Can Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Efforts Have a Legitimate Moral Foundation?

Recently, I met a vice president of diversity, inclusion and equity of a local institution.  He had a different take on his mission – a Gospel take, actually.  Taking Jesus’ parable (only a narrative?) about the good Samaritan seriously, as Pope Francis did in his important encyclical Fratelli Tutti, leads one straight to a non-race-based vision of diversity, inclusion and equity.

That is a moral basis for diversity, inclusion and equity I have not heard at all brought up in our public discourse about the undoing of “white racism” and “systemic racism” or cleansing our country of its “original sin.”

These justifications of diversity, inclusion and equity preferences have a moral dimension; the effort seeks the common good.  But…

Hasn’t the high ground of morality been to put aside the superficial and look to the essence of another’s humanity?  Are racial appearances a superficiality or an essence?

Is it their appearance which gives rise to discrimination, ostracism, stereotyping, marginalization, refusing to honor and accept as a friend, peer or relative someone of a different “race?”  Is it not, rather, our misuse of that appearance in our own minds and mores, which is the source of the rejection?

What was it about the Samaritan which caused the others to pass him by?

Using race or some similar ascriptive characteristic to give preferences, to separate sheep from goats on judgment day, doesn’t square with many theologies of the human.

As you may recall, we spent considerable time over the past two years learning about the covenants the Prophet Muhammad gave to respect and protect Christian communities.  In one covenant, he wrote of taking others “under the wing of mercy.”  The Qur’an teaches that God created all persons, one by one, to serve as his “khalifa” or steward protecting and making fruitful his creation.

Mencius based his moral vision on benevolence (仁).  This character is derived from the character for human person (人) and a mark for the number “2.”  Benevolence gives us the ideal of human persons together.

Jesus grounded his ethic of being human on seeing every other as oneself; on being equitable between ego and other; on seeing diversity as a kind of sameness; and on wanting to include the perspective of others in our own thinking and feeling.

The apostle Paul spoke of there being “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The Buddhist middle way is not exclusively for those born to practicing Buddhist parents or by accident being raised in a Buddhist culture.  The Noble Eightfold Path of right-ness or fit-ness is available for every sentient human mind.

Discriminating tribalisms – “us” and “them” – I suggest, don’t rise to the highest levels of theological insight and can keep us in darkness of heart and mind.

The origin of “equity,” “epikeia” for Aristotle, was to make space for those who had a claim to differential treatment.  Thomas Aquinas explained equity as:

“When we were treating of laws, since human actions, with which laws are concerned, are composed of contingent singulars and are innumerable in their diversity, it was not possible to lay down rules of law that would apply to every single case.  Legislators in framing laws attend to what commonly happens: although if the law be applied to certain cases it will frustrate the equality of justice and be injurious to the common good, which the law has in view.  Thus the law requires deposits to be restored, because in the majority of cases this is just. Yet it happens sometimes to be injurious—for instance, if a madman were to put his sword in deposit and demand its delivery while in a state of madness, or if a man were to seek the return of his deposit in order to fight against his country.  On these and like cases it is bad to follow the law and it is good to set aside the letter of the law and to follow the dictates of justice and the common good.  This is the object of “epikeia” which we call equity.”

In the courts of equity in England and America, a person seeking “equity” needed to do equity first in order to claim its special solicitude from a person in authority.  The maxim was that one had to come before the courts with “clean hands” to ask for equity, which was a moral privilege, not a legal right.

By the way, the courts of equity were first created in England by lord chancellors who were often senior clerics and so trained in Christian theology.

We would, I am sure, do much better for the common good in our efforts to provide benevolence through diversity and inclusion and to do equity if we were to reframe our narrative away from justification by race to justification by our personal grace and by faith in all who come our way that they, too, may be inclusive of and equitable towards others.