Thinking Out Loud

February 11, 2010

Autonomy of Christian Organizations In Canada Under Threat

With the Christian Horizons case already on the minds of Evangelicals in Canada, the right of Christian organizations to establish hiring practices which aim to hire Christian staff has shifted to another arena:  Christian colleges and universities.

The Horizons case came about after an employee felt she was wrongfully dismissed for contravening that organization’s lifestyle clause.    But investigations into Trinity Western University (TWU) and Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) have no specific complainant.   Rather, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) feels that hiring committed believers to university teaching positions violates academic freedom.  (None of the TWU faculty are members of CAUT.)

Christian Week, Canada’s national Christian newspaper reports:

[CAUT] placed TWU on a list of institutions “found to have imposed a requirement of a commitment to a particular ideology or statement as a condition of employment.”

CAUT is also investigating the statement of faith policies of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg and Crandall University (formerly Atlantic Baptist University) in Moncton.

“In our view,” says CAUT executive director James Turk, “the role of a university is not to make disciples, whether of a religious viewpoint or an ideological viewpoint. They’re to create the context in which people can make their own decisions.”

Turk adds, “If a fundamentalist Christian were barred from working at a university because of their religious beliefs, we’d be every bit as outraged.”

[TWU President Jonathan] Raymond calls the move a “red herring.” He says the sole purpose of TWU’s statement of faith is to uphold the founding charter granted by the province in 1972 that allows the school to function as a Christian university. Hiring teachers who self-identify as Christians does not mean that their scholarly pursuits must all conform to biblical principles.

“We don’t insist on the engagement of Christian faith,” Raymond says, “but we anticipate a high probability that the choice of research topics, how one puts their syllabus together, the interpretation of theories, will be informed by a person’s faith just as a matter of course.”

[…read the entire story here…]

As with the Christian Horizons case, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, this country’s equivalent to the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals, is certain to weigh in on the matter.

The difference however is that some of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal case against Christian Horizons concerned the matter of who was being served; that is, that the clients of Christian Horizons represented a cross-section of the public at large.   That case can’t be made here, as both undergraduate and graduate students clearly make their academic choices most carefully and in full regard for the Christian institutions’  Christian heritage and practices.

However, in both cases, the larger issue is the right of organizations which don’t hide their Christian history and association to hire like minded staff, and to deliver a faith-based service using faith-based employees.   Committing to a lifestyle agreement or signing a statement of faith is one step toward having a staff that are all on the same page when it comes to motivation and spiritual ethics.

The EFC media release on the Christian Horizons is quite clear:

“This decision was shocking,” states Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel for the EFC. “It’s inconsistent with long-standing Supreme Court jurisprudence that clearly sets out that people of faith can choose to gather for ministry works and service – this has been confirmed as an extension of their right to freedom of religion.”

Without over-reacting, the bottom line is that it’s not academic freedom that’s currently under threat, but clearly it’s the freedom of Christians and in particular Evangelical Christians in Canada.

Where will the next battle be staging?

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