TWU’s Definition of Marriage–Homophobia or a Healthy Identity?

Homosexual marriage is an ongoing dtrinity-logoebate in the evangelical church. I experienced this issue at my alma mater, Trinity Western University (TWU), whose position on homosexuality, as stated in their “community covenant,” has garnered condemnation from certain institutions — such as the Canadian government, the BC teachers’ union, and most recently Law societies across Canada — which have all accused TWU of discriminating against homosexuals. By and large, opposition from these institutions outside the evangelical community has come in the form of unjust and discriminatory attacks. TWU’s defence against these attacks are heroic attempts to shore up religious freedom in the country.

TWU’s community covenant, a written agreement which all members of the community are required to sign, attempts in more or less broad strokes to outline the hopes and expectations of the educational community, defining rules and guidelines informed by an evangelical heritage, which encourage and support a safe learning environment. The covenant, however, stipulates marriage is only between a man and woman. Such a definition requires that married homosexuals refrain from being homosexuals while on campus. Is this discrimination? Certainly.

A defined identity, like the one in TWU’s covenant, is necessary and exclusive.  Definitive identities are necessary because without them there would be no way to distinguish between one or the other. Difference depends on definitive identities and, as a result, identities must be exclusive. Their exclusivity is what constitutes the identity itself.  For example, to maintain hygiene, I discriminate against anyone who walks into my home with dirty boots — my home is exclusive and without that exclusivity I could have no home. Further, we all sacrifice freedom to participate in particular communities. Traffic laws are a relevant example; they limit our freedom to drive in any way we please, and thereby support cooperation in a space shared with others. Exclusive identities can therefore lead to occasions of justice.

Evangelical’s create and obey the rules outlined in the covenant because they afford a safe community. And like all communities exclusivity is a necessary ingredient. TWU’s covenant’s excludes for the purpose of creating a safe and flourishing Christian community.

Exclusive identities can be occasions of justice and love, however they may also be unjust and inspire hatred. Hatred and injustice occurs when identities or rules fail to respond or acknowledge the difference that exists among us. As mentioned at the beginning, in the evangelical community the debate around homosexual marriage has been happening for over a decade. Evangelicals who are LGBTQ+ and their sympathizers argue that excluding them  from the evangelical community, on the grounds that they defile an “authentic” identity, runs counter to the Christian principles of love, hospitality, fidelity, etc, principles which inspire the evangelical definition of marriage in the first place. It is not the case that an “outside” force is imposing their will on the evangelical community. Rather, these are voices emerging from within the community itself. The current covenant’s stance on heterosexual marriage willfully ignores LGBTQ+ evangelicals, excluding those it purports to protect. Further, it cripples an important conversation happening in the evangelical church, the very type of conversation that should be safe to have at an evangelical institute for higher learning and inquiry.

004-twu-add-six-cis-sports-fullAs a student at TWU, I experienced the covenant working against its own purpose as it created hostile barriers between members of dorms and it degraded the cohesiveness of the group as a whole. This happens in numerous dorms across campus each year. Unless the standards address this issue or at the very least are open to the existence of married evangelical LGBTQ+ individuals, the University will inevitably deny an aspect of who it is and participate in a form of self hatred. For all these reasons, the current covenant’s stance on marriage has become an occasion of injustice, working against the health and safety of the community, the very thing it was designed to promote.

It is the community’s responsibility to continually reevaluate these exclusive identities in light of those they serve and the culture they aim to cultivate. It’s time TWU responds to its ethical and religious imperative.

As this criticism is aimed at TWU’s community covenant, it needs to be acknowledge that faculty and the student life department work diligently to create a safe environment for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation. Yet, this important and diligent work is hampered by the very tool that should support it, a community covenant.

