Trinity Western University grad at centre of battle for religious freedom

05 March 2018

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

News about Trinity Western University’s attempts to open a Christian law school, and the ensuing battles in the courts and the media, has spread across the country many times over.

The Law Society of B.C. has opposed the law school because of TWU’s community covenant asking students to abstain from sex outside marriage between a man and a woman.

But few know the story of one aspiring law student from Surrey who agreed to lend his name to the case, even though it could ruin his chances of ever being accepted to law studies.

“Everyone has choices to make on a regular basis on whether or not they will stand up for their faith,” said 29-year-old Brayden Volkenant.

Volkenant’s first connection with TWU was through soccer. He joined the Spartans soccer team as a defender while pursuing a bachelor in business administration. In his third season, Volkenant became team captain and was enjoying some wins with the Spartans.

“We had some great experiences and successes at a team,” said Volkenant, speaking at a public lecture at St. Mark’s College at UBC Feb. 21.

Being named team captain was a real ego boost to Volkenant, who was a starter on the Spartans’ back line four years in a row and aiming to beat the Spartans’ record for minutes played, then held at 5,026 minutes.

“At times, I got so fixated on recognition, acknowledgement, and fame,” and didn’t realize “I was pursuing things that were largely temporary.”

All of that changed for Volkenant in the first game of his fourth season: he collided with another player and broke his cheekbone in three places. He was out for the rest of the season.

“I experienced, looking back on it now, something God used to reset my focus,” he said.

Though he still hoped for success and public recognition, he realized his soccer medals didn’t give him the sense of fulfilment he had hoped for.

Volkenant graduated with his business degree in December of 2012, got married, and returned to TWU the following summer to do internship with president (and UBC law graduate) Bob Kuhn.

That’s when the soccer star discovered both a personal interest in law and TWU’s goal of launching a law school. In mid-September 2013, he received a call that the plans would go ahead and hoped that would signal the start of his post-graduate studies in law.

“Little did we know at the time what a process it would be.”

When the proposal was challenged by the Law Society of B.C. in 2014 because of the community covenant, TWU asked Volkenant if he would publicly support the school.

“TWU wanted a prospective student to attach their name to the case so they could make certain arguments they couldn’t otherwise make as an institution,” for example, the effects disallowing a Christian law school would have on his personal rights to freedom of association and religion.

Volkenant was afraid. He had not yet been accepted to any law school, and publicly aligning himself with TWU could destroy his chances of ever getting that acceptance letter.

“It required a lot of prayer and consideration about the potential personal cost it would be to put myself out there in that way. Three cases in different jurisdictions in the public and putting my name out there in a digital age was a bit daunting for me,” along with “attaching my name to some of the rhetoric and opinions about TWU.”

He and his wife prayed about it, then chose to say “yes” and trust that God would take care of them.

“After saying yes, I felt a strong sense of peace about agreeing to attach my name to the case,” said Volkenant. His name appears on official court documents and he is technically a plaintiff in the case along with TWU.

The decision came with crosses; he was personally mocked online for speaking in favour of the evangelical university.

Meanwhile, Volkenant kept applying to law schools and was accepted by the University of Alberta. He is now in his final year and will be applying for lawyer status after that.

“God has honoured that yes and has taken great care of me and my family,” he said.

“The irony of this whole pursuit of recognition is not lost on me. All along, I was seeking recognition for something worldly – my soccer achievements – and instead the Lord has made me known for something infinitely more important, and that’s my faith.”

The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to rule on the case involving TWU’s law school this year. Meanwhile, Volkenant faces questions from fellow law students about his beliefs as he articles in employment law and hopes to work in litigation someday.

“When we stand up for our faith and say yes to him, he will reward us,” he told two dozen students, professors, and guests at St. Mark’s. “We will endure challenges, but ultimately experience the purest joy and reward possible.”

St. Mark’s student Samuel Stagliano was inspired by Volkenant’s presentation. He said the topic is very relevant to faith-based institutions such as St. Mark’s, and in a particular way for its aspiring law students.

“God often likes to throw curveballs at us. He has a sense of humour; we like to go one way and he gives us a diversion and we end up going in a completely different area than we thought.”