Friday, April 11, 2014

On TWU, Freedom and the Law

SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 5:1-2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: April 11th, 2014

"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Recently, the provincial government of British Columbia approved the establishment of a private University seeking to set up a law faculty within its campus. The Federation of Law Societies in Canada had also approved TWU's application. There was wide agreement on the technical and educational ability of Trinity Western University to train and to produce graduates able to uphold and to practise the laws of the land. There are also no disagreement with regards of the rights of a private University to operate on the basis of their faith. After all, Canadian law permits people the freedom of religious beliefs and the freedom of speech, that will be consistent with the law and constitution. Unfortunately, the passage to legal approval has been rocky. At the heart of the dispute is the "community covenant" which TWU expects all to sign before being hired as an employee, or allowed in as a student.  You can read the entire covenant here.

This morning, the Law Society of British Columbia debated on the motion to reject TWU's application for the establishment of a law school in BC. Listening to the submissions, I noticed it is all about protecting rights. Some argued forcefully that they need to protect the minority group, namely the LGBT community. Others stated that they need to speak for the law of the land more than their personal beliefs. Still, others would reject TWU because they see the covenant as discriminatory. Eventually, when put to a vote, the society decided to defeat the motion, which essentially meant TWU will be recognized and accredited by the Law Society of BC as a legitimate law school. Some of my initial questions centered around the following.

  • Where do we draw the line between freedom of religious belief versus freedom of secular choice?
  • Is the country big enough to accommodate differences of opinion and faith beliefs?
  • Are people big hearted enough to allow people of different faiths to co-exist?
  • Do people have a choice at all in their choice of educational institutions?
  • Who is the minority who are increasingly being marginalized?
  • Who is the mainstream of today?
This week, I want to offer three reasons for optimism, three reasons for continued caution, and end with three hopes for the future student and members of the TWU community.

A) Three Reasons for Optimism

While a majority of the speakers at the Law Society appear to be against the "community covenant," it seems like they are unwilling to go against what has been approved by the government or other associations under the umbrella of free speech and private schools. After all, they agree it is not within their jurisdiction to bar any school already approved by the Ministry for Higher Education in BC. At surface level, it would seem like policy makers, and TWU community will see this as a victory for them. I prefer to see it as optimism for BC for three reasons.

First, it is a victory for a free and open process for deliberation and consideration. I know of some who feel aggrieved at why a private institution will ever need to be subjected to public scrutiny. Others will maintain that why must the secular outside meddle with matters very much private faith within the TWU campus? It take boldness and leadership in order to humbly submit to the authorities of the land, amid a largely anti-Christian and secular mood. Just seeing the way TWU and their community covenant being hung out to dry, it is easy to simply just back down and surrender. Thankfully, justice and good sense prevail. Mario Moretella says it that: "It takes courage to tolerate intolerance." Let me also say that it takes greater courage to stand up for what the institution had believed in.

Second, people's freedom of choice have been respected. It will be a shame if every single public institution is forced to hire people against their own values. Just to say that TWU is discriminatory will be just one side of the story. The other side is, people do have a choice to apply or not to apply to TWU, just like people have a choice whether or not to study at a University in the first place. It is of public interest and benefit to know that there is a preservation of the freedom of choice on where to study. What is discriminatory to one party may not be so for another. If Canada prides itself as being the land of the free, rejecting TWU's application will also be a bigoted attempt which runs contrary to the principles of the constitution. I appreciate the many measured and thoughtful opinions voiced, which separates personal preferences from the laws of the land.

Third, people of faith have an opportunity to train students and graduates according to what they truly believe in. With TWU's entry into the law education scene, there is an opportunity for Christians to excel and to make positive contributions to society, under the guiding principles of Bible and the law of the land. It is also an opportunity for TWU graduates to build bridges, to engage society constructively, and to guide the understanding of what is tolerance and what is intolerance. I feel that there are way too many simplistic understanding of what tolerance means. For example, just for a bencher to say "We meet intolerance with tolerance" is already an erroneous statement. Who defines tolerance? In fact, tolerance can only be done if there is a balanced act between two equal and opposing forces. Take away one, and you will have intolerance.

B) Three Reasons for Caution

First, the accreditation is temporary. What is given today may be taken away tomorrow. Any accreditation will be reviewed. The institution will be measured not only in its academic rigour but also in the behaviour and conduct of all graduates of the school. All it takes is one unfortunate case and the University will be on the hook again, as its accreditation gets reviewed.

Second, the pressure to compromise on parts of the Community Covenant will only rise. With such wide public attention, plus the many vocal voices for the LGBT community, the tensions will only increase as long as people do not perceive any change in TWU's stand with regards to that "controversial passage" in the community covenant. At this point, note that the word "mainstream" is essentially people upholding the rights of the LGBT. Places like TWU will increasingly fall into the "minority" bracket. When that happens, I wonder who will fight for the minority Christian population?

Third, the professionalism and conduct of the graduates will be key. Graduates from TWU will be under increased pressure to perform with integrity and with fairness to all. Fair or not, they will be placed on a higher expectation compared to graduates from other institutions. After all, with the public camera fixed on the first graduates, any discrimatory action or any action deemed discriminatory by the public will not only bring disrepute to the institution, it may threaten the future of the law school at TWU. It will be difficult to attract students on one hand, but on the other, it will ensure that those entering the law school will be fully aware of their legal and ethical obligations.

