THE STRATEGY USED IN THE 1990s in response to the rise of human rights commissions was to develop extensive statements defining institutional positions on a number of issues, including marriage and sexuality. But there is a growing sense in Christian higher education across Canada that this strategy is no longer effective.
“The strategy we are now employing,” explained Melanie Humphreys, President of The King’s University, and Harry Kits, Chair of its Board of Governors, “is to define ourselves as a Christian university by our mission, our statement of faith, our curriculum and our hiring of Christians. We have also developed a clear statement on inclusion to articulate the particular way that we believe a Christian university should address these issues. With this clearly defined, we commit to be engaged, to stay at the table, and to create space for dialogue on issues for which there are significant disagreement.”
These words are found in a letter sent from The King’s University to the Stated Clerk of the Christian Reformed Church’s (CRC) Classis Alberta South & Saskatchewan. It was, in part, the university’s response to a recent overture brought forth by a church in that Classis asking it to urge King’s to uphold the Scripture’s teaching on marriage, gender and sexuality as currently articulated in the CRC and to make a public statement about it.
There are many reasons beyond this overture why King’s needed a statement on inclusion. In April 2018 the university was thrust into the limelight by a couple of lengthy newspaper articles. The first was focused on the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to include sexual orientation as a protected human right in Canada. It included King’s painful history and involvement in that story and gave the impression of King’s as an unwelcoming place for LGBTQ2+ persons. The second article interviewed several gender diverse students about their experiences at King’s, demonstrating they feel safe, loved and supported there. However, some facts in the article were easily misconstrued, resulting in King’s receiving a number of letters from concerned individuals and churches. In turn, a letter of clarification signed by Humphreys went out to all CRC councils in Western Canada and Saskatchewan. It became obvious that there are strongly divergent views within King’s supporting community and the university needed to address them. Unknown to most people at the time, King’s was already working on a statement on inclusion. Finally, after almost two years of collaboration between faculty, staff, students and King’s Board of Governors, it was officially released on Nov. 19, 2018.
The process of creating the statement involved more work than might be apparent upon reading it (see sidebar). There were numerous meetings, forums and workshops and extensive reading and research into websites of other Christian universities. One website that was particularly helpful, said Humphreys, was that of the University of Notre Dame whose statement on inclusion is founded on Ephesians 2:19 where none are strangers or outsiders.
Only time will tell if King’s statement on inclusion will appease those primarily concerned about its views related to LGBTQ2+ persons about which the statement does not make specific reference. Rather, the statement is intended to include all persons, regardless of colour, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, disabilities or other special needs. It includes students like Prabhjot (Prabh) Singh, a second-year student at The King’s University.
Born in India, Singh’s parents moved to Dubai when he was five years old. A practicing Sikh who prays weekly at a Sikh temple, Singh initially chose to attend King’s for practical reasons. He desired small classes and one on one opportunities with professors, but King’s was also the first to accept his application at a time when his current student visa was close to expiring. Although worried at the time about how he would be accepted and included at a Christian university, he now has nothing but praise and gratitude to express. He has many close friends and was invited to the home of one of them over Christmas break.
“I really like it here at King’s,” said Singh. “It’s a small community of people that are very loving and always willing to help one another. Coming from a different cultural background, people here have accepted me for who I am and in fact want to know more about me such as where I am from and about my goals and ambitions just so they can understand me better. This gives me a sense of belonging and feeling welcomed.”
As the denomination that founded and supports The King’s University still wrestles with how to respond to LGBTQ2+ members, King’s reminds us it is a school, not a church.
“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 its Board Chair. About the newly released statement on inclusion, President Humphreys says it in a nutshell: “All are welcome here.”
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