New persecution coming, Trinity Western president warns
LANGLEY, BC—Bob Kuhn, Trinity Western University’s newly-named president, says the degree of outright opposition to its new law school could mark the beginning of “a new era of persecution” against the Church in Canada.
“It’s sudden and swift and very powerful,” says Kuhn. “Having practiced law for close to 34 years, I have never seen anything quite like it in terms of the sea-change, a tsunami of societal offence against Christians and Christian views.”
In December, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada gave the school the green light. Now, three of its member-societies (British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia) are in the process of debating whether to allow TWU law school grads to article in their provinces. At issue is the university’s community covenant, which upholds biblical values on sexual relations. Many in the legal community interpret that as “anti-gay.”
The debates have gained widespread attention. The Law Society of B.C. has received 300 submissions. Its meeting on April 11 to discuss the issue will be webcast to accommodate those interested. The Nova Scotia Barristers Society will release its findings on April 25.
Kuhn had hoped the federation’s approval—followed days later by the B.C. government’s approval—would be the end of the matter. Now he says the university is facing what he calls “a double jeopardy situation.”
“The tenor of the submissions sometimes are downright offensive. Some are just argumentative. They’re in effect a kind of inquisition,” says Kuhn. “It’s Trinity that’s on trial to somehow justify its historical, traditional Christian views on marriage.”
Justin Cooper, executive director of Christian Higher Education Canada, suspects other faith-based, liberal arts schools could also find themselves under attack.
“If there is going to be persecution,” he says, “it will be to question the academic legitimacy of Christian universities that give traditional degrees. People will ask, ‘Do they really have a right to give these degrees when they lack open-mindedness because of their community standards?’”
Cooper thinks the real goal of those opposed to TWU’s law school is to provoke the university to take them to court in a losing battle to preserve the current legal balance between gay rights and freedom of religion.
“They believe if society continues to shift at the rate that it is—even in the Christian community there’s more and more support among young people for gay couples—that whenever this reaches the Supreme Court of Canada, the law will shift, and the balance will be redressed in their favour,” says Cooper.
In 2001, Kuhn successfully represented the university before the Supreme Court against a similar challenge from the B.C. College of Teachers. Last July, TWU’s board of governors named him interim president after Jonathan Raymond resigned. In March, it appointed him president.
Board chair Jeremy Funk says they saw the value at this time in having a seasoned lawyer at the helm.
“It’s only been as we’ve gone through these circumstances that we’ve appreciated his past legal experience,” he says. “Beyond that, it had a lot to do with his leadership style and looking to really build a collaborative approach on issues facing the university.”
“I’m now in a position which I would never have expected a year ago, because I really don’t qualify,” says Kuhn. “And yet as things have unfolded since July, it seems that the job description morphed to fit me more than I changed to fit the job description.”
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