The issue of pluralism (which permits and encourages all opinions) and syncretism (which believes that all things are the same) is a huge divide that is becoming of greater and greater concern in society. It becomes even more challenging when the issue is a bit cloudy in the case of Trinity Western University’s application to start a Law School. The current President of TWU is Bob Kuhn, an old friend of mine from the 80’s when we both attended First Baptist Church Vancouver. He is also a close friend of Carson Pue and David Bentall; the three of whom were the subjects of a book on friendship by David.
I was asked by a member of Kitsilano Christian Community and a lawyer, Earl Phillips, to make a submission to the British Columbia Law Society in support of TWU’s application. I was happy to do so. Other faith groups have also been asked to comment and you will see Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Miller’s letter attached. These kinds of issues are difficult to get into and even more challenging to extract oneself from as they involve faith, politics and perception. The irony about the debate has not been whether a conservative Christian college can run a law school (there are a number of legitimate opinions in our midst about this), rather the unusual and somewhat “over-the-top” reaction from people who are traditionally civil libertarians has been frankly, quite appalling. It’s OK to make your point but as Canadian Civil Liberties association will point out, speak civilly in these matters or it may be best not to comment at all. This has happened before but it is somewhat nastier in this context. My approach has been to appeal to “reasonableness”, however that may play out. But also to drawn on our own hope for pluralism and tolerance… that it may be afforded, not only to ourselves and those we agree with but also inevitably those we disagree with. This approach is easily presentable from our own Baptist faith tradition and polity.
By the way, Mr. Justice Kenneth C. Mackenzie referred to in the letter is a member of Fairview Baptist. His comments refer to a particular case but point to a general principle. When you read this please understand the secular audience I am addressing it to. This is not an “in-house’ document nor is it a sermon. It is a brief to a professional society and should be seen as such. Just thought I’d mention that.
Dear Mr. McGee,
I preface this letter with gratitude for the significant contribution to civil and public discourse that The Law Society of British Columbia has facilitated by inviting submissions in the matter of Trinity Western University’s application for recognition of their law school. In keeping with the desire for a pluralistic and harmonious society that I know we all share, today I write to you in support of TWU’s law school. In a civil and heterogeneous society, the voices of a broad and diverse range of opinions must be heard, included, and incorporated in the ways we choose to live together. This includes, but is not limited to, TWU’s law school.
The Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, which began its work in the West in the 1870s, has long been known for its celebration of the diversity inherent in Canadian life. Tommy Douglas and John Diefenbaker, two members of our family of churches, promulgated the following Canadian traditions of social justice with great effectiveness: the enfranchisement of First Nations, the opposition to apartheid by a Commonwealth head of state, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and Medicare. The wider North American Baptist family includes three Nobel Laureates in the areas of civil rights, peacemaking, and the environment, in the persons of Martin Luther King Jr., President Jimmy Carter, and Vice-President Al Gore.
In his written decision for Chamberlain v. The Board of Trustees of School District #36 (Surrey), Mr. Justice Kenneth C. Mackenzie of the British Columbia Court of Appeal described pluralism “in the sense that moral positions are to be accorded standing in the public square irrespective of whether the position flows out of a conscience that is religiously informed or not.” Indeed, the voices of inclusion and tolerance emanate from many places. Legal societies, community groups, and faith groups all have their contributions to make to this discussion. Former Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia David Lam, as a Baptist and one well versed in Confucian philosophy, stated upon the occasion of his appointment, “It is not good enough to tolerate one another; that’s like holding your breath…we should celebrate diversity.” Or as Mohandas Gandhi is known to have said, “The golden rule of conduct is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike…”
Thus it is ironic, possibly even tragic, that a new sense of inclusion and diversity threatens to repeat the problems of previous generational narrowness by replacing old bigotries with new ones. We only make progress as a society when we truly live out a pluralism that credits each other with the ability to share and live our own personal narratives without discrimination. We need to insist that no harm comes to others as we live our personal stories. Inconvenient as it may be, we must begin to show societal progress by applying tolerance to all and not simply shuffle around our biases.
TWU’s Community Covenant applies to all and targets no one group. It frames sexual behaviour and evenly applies it to sexually attracted persons, whether attracted to the opposite sex or the same sex. Since it does not target a particular group, TWU therefore cannot reasonably be accused of discrimination.
Any commitment to diversity will ask of all parties to inconvenience themselves for others. Collective compatibility will only be achieved through small and large sacrifices, no matter how ambivalent or disagreeable it may seem. It is important that all of us decide to do the greater good for all, not just for some, as some may define it. We have, I trust, reached the developmental stage in our society where all can be heard, and each new social awareness and change need not be accompanied by “winners” and “losers.” Such a mentality results in an anti-pluralist bifurcation of society, featuring a triumphant group on one side and a newly formed marginalized group on the other.
We as Canadian Baptists of Western Canada enjoy a long and committed history to a diverse society, which by its very nature includes the rights of all and excludes entitlement for any. TWU continues to maintain its place in a diverse and pluralistic society. It seeks no entitlement, simply a place at the table in a civil society that celebrates the diversity we find so meaningful….