Tolerance for Diversity Breaks Out at McGill

[This column was originally posted on “Context with Lorna Dueck” six months ago. Alas, the issues remain live all over the continent.]

It’s a “man decides not to bite dog” story. The Montreal Gazette reports that the judicial board of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) came to the “inescapable conclusion” that “any motion that specifically targets one nation and compels SSMU to actively campaign against that country, such as the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] motion, is unconstitutional.”

Thus McGill’s student council refused to choose sides in the politics of Israel and Palestine. It thus refused to divide the community of scholars on its campus, and instead let this important and complex debate roll on.

Story after story in the North American media have highlighted campuses exploding in rage over political differences. Professors have been vilified, student groups disqualified, lectures and ceremonies disrupted, and administrations roundly criticized for making things worse or not nearly enough better, according to some value upon which this or that militant individual or group insists on imposing on everyone else.

I’ve been proud that one of my “alma maters,” the University of Chicago, has set a fine example of protecting free expression on its campus and among its constituents in its “Statement on Principles of Free Expression,” composed by law professor Geoffrey R. Stone in 2012. Among its bracing paragraphs is this superbly balanced and forthright directive:

“For members of the University community, as for the University itself, the proper response to ideas they find offensive, unwarranted and dangerous is not interference, obstruction, or suppression. It is, instead, to engage in robust counter-speech that challenges the merits of those ideas and exposes them for what they are. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”

(See also a later official statement here.)

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God Confirmed Missing in Canadian Public Discourse: The Assisted-Suicide Debate

As Canada has begun a new era of officially sanctioned, physician-assisted suicide, one is struck by the almost complete absence of a phrase that, only a generation ago, would have figured largely in the debate: “playing God.”

The traditional argument against suicide in Christianity, Canada’s majority religion since well before Confederation, is one echoed in Jewish and Islamic traditions, of course, as well as in other religions that feature a personal deity involved in human affairs—namely, that God alone can decide when one’s life is properly over.

Life is the gift of God, and none of us can say for sure when our life’s work, our life’s usefulness under divine providence, is done. Even comatose patients influence people around them: medical staff, family members, friends, visitors, and more. Who can say for certain when one’s time to leave has come?

God.

Or so Canadians used to believe.

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Just Two Is Just Fine [Re-post]

The following lightly edited re-post comes from my book, Church: An Insider’s Look at How We Do It. Strangely enough, this book has sold the fewest copies of any of my books, even though its bite-sized chapters, reading much like a topically-organized weblog, ought to make it particularly popular. So you know what to do, right? (There’s no need to be too direct with the sophisticated readers of this blog…)

I once accepted an invitation to teach a summer school course in a Canadian theological seminary. It was July 1990, and I offered a course on “Canadian Evangelicalism” in the evenings for two weeks. Given this seminary’s location in a major Canadian city and the pertinence of this course to its constituency, I looked forward to a large audience.

Precisely three students enrolled. And one of them dropped the course half-way through. Each evening for a fortnight, then, I faithfully showed up and taught the students, both of whom attended class and completed their assignments. Yet often, I confess, it was hard for me to stay motivated to teach just two students.

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