So in the past weeks, at least two Canadian theologians have had their day in court. No, they weren’t fighting an unjust traffic ticket, but were serving as expert witnesses in some fairly high profile civil suits.
First, Prof. John Stackhouse, Jr., of Regent College (Vancouver, BC) has been called as an expert witness before the BC Supreme Court on the matter of a property dispute within the Anglican diocese of New Westminster. The complainants are members of four congregations, including three priests, who left the Anglican communion in protest of the local bishop’s blessing of same-sex marriage. They are arguing that they have the right to retain the property of the churches.
Interestingly, Stackhouse was called as a “neutral expert witness.” But according to the reporting at the Dicoese of New Westminster’s website, his testimony was called into question:
[T]he diocese’s lawyer however questioned [Stackhouse’s] objectivity by introducing a web blog that Stackhouse agreed he had written. It stated that Bishop Michael Ingham, bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster, was “heretic and schismatic” and wrote about “churches that resist Ingham’s crypto-Hinduism.”
On the stand the professor said that he had written the blog but only used “strictly descriptive terms.”
[This comment about John’s blog shows something pretty important about how “public” this blogging practice really is. It makes me realize just how careful I need to be about what I write here at Theommentary. Who knows…something I write today could come back and bite me tomorrow or two decades from now.]
The Diocese trial is scheduled to last until June 12. You can also see some of Stackhouse’s preliminary comments about it on his own blog.
A second theologian called before the Quebec Superior Court is Prof. Douglas Farrow of McGill University. (Readers will recall that Farrow is my own Doktorvater). Farrow has testified as an expert witness on behalf of Loyola High School, a private Catholic boys’ school, which has asked to be exempted from the Quebec province’s new required ethics and religious culture course. As the Loyola website asks, “Can the ‘pursuit of the common good’ and the ‘recognition of others’ be taught from a Catholic perspective or does it have to be secular?” To answer their own question, Loyola and the vast majority of the parents of Loyola students see the course as running counter to their own Catholic worldview. A Montreal Gazette article reports Farrow as saying,
“Should a Catholic institution . . . be forced to change the way it does things to fit someone else’s world view?” he asked. “In the Catholic world view, it’s not possible to be Catholic for 22 hours a day, then hold another world view for the other two hours.”
I happen to be heartened and encouraged that theologians like Stackhouse and Farrow have agreed to serve in this very public way as theologians. But I wonder what you think? Do you think that theologians like Stackhouse and Farrow are getting mixed up in matters that they ought not to? Does their service in this way “taint” them as theologians? Or is their service a natural and vital extension of their calling as theologians?