One final point before I end this rant. LGBTQ+ sympathizers hesitant to changing the covenant often express a concern regarding the question of hospitality: “How does a community open its identity without losing it or letting in something that destroys it?” Although there are many ways of addressing this question, I’ve always been a fan of open, honest conversation that respects others and the context we all share. When boundaries are held opened with wisdom and understanding, a negotiation and discernment process can begin. How many more years does a conversation around sexuality need to occur in the evangelical community before its premier institute of higher education will at least take a neutral stance on the issue, encouraging a healthier dialogue? Wouldn’t it be great if the students most affected by this aspect of the covenant be recognized as valuable and provided a seat at the table?

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4 thoughts on “TWU’s Definition of Marriage–Homophobia or a Healthy Identity?

  1. So I just want to see if I understand this correctly? You mean to say that defined identities are necessary, but that TWU’s defined identity excludes some of it’s own members by it’s conservative definition of marriage? And that, as Canada’s premier Christian university, the important and debated issue of homosexulity in Christianity ought to be debated in TWU openly, beginning with a neutral stance since many Christians, both studying at TWU and the Christian community in general, define themselves as LGBTQ+ Christians?

    I think I agree, but I feel like issue comes down to the fact that TWU is deeply divided within itself. It has a heritage (which continues to financially support it) that does not want to discuss or debate the homosexuality issue. For many Christians it is not a debate. LGBTQ+ Christians are wrong and accepting homosexuality in the christian community is accepting a corruption of Christian principles. Defining an identity always leads to exclusion, as you said, and i fear that many Christians really want to exclude homosexual Christians.

    The difficulty of TWU is that there is large discrepancy between the views of those who attend and covenant of faith that everyone signs. Many professors do not even agree with the wording of some theological points included in the covenant regarding the nature by which scripture is inspired. Yet, what do you do as a professor that wishes to teach at well established christian university and the only issue that stands in his way is a little box that you sign as a community covenant once a year? The same goes for christian homosexuals that attend TWU. They want to live in a christian environment, learn more about their faith, and yet they differ in their views on homosexuality. Many people sign the covenant and then continue questioning and thinking. And really, having checked an online box with many paragraphs and one sentence that says you believe marriage is between man and women, before moving on to sign up for a parking pass will not make you less critical when writing papers and researching issues of gender and homosexuality in scripture and the church. Many people honorably decide to follow the covenant (as it mainly pertains to conduct) even while they are not certain of its tenants, and other just sign the covenant don’t really think about it after. Because of this, you find many different perspectives at TWU, and the attitude of people is not such a closed and defined identity as the covenant would suggest. Their are many people who openly claim to be atheists that attend TWU, how does that jive with the community covenant?

    But, as I was saying, a strong part of the heritage, some of the current faculty and the main sources of funding do not want to expand the definition of their christian community to includes those who claim to have a homosexual christian identity. I don’t think you can stop an institution from doing this, even though I would agree with you, this is perhaps one of the most important debates in Christianity and it would be nice if an open debate could take place at TWU. However, TWU is free and should be allowed to define itself more exclusively, to it’s own detriment. There is a different between arguing for what I think TWU should do and what I think it should be allowed to do.

    But many Christians want to stay firm and not budge on the homosexual question, the recent World Vision debacle is a good example.

  2. Hello, I am a TWU alumni who wants to stay updated on this subject. I was invited to campus to attend a series of four lectures on Gender, Sex and the Bible. It was a free event which covered the current research in Biology, Neuroscience, Sociology, Psychology, and Theology. These lectures also served as a platform to become more educated about current issues surrounding gender, sex, and Christian theology. There was a Q & A segment where dialogue was encouraged. The series was filmed and should be on TWU’s website somewhere.
    What is starting to disappoint me, is the lack of “advertisement” that this lecture series was taking place. I have talked to both alumni and students who were unaware this series was being held; people who would have attended if they had known.

  3. 2 Peter 1 :21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
    All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness
    2 Timothy 3:16
    As a believer and follower, you have to believe the bible in its entirety as the truth spoken from God. You can’t pick and choose what suits you and sugar coat words and commands that don’t.

    • Thanks for the encouraging reminder Sheryl. I try my best to read the Bible in its entirety and avoid cherry picking. Hopefully that’s the type of scholarship you’ll find on this blog.

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