Happenings up here in Canada may not make headlines in the U.S. but one happening up here of late should be of some concern to all Christians in the West. I refer to the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada which upheld the right of provincial law societies to reject graduates of Trinity Western University’s law school because that school requires its students to abstain from sex outside heterosexual marriage. Trinity Western University (TWU to its neighbours) argued that this was discriminatory towards its graduates; the Supreme Court did not agree, by a decision of 7 to 2. The graduates of its law school therefore may be denied a law practice law in B.C.
One needs to be clear about a number of things. The actual covenant pledge reads in full that students must “voluntarily abstain from the following actions: communication that is destructive to TWU community life and inter–personal relationships, including gossip, slander, vulgar/obscene language, and prejudice; harassment or any form of verbal or physical intimidation, including hazing; lying, cheating, or other forms of dishonesty including plagiarism; stealing, misusing or destroying property belonging to others; sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman; the use of materials that are degrading, dehumanizing, exploitive, hateful, or gratuitously violent, including, but not limited to pornography; drunkenness, under-age consumption of alcohol, the use or possession of illegal drugs, and the misuse or abuse of substances including prescribed drugs; the use or possession of alcohol on campus, or at any TWU sponsored event, and the use of tobacco on campus or at any TWU sponsored event.” As one can see from this comprehensive list, homosexual activity is hardly singled out for prohibition, and in fact the word “homosexual” is not even used.
This covenant is a hold-over from its Evangelical past. Since a number of my parishioners attended TWU, I can personally testify that the part of this pledge regarding the use of alcohol is honoured more in spirit than in the letter, and I am told that this is the usual way of dealing with this part of the pledge at the university. That is not simply the result of common-sense, but also of the obvious inability of faculty and staff to police the student body. They do not spy on students after hours nor search their rooms for empty beer bottles or other illicit material.
One imagines that the same thing applies to statements requiring sexual chastity. The requirement that its students abstain from sex outside heterosexual marriage has symbolic value, and along with the other provisions in the pledge it witnesses to the university’s fidelity to Christian ideals. Its actual effect upon student behaviour is something else altogether. If a student embraces chastity we may be sure that it is because that student has a commitment to Christ and the Bible, not because his university makes him sign a pledge. Surely both the university and its opponents know this.
The opponents of TWU, I suggest, could care less about heterosexual chastity and the fact that TWU requires its heterosexuals to sign a pledge that they will remain celibate before marriage any more than they care about the use of alcohol, tobacco, or plagiarism. TWU’s policy has been called “deeply discriminatory to the LGBT community”, but no one has protested that it is “deeply discriminatory” to the fornicating heterosexual community or to the community of Christians which would like to drink alcohol or smoke. Their problem is solely with the university’s implicit rejection of homosexual activity. This required pledge becomes the stick with which to beat Christianity in general and TWU in particular.
This is clear when one considers that TWU never rejects any candidate because he or she is homosexual. After the pledge is signed that is the end of it, and no policing is done—much the same as with the teetotal part of the pledge. The opponents of the Church’s stand on homosexuality are simply spoiling for a fight, and the required pledge at TWU gives them the sought-after grounds for it. The actual impact of the pledge upon homosexual students or, come to that, heterosexual students (which I suspect is almost as minimal as their prohibition of alcohol) is irrelevant. The opponents are not concerned so much with the actual impact upon gay students as they are with the symbolism of the pledge and its assertion of traditional Christian sexual morality. And one would like to know: do many actively homosexual students apply for membership to an explicitly Christian university when many other options are available? One suspects not.
The ruling of the Canadian Supreme Court constitutes a great victory for those at war with Church’s teaching and moral praxis. It is not the only such ruling, but is part of a rising tide flowing against the old ways. Thus health professionals are more and more under pressure in the West to perform abortions and to give lethal injections for medically-induced suicide. In some places a clear and open statement of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is subject to condemnation as “hate speech”. When one steps back from the present and surveys the larger historical landscape, a picture emerges of a systematic and continual retreat from past norms. When I was in elementary school, homosexual practice was illegal. It is now fast reaching the point where protest against homosexual practice will be illegal. Please note: I am not here arguing that homosexuality should be illegal; I am merely observing the pace and radicalness of the changes in our culture. These indicate a growing and accelerating trend.
The point is not that traditional Christianity is subject to widespread cultural disdain and contempt. It is that now and increasingly this contempt is backed up by force of law and that the laws may be applied in a draconian way. Legal moves are now being made to drive recalcitrant Christians from the public square. Already in Canada all the major political parties but one require its candidates to take a pro-abortion stand, and the remaining party which does not make this requirement has been cowed into silence. I predict (may I be proven wrong!) that similar laws will follow the anti-TWU ruling in the years to come. It would be unfair and absurd to compare them to the Nuremberg laws, for today’s anti-Christian groups are not comparable to the anti-Semitic groups within Germany. But the fact that laws are being drafted in such a way so as to exclude traditional Christians from certain professions is nonetheless significant. Maybe one could speak of the laws as “Nuremberg Lite”.
The end of TWU’s legal battle is, I suggest, part of a larger cultural war. This is not a matter of being alarmist, but of recognizing that things are becoming truly alarming. The answer for us is not emigration to a better and safer country. For to which country could one go? God bless America, but I don’t think the answer for Canadians is a mass southward emigration of its Christian population. The answer for all of us in the West is to remember that here we have no continuing city and that in this age we are strangers and sojourners (Hebrews 13:14, 1 Peter 2:11). We are seeking not a better and more Christian city of man, but the city of God which is to come. This means educating both ourselves and our children in the Christian Faith and stressing that in baptism we leave the world with its values and enter a different moral universe.
This is the true meaning of living in the catacombs. Life in the catacombs is not a cowering, cringing existence, one dominated by fear. It is an expansive, joyful existence, living with head held high, and walking before God in the land of the living. We do not need to emigrate, for in Christ we already dwell in our true homeland and are already citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). But the war has begun, and there is not a moment to lose. Laws against us are now being written, and doors are being shut. Now is the time to prepare our hearts and teach our children well.