On Thursday, August 9th, 2018 the 16 men and women of Trinity Western’s Board of Governors met to contemplate the sword handed to them by the Supreme Court of Canada as the mandatory community covenant squirmed with life before them. Like Solomon, they needed wisdom to ensure the University continued to thrive after five years of legal battles which had been finally lost.
President Bob Kuhn communicated the decision: “In a decision that I believe will successfully position us to better fulfil the TWU Mission, the Board of Governors has passed the following motion:
‘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.’
Further to this resolution, the Board has asked me to consult with constituents who are part of the University community for purposes of determining ways in which our Christian identity, mission and ministry can continue to be strengthened and clearly communicated. I look forward to the discussions that will follow in the coming months.
In addition to this, and in anticipation of the upcoming school year, Student Life will be working to better communicate our core values and community standards, while simultaneously welcoming and affirming the unique value of each member of our diverse student body.
Our Mission remains the same. We will remain a biblically-based, mission-focused, academically excellent University that remains fully committed to its foundational evangelical Christian principles. Trinity Western University will continue to be a Christ-centred community, one that is defined by our shared pursuit of living our lives to bring glory to God by revealing Christ’s truth, compassion, reconciliation and hope to a world in need.
As we enter this new academic year, I would ask that you make it a season of renewed commitment to prayer. And may God bless us as we seek to serve him.”
As expected, there is a wide range of responses to the decision. For some, in the law society or LGBTQ… community, the club may have been taken out of their hand but it doesn’t take away the impulse to beat down what they don’t like. Some are advocating that the heart of the school hasn’t changed even if the mandatory signing is dropped.
BC’s 28th Premier, William (Bill) Vander Zam (1986-1991) said that “TWU was right in its position and it had little option but to comply with the court ruling. This all shows where democracy is going when people can’t believe what they want. We’re not better off with the Supreme Court ruling – we’re worse off.” He also added that “TWU taking a position was a good thing but it shows how much opposition there is. Some things just need to be said.”
Kevin Cavanaugh, long-term pastor of Cedar Grove Church in Surrey and one of the primary architects of the West Coast Christian Accord (articulating a biblical position on marriage, gender, and human sexuality), stated that “it was a sad and disheartening day for the evangelical community of Canada to receive the news that after fighting a long and hard battle for truth and righteousness all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada that TWU has now bowed its knee to their ungodly dictates. There have been significant signs of what Peter Greer calls ‘Mission Drift’ happening at the school for more than a decade now. The decision to make the student covenant voluntary was the first step in them not having one and the school losing its Christian distinctive. The salt is appearing to be well on its way to having lost its savor.”
John Redekop, executive editor of The Church in Surrey & White Rock, says that “many American schools don’t have covenants and still maintain their Christian witness and mandate.” He notes that “even the Canadian Civil Liberties Association tried to support TWU in the courts without success.”
TWU says its “Community Covenant still exists, unchanged. It still represents the desire of our community.” They claim that the Supreme Court ruling is only one factor in this decision as they try to strengthen their mission and ministry as a “biblically-based, mission-focused, academically-excellent, Christian community that seeks to serve.”
To the question “what measures are in place to ensure that TWU is not heading down the ‘slippery slope,’ the school responds by saying that “spiritual life at TWU remains rooted in the same foundational Evangelical principles it always has, and is continuing to grow stronger and more robust, year by year. Chapel services continue to take place every day, as one of the core rhythms of our spiritual life. Students continue to be heavily involved in ministry to each other and to the surrounding community. Discipleship and mentorship remain core elements to our development of godly Christian leaders. Student Life continues to actively pursue new and innovative ways to serve the student body in alignment with our Mission and Core Values Statement, which remain unchanged.”
The school has made its decision on how to reposition itself after a long and difficult struggle. Now the rest of the Christian community needs to respond on how to engage society in a post-Christian milieu.