Trinity Western Magazine

No. 25

A New Era

Time to Shine

by Bob Kuhn ’72

president bob kuhn can often be seen through the side door of his office, dictating letters before the start of another busy day.

“this little light of mine, i’m gonna let it shine” is the line from an old Sunday school chorus that I remember singing as a very young child. But what does that involve? Shining as a light for Christ is something we, as Christians, applaud. But in reality, we often choose to take the easier road of ensuring we are not noticed, don’t stand out, and definitely don’t rock the boat. In Canada, this has often been our story. But sometimes we find ourselves, by choice or not, in a place where we must let our little light shine—and it’s far from comfortable. This is where I found myself on two particular dates that will always be etched in my memory.

Bob Kuhn

In some ways, it seems like a long time ago. November 9, 2000, two days before Remembrance Day, was a cold, early winter day in Ottawa. By comparison, only a short time ago, April 24, 2014, the week after Easter, was quite a warm spring day in Toronto. The two holidays are both important days, remembered by many for similar reasons. In their own way, both holidays represent a turning point, the recognition of a new era. For similar reasons, I will remember both November 9, 2000 and April 24, 2014. God was there then, just as He is here now.

On November 9, 2000, I stood facing nine stern individuals robed in black. As my time ticked by, each of them at some point leaned forward from his or her place around the single, semi-circle dais, ready to pounce on any misspoken word or ask questions I could not have anticipated. On April 24, 2014, I faced 50 well-dressed men and women, some of whom were crowded around the large oak table that filled much of the room, while the remainder sat on stiff-backed chairs around the perimeter of the room. Very few smiled at me, or at all, as I stood shaking but ready to address them.

4,914 days passed between the first date and the second date. Much more took place besides the passage of time. And while the two dates had similarities, there were a number of key differences. November 9, 2000, was the day I led a team of lawyers representing Trinity Western University, my alma mater, in the Supreme Court of Canada, where my school faced perhaps the most threatening challenge it had ever encountered. April 24, 2014, on the other hand, was the date that I spoke as the President of Trinity Western University to Ontario’s Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC). My speech was in response to the majority of its Benchers (parallel to the concept of directors) who had, some weeks before, made pointed and negative comments about TWU and its proposed School of Law and future graduates.

Appearing at the Supreme Court of Canada is a high watermark for any lawyer, as few get to hear their voices echoing in its historic chamber. As in our case, it represents the last in a long series of battles through the court system. Fortunately, our legal team—myself, Kevin Sawatsky, and Kevin Boonstra—had been successful in each of the battles leading to the final appeal court. But despite our successes, we knew that whatever was decided by a majority of those nine judges would determine everything. It was like a tied-up playoff series in hockey. It was all on the line and going to a final and deciding game.

God was there then, just as he is here now.

As we walked the few blocks from the Ottawa hotel to the austere court building on the banks of the Ottawa River, our briefcases and brains bulged with carefully annotated court documents and cases. I felt a strange, contradictory sense of both anticipation and calm. The only thing more evident to me than the overwhelming pressure was the overarching prayer support of thousands of people, a few of whom lined the back wall of the packed courtroom. I knew that all I had to do was my best because, regardless, God was there as He had been in every prior courtroom. At the end of the day, exhausted, I felt a great confidence that a favourable outcome could be expected, despite the wait of many months for the court’s decision.

The second event felt different. The Convocation Room of the 182-year-old Osgoode Hall, in which meetings of the Benchers are held, maintains much of its stately demeanor despite being too small and overcrowded with bodies and chairs, as it was on April 24, 2014. Sadly, the notation, “Let Right Prevail,” etched into the chair at the head of the table seemed, in my opinion, to be ignored by the majority that day.

Having heard the strong submissions made by the lineup of LSUC Benchers who had two weeks earlier come down hard on TWU and its community covenant, I knew we were facing a difficult, if not impossible, situation. They seemed to have made up their minds. Amazingly, many senior lawyers, skilled in diplomatic language and lucid argument, seemed, in my view, to have replaced objectivity and legal analysis with emotional rhetoric and questionable reasoning. Some of them even compared Trinity Western University with oppressive, totalitarian regimes and horrific, historical tragedies. On the morning of April 24, jetlagged and having stayed up most of the night preparing my final submission, I had begun to feel ill and my Parkinson’s tremor increased noticeably. I was becoming increasingly aware of the impossibility of effectively rebutting points made passionately and publicly (via online live streaming). Despite my fears, when I began to speak I felt at peace, even though I knew I was going to say some things that would displease some, or even many, of those Benchers who were listening. Like my Supreme Court of Canada appearance 13 and a half years earlier, it became a life-defining moment.

Bob Kuhn, J.D., Kevin Sawatsky, J.D., and Kevin Boonstra, J.D., during the 2001 TWU v. BCCT casettbob kuhn, j.d., kevin sawatsky, j.d., and kevin boonstra, j.d., during the 2001 twu v. bcct case

The roll call vote that followed my submissions did not allow opportunity for the Benchers to avoid public scrutiny. In normal circumstances, I would’ve agreed with an open show of hands. But in this case, I knew that transparency in the form of a vote in favour of the Trinity Western University School of Law would mean at least some public criticism, much more than in the case of a vote opposed. Indeed, while discouraged with the 28 to 22 result, I felt like applauding the courage of those who voted in favour of Trinity Western’s position—as had the BC Benchers the week before. It was the first defeat we had suffered in the defense of religious freedom. But I knew it was not likely to be our last. I found myself asking how this dramatic reversal could take place? From the heights of the Supreme Court of Canada victory to the depths of defeat at the hands of a majority of Ontario Benchers seemed a long way to have fallen in 13 years.

