Christian professionals might become extinct in Canada

Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, says the treatment of the Trinity Western University School of Law demonstrates Christians are being discriminated against.

Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, says the treatment of the Trinity Western University School of Law demonstrates that Christians are being discriminated against.

A law school that doesn’t exist yet has already been blacklisted by the law societies of Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia. Each had voted to bar its graduates from practicing law in their province.

It’s not because the proposed law program [Trinity Western University School of Law] fails to meet the rigorous academic requirements. In fact, the Federation of Canadian Law Societies has already approved the law school.

And it’s not because the university requires its students to adhere to a code of conduct that includes abstinence from pornography, alcohol, stealing and plagiarizing while they are enrolled there. In fact, all universities impose standards of behaviour on their students – standards that reflect the ethos and traditions of each institution of higher learning.

Their objections are rooted in the fact that the proposed law school is being established by a private Christian university whose code of conduct is based on a Christian ethos that reflects its high regard for biblical authority.

They argue, baselessly, that students who voluntarily choose to live by God’s standard of morality must be incapable of practicing law according to the profession’s own code of conduct because they have been corrupted by their religious point of view (where “religious” is equated with “archaic,” “flawed,” “aberrant” and “intolerant”).

They are demanding that the university reject its Christian stance as it applies to sexual immorality and that it stop requiring its students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

And this is really the heart of the issue. They are offended because the school does not condone homosexual behaviour, and this, they argue, discriminates against members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community who may feel dissuaded from studying law there.

No matter that the university has a reputation for academic excellence; that the school is well within its rights as a faith-based institution to define marriage and sexual morality according to its strongly held religious beliefs and within its own community; that the university has never violated any human rights law; and that the school has historically accepted non-Christian and LGBT students and that they had freely chosen to abide by the school’s code of conduct.

No matter. Because the school’s traditional view of heterosexual marriage and sexual morality is a personal affront to those who hold the majority, relativistic view of such matters, resulting in unreasonable charges of intolerance and discrimination being leveled against it.

As such, potential graduates are already deemed unfit to practice law and will be denied admission into the law societies simply because they had chosen to exercise their personal beliefs while studying at a private Christian university.

But why stop at graduates of Christian law schools? Why not exclude any Christian from practicing law?

And why stop at Christian lawyers? By extension, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and any one else who has a traditional view of marriage and sexuality would be barred as well.

And why stop at the law profession? It’s conceivable that any self-regulating professional body (e.g. teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, etc.) could deny certification to otherwise qualified candidates, solely on the basis of their faith-based view of sexual relationships.

The sad reality is, most Canadians believe it’s more acceptable to ask Christians to act in opposition to their deeply held beliefs than it is to ask homosexuals to act in opposition to theirs (even when it’s within a private, faith-based setting). In a post-Christian, secular Canada, discrimination is no longer deemed to be discrimination when it is leveled at Christians.

                            I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:18)

But the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) believes this is wrong. We must fight for our right to not just be Christians, but to be able to act according to our faith without fear of hindrance or reprisal. When the university took the case to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, the EFC was there as an intervener to defend our constitutional right to freedom of religion*. When the court decided in favour of the school in January 2015, it was a victory for religious freedom.

The Hon. Justice J. Campbell wrote: “Learning in an environment with people who promise to comply with the code is a religious practice and an expression of religious faith . . . Requiring a person to give up that right in order to get his or her professional education recognized is an infringement of religious freedom.”

But the battle continues. The law society in Nova Scotia has appealed the court’s decision. The EFC will also be an intervener when the case is heard in Ontario this June. As well, we are applying for intervener status in BC, where the case will be heard later this year.

At no time in EFC’s 50-year history have we been so active in our various spheres of influence. As you may already know, we had intervened in three separate cases at the Supreme Court of Canada since January 2014. We don’t plan on slowing down.

Bruce Clemenger is president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. This comment is re-posted by permission; it was sent out in April as part of a financial appeal for the EFC’s work in the legal realm.

* For more commentary from the EFC on the Trinity Western case, go here.

10 comments for “Christian professionals might become extinct in Canada

  1. Michael
    May 15, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Respectfully, why can’t a person be a Christian and attend one of the existing law schools in British Columbia today? How is the constant siloing of Christians a good thing for democracy or for sharing the gospel with others? How are non-Christians going to even know what Christians are if we are constantly hiding out?

    Do we have a faith worth sharing or do we want to just keep it to ourselves? In so many ways TWU is hurting Christianity – we should be out there, engaging with others, sharing our faith. We should especially be engaging with the broader community on issues of law – or are we too precious to darken the halls of a secular university?

  2. Michael
    May 15, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    I apologize, not sure if my previous comment went through. The real question is this: why do we need a TWU law school? Why aren’t Christians out there engaging in policy-making and law-making with the broader community?

    Are we afraid? Do we really have a faith worth sharing? Democracy and good policy flourishes when people from a variety of backgrounds come together and have a conversation. I fear TWU Law School will harm Christianity – it will harm Christianity in that we need to be out there sharing our faith – sharing the love of Christ – not hiding out.

    You can be a Christian lawyer today, right now. No one is stopping you. Is a TWU law school about the heart of Christ or does it just continue to silo Christians and create dangerous divisions in Canadian society? As someone who loves Christ, I have many reservations about a TWU law school.

    • Flyn Ritchie
      May 15, 2015 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks for you response Michael. I can understand your concern, but I think it is misplaced. Trinity Western has trained thousands of young men and women to work in various professions out in the community. They are keen to make a difference in the world around them, not to hide from it.

      The people responsible for the law school are not developing silos or creating divisions in Canadian society. They have many years of experience in both public law schools and in law firms dealing with a wide range of issues.

