The last time Trinity Western University changed its community covenant, it was to allow dancing.
The covenant is not changing but the Christian university’s board of governors recently decided that it will no longer require students to sign the covenant’s pledge not to partake in sexual intimacy before marriage and only then between a man and a woman.
"In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University,” says the board’s motion.
The university’s president, Bob Kuhn, notified students and alumni about the change in an email on Monday. He said the decision will “successfully position us to better fulfill the TWU Mission.”
“This is obviously an extremely exciting step in the right direction,” says Matthew Wigmore, a TWU alumni and co-founder of One TWU, a group that gives voice to the university’s LGBTQ+ students. “If it continues on this journey, TWU will become a more pluralistic community.”
Wigmore grew up in an evangelical family and came out in his second year at TWU, a university he loves. “I had an almost 100 per cent positive experience in the classroom,” he says.
Within the religious community there is a huge diversity of opinion about sexuality and, in spite of the covenant, that was also true at TWU, Wigmore says. However, it was extremely important to him that LGBTQ+ students have equal rights at the university.
For those students, “both their faith and their sexuality and gender identity are crucial to who they are and it’s incriminating to suggest to someone that they have to choose between the two… People shouldn’t have to feel they have to justify their sexuality or gender identity to the powers that be….
“It’s one thing to go to school with people you disagree with. It’s another to go to a school with people who have more rights than you do.”
The covenant makes LGBTQ+ “lesser than” their heterosexual counterparts, he said.
The One TWU website says, “Although Jesus commands us in Matthew 22:39 to 'Love your neighbour as yourself, the Christian church still struggles with how to love our neighbours when they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Trinity Western University has similarly struggled with this same question, particularly over the past few years.”
Wigmore graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and a minor in gender studies. He has since got his master’s in gender policies from the London School of Economics and now works for a non-governmental organization in London.
The board’s decision comes two months after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the law societies in British Columbia and Ontario have the right to refuse accreditation to graduates of TWU’s law school. The 7-2 ruling said the law profession had the right to promote equality by ensuring all students, regardless of sexuality, have the right to equal access to practice law.