My goal in the first three essays in this series on diversity-equity-inclusion philosophy* was to lay a descriptive and analytical foundation for assessing the claim that these values are consistent with and even mandated by Christianity. In my role as a professor of theology in a Christian college I deal with people every day who assert that diversity, equity, and inclusion are unambiguously Christian values. They are surprised when I do not join them in their uncritical acclamation and are puzzled, if not offended, when I ask them to prove their assertions. My goal in the next few essays is to assess this contention methodically and thoroughly. This process will take a while.
The Nature Theological Assessment
I am a Christian and an academic theologian. The business of a theologian is assessing theological proposals for their Christian character. People make all sorts of claims in the name of Christianity, the Bible, the church, and the Spirit. No rational person should accept a claim simply because someone makes it. But it is the special task of Christian theologians to subject theological claims to critical judgment in light of the original documents of the Christian faith, the Old and New Testaments of the canonical scriptures. I will accept no other standard of measurement.
I am fully aware that not everyone who claims to be a Christian or a Christian theologian agrees with me about the work of a theologian or the standard by which to assess the Christian nature of a theological claim. But I am laying my cards on the table, and I think those who disagree should do so as well. Those we wish to persuade deserve to know the source of our theological opinions and the norms by which we agree to have them judged.
The Difference between Theological, Ethical, and Political Statements
We must first disentangle the many entwined and overlapping meanings of diversity, equity, and inclusion. When someone advocates or rejects DEI philosophy, we need to know whether they are speaking theologically, ethically, politically, or some combination thereof. To speak theologically is to speak about God or about the relationship of something to God. The subject of ethics is the set of moral obligations humans have to each other. Politics has to do with how human beings order their lives for the common good. These areas are sometimes combined to create the subject areas of theological ethics and theology of politics. To engage in a productive debate, we need to be clear about what mode of speech we are using and to which set of norms we are appealing. In the previous essays I highlighted the reason I believe the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion evoke such intense controversy at the present time. In American culture the debate is primarily political in nature with theological and ethical arguments tossed into the mix in an undisciplined way.
No Political Neutrality
No one would believe me if I claimed to harbor no political opinions and that I could present a theological analysis of DEI philosophy in a politically neutral way. I admit that I am not neutral. In the literature of Social Justice and Critical Race Theory that I have read and the discussions in which I have participated, diversity, equity, and inclusion are presented as desired outcomes of a social/political process that can be achieved only by direct or indirect government action. It is an outcomes-based political program opposed to the traditional American rules-based program. DEI theorists argue that the social system governed by such classic liberal rules as fairness, equal civil rights, merit-based rewards, economic freedom, etc. has not and cannot produce diversity, equity, and inclusion. Liberalism’s inability to produce the desired outcomes is proof that it is systemically racist, sexist, and homophobic. Hence government, corporations, and universities must use their power to reward those who implement DEI and punish those who do not attain these social outcomes.
I am not neutral between these two political philosophies. I embrace the classic liberal tradition of politics—the historic tradition of both major American parties and many minor parties—as greatly superior rationally, psychologically, morally, and theologically to the anti-liberal, utopian, coercive, and divisive DEI philosophy. I understand that traditional liberalism cannot produce the perfect society. I am clear that it is by no means identical to Christianity. Nor does it rise to the heights of Christian agape. The full range of the Christian faith and life can be practiced only within the church and even there only imperfectly. Unlike the church, the political sphere embraces everyone in a society, and people within American society differ widely as to their religious beliefs and personal preferences.
Liberalism deals with this diversity by granting everyone as much freedom as is consistent with the freedom of others. And imperfect people will sometimes use their freedom in imperfect ways to produce imperfect social outcomes. In response to DEI’s charge that liberalism produces imperfect outcomes, liberal political philosophy argues not only that freedom is a social good in itself, desired by all people, but that allowing millions of individuals to make billions of free decisions–governed by the rules of fairness, equality, and merit-based reward systems–will produce a better society over the long term than allowing a small group of government planners to dictate those decisions.
“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Traditional liberalism embraces the truth of the saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” In contrast, the philosophy of DEI aims at the unattainable goal of perfection and in doing so becomes the enemy of the good. DEI is not rational, because it mistakes its utopian visions for politically achievable plans. It is not psychologically sound, because it assumes people will in the long run acquiesce to having their property and positions taken away and redistributed to others in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is immoral in that it employs coercion, racial prejudice, theft, and injustice to achieve its goals. Hence DEI politics is most certainly not mandated by Christianity. And in contrast to liberal political philosophy, it is not even compatible with Christianity.
*The three previous essays were posted on May 26, 27, and 29.