I remember signing my name with ease after reading the sexual conduct policy I was required to sign before entering into Christian ministry a decade ago. Among other conditions, the policy forbade premarital sex, sexual harassment and "homosexual conduct."
I had recently admitted to myself that I was gay, but I hadn't told anyone my painful secret. At the time, I was in no place to date women: I was steeped in shame and self-hatred from the entrenched homophobia of the church, media and my communities.
I was simply trying to keep myself alive and not end my life. As I came to terms with my sexuality, I didn't realize how difficult it would be working in ministry — and my experience isn't unique.
TWU at the Supreme Court
This sexual conduct policy or covenant is at the centre of the controversy surrounding Trinity Western University's (TWU) proposed law school. Many Christian organizations and schools require their staff and students to sign similar policies, whereby people are called to abstain from sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage.
The Supreme Court of Canada is currently hearing arguments on whether law societies in Ontario and B.C. can withhold accreditation from TWU graduates.
Despite these harmful covenants, many LGBTQ+ people want to be in their Christian communities. Our faith — just like our sexual orientation and gender identity — is crucial to who we are and informs how we live. These faith-based communities also support us spiritually, emotionally and even financially.
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It's not a simple choice between our sexual orientation and gender identity, or our faith. The media discourse and arguments from the courts and TWU have been divisive, pitting religious freedoms against LGBTQ+ rights. This limited dialogue doesn't acknowledge the nuances that exist for many LGBTQ+ Christians.
For example, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld TWU's right to operate a law school, arguing that TWU's principles aren't for everyone and there are many other options for those who don't share TWU's beliefs. For many LGBTQ+ people, however, there aren't other options. This includes queer and trans people who want to study near home, and have their law practice rooted in their Christian faith and connected to faith-based communities.
Being part of this faith-based community changed my life. People cared deeply about my personal, academic and spiritual growth, and this community became a second family away from home. As a queer woman, however, I would never be able to work for this organization under their policy.
Many queer, trans and non-binary Christians are kicked out of their churches and communities because of who they are and who they love. I have heard numerous stories from LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues who were respected and served in leadership positions, but were quickly shunned despite the impact they had made in their communities.
By marginalizing us, Christian groups lose out on our critical and nuanced perspectives. With our voices and experiences missing in TWU's classrooms, will their future law students have a well-rounded education to protect the fundamental freedoms of LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups?
Living in shame
Christian covenants like the one at TWU are very harmful for LGBTQ+ people. They cause us to live in shame and silence core parts of ourselves, unable to step into the fullness of who God created us to be.
I have spent almost a decade reflecting on my time in ministry and the mandatory sexual conduct policy I signed. I never felt fully myself and constantly doubted my sexuality. I wondered if people would still love and respect me if they knew I was gay, believing I had to choose between my faith or sexuality.
It has taken me many years to reconcile my faith and sexuality. I have realized I can't dismiss one part of myself to be fulfilled in another. Sadly, I would never be able to work in this environment or attend a school like TWU if I wanted to live an authentic life as a queer Christian woman.
This controversy can't be easily separated into LGBTQ+ rights versus religious freedoms — there are those of who stand at the intersection. As the Supreme Court considers arguments from Ontario and B.C. law societies, TWU and advocacy groups, it's worth acknowledging that.