals are threatened with loss of job, fines, or imprisonment, organizations are threatened with loss of existence if they do not conform.

The drama of institutions struggling to maintain their Christian identity in a hostile legal and social environment is now being played out by two excellent Christian collegiate institutions in markedly liberal jurisdictions, Gordon College in Massachusetts, and Trinity Western University, in British Columbia.

Not content with dismantling laws and policies which made Judeo-Christian morality the moral framework of society at large, social liberals now seek to deny traditional Christians the right to maintain their own private, voluntary institutions in which Christian sexual morality is enforced.

Several years ago a drama of this nature was played out in Canada, and seemed to have been resolved in favor of religious freedom. As chronicled by the pro-life website LifeSiteNews, the Christian Horizons Evangelical charity in Ontario was initially (2008) told by the Ontario Human Rights Commission that it could not require Christian morality of its staff (even though employees signed a promise to abide by common Christian sexual and non-sexual moral standards). This was incisively analyzed as an attempt to exclude authentically Christian organizations from the public square. Once outside the purview of the OHRC, however, Christian Horizons prevailed in the regular court, with the court recognizing the charity's basic purpose was Christian ministry to the public and thus must require Christian faith and morality of its staff.

With Trinity Western University, the same sort of drama, that of a private religious organization that interfaces with the public, is being played out with respect to an educational institution. Trinity Western's covenant, among other things (such as cultivating Christian virtues of love, joy, and peace, and dealing with problem areas of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and entertainment) requires that sexual expression be reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. IRD reported on this situation as it existed earlier this year in early and mid-May.

Unlike the United States, schools in Canada must be accredited in order to exist, and so disapproval of accreditation means a school cannot function. Having earlier prevailed against efforts to prevent TWU to train teachers, the university has good legal precedent behind it in its efforts to open a law school, but faces an increasingly hostile public and relevant professional class. Recent years saw an attack by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) on TWU's faith statement required of faculty. It should be especially noted that the focus of the attack on TWU is not about academic excellence, but against the private Christian school's right to maintain its distinctively Christian academic content and general life on a Christian basis. With "equality" now understood to mean that sexual license is a right, and opposition to it oppressive, such "discrimination" can now no longer be tolerated in the private as well as public worlds. "Canadian values" (never formally consented to by the people of Canada, but known by the moral intuition of the cultural left) demand this. Applying this standard across the board would mean that no institution in Canada could function on a Christian basis, presaging the dismemberment of the Christian subculture in Canada.

Opposition is especially strong from the legal profession. Early in 2013, the deans of Canada's law schools opposed accreditation of the proposed TWU l law school for no other reason than that of the prohibition of homosexual activity at TWU. This was followed by a "media frenzy," as LifeSiteNews, noted. Having initially acquired the essential approval of the Federation of Law Societies in Canada in 2013, TWU has continued to encounter stiff opposition, and it seems unclear whether the university will prevail and succeed in opening a law school. After the law societies of Ontario and Nova Scotia declined to accept Trinity graduates, Trinity headed back to court, citing the Canadian Supreme Court's 2001 decision in favor of its teaching program, which was also the basis of last year's FLSC decision. Meanwhile in British Columbia, a special meeting of that province's law society was called to overturn its earlier approval. Voting remotely, this was achieved.

Trinity Western has defended its position as being in line with the Canada's 2005 Civil Marriage Act that says that holding diverse views on marriage is not against the "public interest" (Trinity Western's covenant restricts sexual activity to the marriage of one man and one woman, it does not specifically refer to homosexuality). But contrary opinion in Canada, which is advancing, holds that traditional Christian morality is offensive, and therefore should not be enforced even in private Christian environments. It should be noted that in answer to the question of the title in the linked article ("Who would Jesus discriminate against?"), Jesus would exclude impenitent sinners from the Kingdom of God (Matt 4:17). People who are offended by the environment of Christian institutions don't have to be there or stay there. Another similar opinion held that a school would be unacceptable if it required women to submit to their husbands or remain silent in church, both of which the Bible requires. Such an opinion shows how intolerant the cultural left has become. Schools requiring obedience of women to husbands or silence of women in church ought to be approved, and orthodox atmosphere of school should not make it illegal. Obedience to God must be absolute, and religious freedom means nothing if it can be set aside when people are offended.

