Since joining the staff of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) this past summer, I’ve attended not one but two Supreme Court cases in which the EFC was an intervener.
For the Trinity Western University (TWU) case I spent November 30 observing on closed circuit TV in an adjacent courtroom (set up for those who could not fit into the main room), and on December 1 sitting in the actual courtroom. It was almost like winning the lottery to get a seat, there were so many wanting to observe.
I won’t get into the particulars of the case here. The EFC has been involved in this series of TWU law school cases for years, and there is lots of information available to read elsewhere.
As normally happens in a Supreme Court Case, the justices reserved judgment, so we likely won’t know the outcomes of their deliberations for approximately six months. What we can do now is think about the implications for the Church, regardless of the justices’ final decision.
So let me offer up three basic theological lessons for your contemplation:
1) Our hope as the Church has not been, nor ever will be, based on winning a court case.
I have come to this world of law and court cases relatively late in my career, and I am only beginning to see how very complex the legal issues of religious freedom, state neutrality and protection of minorities can really be.
Consequently, I’m grateful for Christians, young and old, who have dedicated their careers to the legal profession. During our days in court we saw how essential it is to have dedicated Christians working in this very challenging context. It’s not just the fine lawyers representing the EFC and Christian Higher Education Canada (our co-intervener), but also those representing many other interveners working on behalf of TWU. I hope and pray that their tribe will increase.
I can also see how we everyday Christians could either easily despair when cases don’t go our way, or conversely how we could easily put high hopes into securing a certain legal outcome.
Now, I truly do pray that TWU will win this case – and not just for the sake of TWU, but for all religious communities across Canada. Engaging these cases is part of the Church’s calling to announce the Lordship of Christ to all spheres of creation, whether in law, education, business, medicine or any other aspect of the public marketplace. And of course, the EFC continues to seek to bring biblical principles to bear in public life, not only for the good of the Church, but for the common good of all people in our society.
I dare not underplay how very precedent-setting this case may be, but let’s remember that the outcome cannot prevent the Church from carrying on its mandate. We have to remember that our hope is not (and has never been) dependent on the outcome of a court case. TWU may win – or they may not.
If they do win, we can be grateful to God that religious freedom has been protected in our land. If they do not win and are denied a Christian law school, the task of the Church remains the same, even if some aspect of religious freedom eventually begins to erode. If and when it does, we must continue to live out our gospel witness.
Our main consolation here is Jesus’ words, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” This is the hope that needs to ground our action, no matter the outcome of this particular court case.
We live in a country, thank God, that allows us to engage in legal and political challenges. We give thanks for those trained and eager to do so. But we do so with chastened expectation and with our eyes fixed firmly on the hope that can only be in our Saviour and Lord.
2) “Win or lose,” our faith ought to be strengthened by the Church’s recent spiritual engagement.
As aliens and strangers in this world, the Church doesn’t seek to exercise political power over the state. In a democracy we may have influence, just as we sought to influence the deliberations of the judges by making legal arguments. But the Church does not wield the power of the state. We do not determine the conclusion.
However, in the days leading up to the TWU case, the EFC and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities co-sponsored a national day of prayer for religious freedom in Canada. We were deeply gratified for the outpouring of support and participation from churches and denominations.
We observed many churches taking the day of prayer as their own, and many denominations calling for all member churches to be involved. If even only a portion of our affiliated denominations and churches participated in focused prayer, we should be encouraged and strengthened in our faith.
Prayer, after all, is our primary political action. It is our opportunity to pray for kings and for all those in authority that serves as a reminder that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords over all authorities and powers.
We certainly don’t know how God will answer the multitude of prayers that were and are continuing to be offered. Whatever the outcome, maybe God is simply trying to get the Canadian church’s attention to pray, to pour out our hearts that He would visit our land with His mercy and peace. So may I ask that you continue in prayer even now, especially now as the justices deliberate toward a decision?
3) Above all else, love for God and for our neighbours must prevail.
It was a small but significant moment for me when I saw one of the lead lawyers from the TWU side approach one of the lead lawyers from the “other side” after the court case to shake hands with him, and thank him warmly for his hard work. I would have imagined that it would have been easier to avoid contact completely, but this small display needs to be multiplied a thousand-fold into the rest of us. If we “win,” will our first impulse be to reach out with the love of Christ to those who opposed us?
We must never forget what Paul said: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the invisible principalities and powers. Our struggle is not with the law societies that refused to accredit TWU’s program or with LGBTQ activists. It never was and it never should be. Nevertheless, we have a history of sometimes (often?) being unloving to such communities. We must not repeat that history here.
It was a wonderful sight on the first day of the case to see TWU students standing outside the Supreme Court handing out hot chocolate to all those who were coming in. For some, that may seem like a silly thing, out of place with the seriousness of the grandeur of the Supreme Court building and all that it stands for. But I think that those small acts of kindness represent how we all need to act – even toward those with whom we fundamentally disagree.
As important as the question is of whether a Supreme Court case is won or lost, the much more important question will be, “Will we continue to love and bless others in Jesus’ name – even those that we might perceive as persecuting us?” With this case, that will be the fundamental test of the Church.
David Guretzki is executive vice president and resident theologian of the EFC. This comment is re-posted by permission from the EFC site.