C) Three Reasons for Hope

The battle is not over. In fact, it has only just begun. As secular Canada and support for LGBT becomes more mainstream, it will be increasingly more difficult for anyone to maintain the definition of traditional marriage, and many of the things that evangelicals stand for. I like to make use of Max de Pree's three tasks of leadership that can provide us a guide on why there are reasons to hope.

"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor." (Max De Pree)

#1 - Define Reality

It is unfortunate that people tend to focus on just one small part of the whole community covenant and make a mountain out of a mole hole. The way the whole process of scrutinizing TWU on the basis of one definition of marriage as being man and woman, may seem so unfair. Yet, that is what the world is operating right now. Traditional marriage is now under threats never seen before. People will expect and even impose their understanding of secular beliefs across all sectors of society. Even religious institutions will have to be careful about boundaries. No longer are religions well respected. Instead, they are often suspected first, asked questions second, and labelled "intolerant" eventually. We are living in a world where affirming our own faith can come under increased scrutiny. People being imperfect, when placed under increased scrutiny will be expected to behave perfectly.

Christians can take this as an opportunity to let the world force them to measure up to the highest ethical standards. For the Christian, the reality is Christ, and to live up to the standards of Christ and love, is a far better yardstick than to simply please the world. A leader like a shepherd will not only dare to make paradigm shifts, they will also care for people in all segments of society.  William Dyrness reminds us that we no longer can operate in a vacuum. Whatever we do affect surrounding cultures. He reflects on the role of the missionary:

"Today, in most places in the world, leadership is practiced within a multicultural situation, since no culture exists in isolation, or in a form uninfluenced by surrounding cultures. The missionary in our story had to deal not only with the cultural values of the people he lived among, but also with his own cultural assumptions - which were often invisible to him." (William Dyrness, "The Reality of Your Context"in The Three Tasks of Leadership, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009, p47-8)

We may not be the missionary in a foreign land, but the principle applies as a resident in a land whose philosophies of life and culture are often alien to the Christian mind. It has to be, otherwise we would have been molded into the culture. It is a sign of leadership with wisdom and knowledge of the cultural surroundings. Hope begins when we first learn to take stock and be aware of the contexts we live in.

#2 - Give Thanks

A thankful heart is one sure way to build bridges rather than draw lines. Regardless of the negative votes or sentiments surrounding the TWU case, we can all give thanks to God for the approvals and the legal positives so far. More importantly, we give thanks for the benefit of being able to live in a country where freedom and justice exist and reinforced on a regular basis. Compared to countries with dictatorship or extreme political control, Canada is a land that many other countries envy for its track record in upholding human rights. Christians have an added responsibility not only to uphold the law of the land, but to practice the laws of God. Love God. Love neighbour. Only when we begin with a heart of thanksgiving can we cultivate this love. In the "Challenge of Gratitude," President of Fuller Theological Seminary Richard Mouw reminds us that having a sense of gratitude will counter any feelings of entitlement. One of the big problems among leaders is the tendency to let our titles do the talking. It can only balloon our egos and gives us erroneous expectations on ourselves.  Mouw adds:

"Social commentators often observe these days that we are living in a culture that is increasingly characterised by a pervasive sense of 'entitlement,' by which they mean that people make a lot of demands, and they do so with a clear sense that they deserve what they are asking for. Another way of putting this is that our culture is becoming increasingly characterized by ingratitude." (Richard Mouw, Three Tasks of Leadership, p147)
Christians have an opportunity to lead by example, to counter this culture of ingratitude by giving thanks as often as possible, and as honest as possible. It is a mark of Christlike leadership. Hope is highlighted through gratitude to God who had given us so much already.

#3 - Serve All

When in society, we are responsible for the people we live among. We live in a world where people in general are increasingly self-serving. They are comfortable in self-service counters and doing things for the sake of selves. Living as a Christian in the public world means we learn to move away from the self-serving end toward serving others. David Augsburger, of Fuller Theological Seminary puts six phases of leadership on a continuum, which I will describe with 1 being most "self-serving" and 6 being most "self-forgetting." I summarize with my own paraphrases.

  1. Exploitative Service: "It's all about I, me, myself, and my needs."
  2. Egocentric Service: "It's all about raising one's needs above others."
  3. Equalitarian Service: "It's all about win-win, where both benefit."
  4. Obedient Service: "It's all about helping the needy because it is morally right."
  5. Benevolent Service: "It's all about offering service because of care, mercy, and compassion."
  6. Sacrificial Service:  "It's about caring for others more than self, sacrificially."

Hope is sustained through selfless service. May students and graduates of TWU enter the workforce with a desire to serve a great God more, instead of being distracted by the need to do great things in the name of God.
THOUGHT: "The key focus in biblical servanthood is on simply doing things for a great God, and not so much on doing great things for God." (Siang-Yang, TAN, "The Primacy of Servanthood" in The Three Tasks of Leadership, Eerdmans, p81)


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