      Bob Kuhn, the president of Trinity Western, got his first degree at TWU before going on to UBC Law School – and then worked as a lawyer for 33 years. Earl Phillips, executive director for the TWU School of Law graduated from the University of Victoria Law School and until recently was Vancouver managing partner of the law firm McCarthy Tétrault LLP.

      You say: “We should especially be engaging with the broader community on issues of law.” That is exactly what they want to do with the law school. And it the meantime, it is important to remember that having the freedom to act on our religious beliefs is one of those important issues.

      • Charles
        May 16, 2015 at 5:15 am

        One reason I could see that a student would prefer going to a Christian school to receive professional training over a secular one would be the school environment itself.

        Adherence to the code of conduct means a learning environment free of the temptations and exposure to negative lifestyles that come with attending secular universities. Some students would appreciate not being surrounded by the get drunk every weekend, hookup culture partying atmosphere that is common in secular post-secondary institutions.

        • Michael
          May 16, 2015 at 10:22 am

          Kindly Charles, your attitude is representative of the rather condescending attitude that has become so prevalent in Christian circles. “Sin” only happens over in those secular institutions. I went to a secular institution – I had amazing non-Christian friends who were not getting drunk or hooking up every weekend.

          In fact, I find your attitude remarkably unkind. And let’s be honest, the root of all sins has infected our Christian culture: pride. We simply think we’re better than non-Christians. I have been told to my face by TWU grads that “TWU grads are better than [grads from SFU and UBC]” – that is why I cannot get behind a TWU law school. Who wants a lawyer who has been trained in an environment that sees others – even other brothers in Christ – as less-than?

          • Charles
            May 16, 2015 at 11:50 am

            School rivalries happen regardless. Life experiences teach otherwise. That said, if in court for upholding Christian morals and beliefs and under the accusation of “discrimination,” I’d sooner have a lawyer that shares and respects my beliefs over the emotionally reactive social justice warrior mentality that seems to be infiltrating secular universities.

            US law student immature reaction to the Ferguson trial outcome is a big example of what I’m referring to. TWU lawyers will be going in already knowing that they will continuously have to prove themselves and there would be a huge degree of integrity that would come with that knowledge.

          • Corina
            May 16, 2015 at 12:48 pm

            Yes, life experience teaches us otherwise – that is why the intent of a TWU Law School might not be what it sets out to be in reality. Non-TWU alum, who attend church in the Fraser Valley, will tell you of the favouritism that is already going on between TWU alum.

            So, let’s take a hypothetical example, which is not too far from the life stories of some girlfriends I knew growing up here in the Bible belt: Let’s say a TWU-trained youth pastor sexually assaults a not-so-well-connected teen (maybe she even goes to public school, full of drunks and hook-ups) from his youth group, and the victim’s family ends up with a TWU-trained lawyer. Given the seeming culture of TWU alum favouring each other in the Fraser Valley, can the victim be assured she would be taken seriously?

            What about the ultra-moral climate of TWU – would the TWU-trained lawyer secretly feel the young woman asked for it? Perhaps her clothes were a little too immodest after all. In this case the victim might very well be served better by a lawyer as far removed from her own community as possible, maybe even a lesbian lawyer.

            We want to deny this, but TWU appears to be contributing to an ultra-fundamentalist climate and culture that is not always as loving and kind as it thinks it is. There is just as much “sin” at TWU as there is at SFU, UBC or UVic. Feedback from those outside our immediate culture and community creates accountability and makes us stronger – and hopefully more compassionate.

            I would like to agree with you and say that TWU is creating superlative Christians, but I think the experiment is failing and working against Christian growth and love. I think this will also work against justice in Canada (which of course is not perfect).

            Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual one – we are on the wrong track here and creating our own persecution complex. Sadly, and in general, there is not an overwhelming body of evidence that is suggesting TWU alum already have any greater integrity than the general “secular” population – and to suggest that they might, I believe, is rather self-righteous.

          • Dee
            January 13, 2018 at 10:09 am

            Kindly Michael, your attitude is more condescending than Charles’ attitude. Please speak for yourself, not on behalf of “we Christians.” I too am a Christian and I do not think of myself as better than non-Christians. Maybe it is you that needs an attitude adjustment.

            In your post, it seems as though you view a whole group of Christians as less than by not “get[ting] behind a TWU law school.” You are, in fact, looking down on an entire school based on the beliefs or comments of a few people that went there. Forgiveness is required of Christians.

  3. Michael
    May 16, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Sadly, TWU grads in the Fraser Valley don’t always have the best reputation in the local non-Christian community in the Fraser Valley. Also, we have a problem – Christians now never leave their Christian community – they go to Christian elementary school, Christian high school, Bible college, TWU, and then they can go to Christian professional school.

    A TWU Law School is a nice idea, but I think it will just continue to contribute to the harmful divisions between non-Christians and Christians in our society, and hurt democracy. Your typical TWU grad has probably never, ever encountered a “non-Christian” and secretly views them as the “dangerous other.”

    In the area of law, this is especially concerning. Also, it is often discussed at Fraser Valley churches how TWU grads favour one another – there’s a certain club – would a TWU-trained lawyer fight harder for a TWU grad? Would they secretly view a non-Christian client as less than? We need to have honest discussions about all of these issues.

    • Dee
      January 13, 2018 at 9:37 am

      What? Seriously? Did you read the post that says they accept non-Christians and members of the LGBT community into the school? A lawyer is a lawyer. I think that Christian lawyers would fight for justice regardless of the gender or religious background of their defendant.

      One could ask the same of a secular lawyer – would they view a Christian client as less than? Would a secular lawyer favor a non-Christian over a Christian?

      Clearly, that is what they are attempting to do – favor a non-Christian school over a Christian school even though the school meets the academic requirements.

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