Lea Singh, writing in Frontpage Magazine, has observed the sweeping implications if the Law School is denied accreditation or its graduates blocked from professional life. Adhering to Christian morality, in this case that part pertaining to homosexuality, could bar Christians from business and the professions; if graduates from Christian institutions are unacceptable because of they come from a world deemed oppressive, why would existing practitioners, who are part of the same Christian world both in belief and practice, also not be unacceptable? Other articles discussing the situation include that of Canada's National Post, which noted that even those who disagree with the school's standards conceded that the private religious school has a right to its own standards, and the Toronto Globe, which detailed the school's appeal.

Support for Trinity Western has come from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which is also supporting the school in its recent setback, in which the British Colombia Law Society rescinded its earlier approval of the proposed Trinity Law School. EFC has noted that recent precedents support the school. Trinity Western's president has also defended his school's position.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Gordon College is experiencing a similar crisis, with the school's policy requiring abstinence from all sexual activity except heterosexual marital intercourse attacked as a barrier to accreditation and acceptance in the community. The issue was raised when Gordon's president, Michael Lindsay, added his signature to a letter to President Obama requesting that religious institutions be exempted from an executive order mandating non-discrimination with respect to sexual orientation in hiring from federal contractors. The executive order essentially implemented the provisions of the proposed Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would have made sexual orientation an employment nondiscrimination category in federal law. However, the ACLU and the cultural left abandoned it when they were unable to remove its religious exemption. Obama's order puts the ENDA, without the religious exemption as the Left wanted, in force as far as federal contractors are concerned. The Federalist noted that there is worse to come for Christian institutions, charities as well as educational institutions, as sexual orientation nondiscrimination requirements are applied to them without needed religious exemptions.

Disturbingly, Gordon has indicated that will spend the next year to 18 months reviewing its policy, including its prohibition of homosexual behavior, while reserving to itself the final determination, despite the threat to its accreditation. Eric Metaxas has discussed the loss to inner city children when the community of Lynn, Massachusetts ended its cooperation with the college after President Lindsay signed the letter to President Obama requesting that the freedom of religious institutions be respected. President Lindsay has also given his viewpoint to Christianity Today. One wonders, however, if he would be "be genuinely trying to learn" from people who "vehemently disagree" with Gordon on some other issue, as he has said he is on this one? The homosexualist polemic against Christian morality is interminable and comprehensive; so far it has carried the day against enormous odds because people have been willing to "open-mindedly" listen to stories of suffering. Not only can a counter-polemic be mounted about the suffering that homosexual behavior has caused, but more importantly, indeed, decisively for Christians, God's standard given in Scripture is obedience to Him regardless of pain.

American Thinker discussed the situation at Gordon, claiming that Lindsay underestimates the opposition and should be more confrontational, and that Christian institutions should stop apologizing and vigorously advance religious freedom as the non-negotiable commitment that it once was in American life.

A Christian institution is, by its very name, a follower of Christ, just as a Christian individual is, by his or her very name, a follower of Christ. As such, it cannot tolerate sin in its midst, any more than a church can. Indeed, Christian institutions, as communities of Christians, are a kind of church. The free exercise of (not just belief in) Christian faith is clearly being denied if Christian institutions are prohibited from maintaining Christian standards. Freedom of religion means nothing if unpopular religious beliefs and practices are not tolerated, indeed, no freedom is needed for what offends no one.

It may be that today's social radicals will succeed in imposing their will by using the magic words "discrimination" and "discriminatory" with state and educational authorities, and with the general public in more liberal jurisdictions. In that case, the worst that could happen is that the Christian institution remains open in a compromised condition, in which case it is really no longer a Christian institution. Painful though it may be, a Christian institution which can no longer carry out its primary duty of obedience to God should close its doors. With our absolute duty to obey God unimpaired, and being faithful to Christ in our individual lives, we can then argue for the relative value of religious educational services even when they offend part of the population. However grossly offended they are, their sensibilities should not be normative for all of society. We must always remember that our primary duty is to God.

Rick Plasterer is a staff writer for IRD concerned particularly with domestic religious liberty. He attended Eastern Mennonite College (now University) receiving a B.A. degree in history and sociology, and an M.S. in library science from Drexel University.