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G. Elijah Dann Headshot

Does Christian Law School Stunt Moral Progress?

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With same-sex marriage firmly in place since 2005, Canadians look to the goings-on in the U.S. and shake their heads. Time to get over homophobia.

We'd be mistaken, however, to have unbridled optimism for society's moral progress, whether with Canada or the U.S. Case in point, one of those "Christian universities" here in Canada: Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley B.C.

Like the rest of religiously-saturated institutions in North America, TWU considers itself to the ideal place to teach courses in the sciences and the humanities to their Christian youth. They describe their approach as "faith-based" -- their code for "fundamentalist Christian."

Institutions like these fancy themselves, among other virtues, to be a moral beacon for society. As it turns out, however, with second-rate scholarship on moral matters, they are more of a drag on society's moral progress than a force for it.

To the present point, law students and associations across Canada have a bone to pick with TWU's aspirations to be Canada's first Christian law school. Given that it's controversial and it involves conservative Christians, no surprise it's also about sex. Still less surprise, it's about same-sex.

In an article in the National Post, various law professors and lawyers lay out their concern:

"Like all TWU faculty, staff and students, law students attending TWU would be required to sign a Community Covenant Agreement. That Covenant includes the stipulation that 'in keeping with Biblical and TWU ideals,' all TWU community members will abstain from same-sex sexual intimacy. Any student violating the TWU Covenant risks disciplinary measures including expulsion."

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The rest of us are right to be concerned. How would we feel if Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to open a medical school, teaching their students that blood transfusions are an affront to Jehovah and those who have them have no chance at a future life? I would hope Canada's medical associations and physicians would voice their concerns -- not because of its theology but because of its medical advice.

In any case, I'll let the law professors argue their legal points against TWU. My points are perhaps more rudimentary.

Whenever someone is arguing for something, it's fair and often quite enlightening to look for his or her basic operating assumption. The conservative Christian obsession with homosexuality is no secret, but what exactly is its basis? It's an inquiry seldom asked of them, and it deserves investigation.

In the case of same-sex marriage, all the typical arguments by Christians about it being a redefinition of marriage, leading to polygamy and then bestiality, and so forth, are really only secondary to their real source of scandal.

Their real furor over homosexuality comes from a book written by various authors, in parts and pieces, over two thousand years ago -- The Bible. But even then, their hostility is founded on a smattering of sentences. Just the kind of research we want our accredited Canadian universities to be teaching students. Soon-to-be lawyers, grade school teachers, and other graduates -- many of whom have aspirations to spend time after graduation working with Members of Parliament in Ottawa.

With a few scattered verses serving as proof text, those at TWU, like some other conservative Christians, consider homosexuality to be a grievous and heinous act. It's an "abomination." Further, those who participate in homosexuality have eternal damnation as their future reward. Again, all from their interpretation of the Bible.

But that's not what you typically hear from them when they are out in public. Instead, they'll recite arguments about "traditional marriage," polygamy, bestiality and the like. On the face of it, the rest of us find it hard to understand the force of these arguments. That's because they have little logical force. The real basis for their opposition to homosexuality is really more basic (albeit not any more rational).

To bring the point homo -- I mean home -- one thing you've got to admit about the Westboro Baptist Church (the infamous "God hates fags" group), when they get out and demonstrate against homosexuality, you don't have to guess what they are really thinking. "The Bible Condemns Sodomites." That's the core of what they think the Bible says. Westboro is only being a little more honest about what they really believe deep down.

Given that this is the central operating assumption, again, why doesn't TWU just come out and say so? Coming out, they should realize, is not just a cliché. It is good for the soul.

The reason for TWU's reluctance is clear: the rest of society has moved on from frontier preaching times. Today, language of this sort brings a resounding shock from the rest of society. "Secular" morality, it appears, has tempered their language.

Why hasn't it tempered it down to the core? They may realize that being politically correct is sometimes wise to practice. But in moral argument, transparency, honesty and openness are equal demands. And TWU doesn't meet them.

The second point is to the nature of the university. TWU has said that, "a faith-based community still has the religious freedom in Canada to maintain its beliefs and participate fully in society."

The trouble is that TWU wants to teach beliefs that lack rigorous scholarship. True, there is religious freedom in Canada. But like any freedoms, none are absolute. What would we say if they were teaching that the Bible doesn't allow for mixed-race marriage? What would we think if they were teaching that the Bible doesn't condemn slavery, so it's permissible? It hasn't been that long ago that these beliefs were supported by mainstream conservative Christianity.

Trouble is, the Christian attack on homosexuality is still quite in vogue, not quite reaching the level of cultural repugnance of these other, former, "Christian values."

Perhaps the most damning argument against TWU and their discrimination against homosexuality, and by extension same-sex marriage, is that it can't be found in the Bible. How could it be so?

Imagine.

We used to believe lots of things from the Bible we tortured others to accept. We got over the Earth not being the centre of our solar system; we've (mostly) gotten over the universe being older than 6,000 years; we've become tired of religious wars; we know there's no qualitative difference between races and genders. Hopefully we'll soon get over homosexuality.