As Christian universities in Canada navigate offering post-secondary education that does not infringe on legally protected rights, some churches supporting those institutions struggle with the lack of articulated commitment to teach their biblically based understandings of gender, marriage, and sexuality.
Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Saskatoon, Sask., is one of those churches struggling with the issue as it relates to The King’s University in Edmonton, Alta. Bethel asked Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan, its regional assembly of CRC congregations, to (1) urge King’s to uphold the Scripture’s teaching on marriage, gender, and sexuality as currently articulated in the CRCNA; (2) ask King’s to issue a public statement defending that biblical view of gender and sexuality; and (3) request that King’s remove links to LGBTQ-affirming organizations on its website and encourage it to partner with ministries that promote that biblical view of gender and sexuality.
The King’s University (TKU) was at the time preparing a statement of inclusion, which it released in November 2018. Created in consultation with faculty, staff, students, and leadership, the statement is meant to provide “clarity on King’s unique missional Christian role in Canada’s higher education scene.” The need for such a declaration was highlighted for some in the last year when newspaper articles focused on student groups and LGBTQ pride activities resulted in a number of letters from concerned individuals and churches. In turn, a letter of clarification signed by King’s president Melanie Humphreys went out to all CRC councils in Western Canada and Saskatchewan.
The discussion at the October meeting of classis was described as respectful. There were pastors who spoke for and against the requests of Bethel CRC. King’s president Melanie Humphreys was given opportunity to speak, as was King’s board member (at the time) Paul Verhoef, who is also the classis’ chaplain at the University of Calgary.
Verhoef described the conversation as being about “how TKU is going to be a Christian university. TKU is saying that their way of being a Christian university is to root deeply in the Christian story (see mission, vision, and faith commitment/values), while some at classis were asking specifically for an ethical statement around human gender and sexuality to be added to that faith commitment.”
“We believe that the role of a Christian university is to engage in discussions on important topics and challenging issues, not to take political or doctrinal positions,” said Harry Kits, chair of King’s Board of Governors.
In the end, the classis acceded to the first and third of Bethel’s requests but not the second.
In a letter of response to the classis, King’s affirmed its “commitment to Scripture and to a Christian world-and-life view” as articulated in its Statement of Faith. It also noted that it had taken steps to remove the LGBTQ links from the official King’s website, instead linking to the independent Students’ Association website where student groups provide the resources they choose. The letter also welcomed continued engagement with the churches.
The council of Nobleford CRC acted on this, inviting representatives to its January 2019 council meeting. Of those discussions pastor Frank Lanting said, “We had a very good and productive meeting in which we all agreed that Christian education's calling included the task of upholding biblical teachings in matters regarding "marriage, gender, and sexuality"—the very issue raised in the overture (request). As far as our council is concerned, we are assured that TKU is working with us in advancing the redemptive work of Christ in the lives of our students.”
The church that brought the requests to classis has withdrawn its support of King’s. Bethel CRC's council was appreciative of the clear communication but disappointed that the university’s choice to not make an institutional statement on marriage and sexuality failed to give assurances around the council’s main concern.
“Our council’s primary concern has always been, and still is, that students at Christian universities who are experiencing same-sex attraction or questions about their gender identity are taught that they can, by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s power, resist sin and live holy and Christ-honoring lives. Unfortunately, the leadership at King’s gave no assurance toward this end,” pastor Rafik Kamel said. Not wanting to take the matter further, the council decided it cannot continue its financial support or promote enrolment at King’s. “We are all saddened by this and do not take it lightly, but we do not feel that we can confidently entrust the sheep who are under our care to the teaching at King's,” Kamel said.
Support from CRC churches makes up an average of 21 percent of the yearly fundraising total for King’s, which represents 15 percent of the school’s total annual revenue. This particular classis does not contribute financially as a whole. King’s relationship with the CRC goes beyond monetary contribution. "Our ties with the CRC and the classes in our region are strong and are valued by the university," Humphreys said. “In a day and age of polarized public discussion, I think King’s story is one of staying at the table and not shying away from difficult conversations.”
with files from Janet Greidanus