It was in the juxtaposition of these two dates, November 9, 2000 and April 24, 2014, and the resulting decisions, that I was confronted with what I have begun to call the “new era.” As Western society has stumbled into the new millennium, it seems to have chosen to speed up the pace with which it abandons Christian values, forsaking all but popular opinion. It is as if we, as developed cultures, having passed the pinnacle of our global ascendancy, now fail to recognize that our quest for greater freedom and equality has led to a kind of moral anarchy. “That was then and this is now!” This is the chant of reason that justifies departing from the seemingly unacceptable parameters of Christian values. It is no longer a biblically-literate population that interprets and applies the millennia-old truths of Scripture. Rather, we look to science and secular norms, as if one can discern wisdom and truth in seconds by doing a Google search.

We have, without question, entered a new era. It is a time when community has given way to the lordship of individuality. It is a generation when tomorrow is too long to wait for fulfillment of today’s expectations. It is an era in which the only absolute is that there is no such thing as an absolute. It is an age that echoes the strangely familiar words of dystopian Judge Dredd: “I am the law.” We live at a point in history where relativism reigns and faith must pass the litmus test of academic rigour or be rejected.

Bob Kuhn, J.D., Janet Epp Buckingham, LL.D., and Kevin Sawatsky, J.D., continue to defend minority religious rights in Canadabob kuhn, j.d., janet epp buckingham, ll.d., and kevin sawatsky, j.d., continue to defend minority religious rights in canada

But even now, in these darkening days of popular enlightenment, there is a brighter flame of hope. It is a rugged radiance reflected by a counterculture designed by Christ who said, “I am the light of the world.” It is the Savior who comes with a calling to sacrificial love. It is our Creator, who bids us believe that He is greater than all we can imagine.

However, in the daily-ness of life, we often forget that succeeding as Christians does not mean achieving a life of ease, a life of acceptance. Our success is defined by how we follow Jesus in order to impact the world for Him. We are called to shine as a little light in the darkness, as insignificant and frightening as that may seem. For us, it is a new era in Canada, one dominated by the demands of secularism. But, despite the potentially harsh realities for Christians clinging to their faith, it is not a time to be discouraged; it provides us with a whole new opportunity to shine for Him.

Trinity Western University stands on the edge of this new era of opportunity. Its miracle-marked 52-year history has established TWU’s place as a leader, not just in Christian post-secondary education, but in the vanguard of university academic and athletic endeavours. As public universities are struggling just to make their campuses safe, Trinity Western has long provided a positive, healthy, transformative, and faith-affirming environment where the tough questions of life can be explored in a world increasingly unfriendly towards evangelical Christianity. It does not create leaders. God does that. But it develops the potential in young men and women so that they might find their calling to servant leadership, helping to address the loneliness, purposelessness, and lack of inner peace felt by many.

But even now, in these darkening days of popular enlightment, there is a brighter flame of hope.

It can take a lifetime of preparation to become the leaders we were intended to be. And it takes a trustworthy and purposeful community to provide for that personal development to take place. Trinity Western University is such a community. It is giving hope for the New Era now, just as it did then.

Now, in this time when TWU has been thrust into the national news and engages in what might again be a long and difficult battle, it is still reassuring to know that God is in control. When I came to TWU as a student 42 years ago, I never would have dreamed that my life story would be so intertwined with that of Trinity Western—but now, looking back and ahead, I see another part of TWU’s journey being woven into my own: God’s unpredictable and always challenging story.

by Bob Kuhn ’72

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the school of law controversy

May 17, 2001
Supreme Court of Canada rules 8-1 in favour of TWU (BCCT vs. TWU), stating that, “the concern that graduates of TWU will act in a detrimental fashion in the classroom is not supported by any evidence.”

June 18, 2012
Trinity Western University submits a proposal for a new law school to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC).

December 16, 2013
The FLSC approves the TWU School of Law.

December 18, 2013
The BC Ministry of Advanced Education approves the School of Law.

February 22, 2014
The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) passes a resolution to prohibit discrimination in “all legal education programs” at its Mid-Winter Meeting in Ottawa. The resolution calls upon the law societies not to accept TWU’s law school graduates into their bar admission programs on the basis of its community covenant.

April 11, 2014
The Law Society of British Columbia votes 20 to 6 in favour of the TWU School of Law.

April 14, 2014
A petitioner represented by Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby commences a lawsuit against the BC Minister of Advanced Education to challenge the Province’s December 2013 approval of the TWU School of Law.”

April 24, 2014
The Law Society of Upper Canada votes 28 to 22 to bar TWU law graduates from articling or practicing in Ontario, despite the FLSC’s approval of the TWU School of Law.

April 25, 2014
The Barristers’ Society of Nova Scotia votes 10 to 6 to bar TWU law graduates from articling or practicing in Nova Scotia, unless TWU changes its community covenant or makes it optional for law students.

May 6, 2014
TWU announces that it is taking legal action in Ontario and Nova Scotia to defend the right of its law graduates to article and practice in those provinces. In addition, TWU announces it will apply to be added as a Respondent to the litigation against the BC Government so that it has opportunity to present arguments to the BC court.

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