Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) & the Gospel
The topic of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or D.E.I., has become increasingly prevalent in the last decade. Especially in the business world, many companies are engaging in DEI training in an effort to develop a fairer and more equitable workplace. The larger concepts of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resonate with Christ followers because they speak to unity, justice, fairness, and acceptance as scripture teaches.1 But since these concepts are often defined and taught in a secular world, there is sometimes tension for the Christian in the way they are applied and in the conclusions that are reached.
As Christ followers, we need to recognize the value of D.E.I., but then reframe the issues based on the truth of the Gospel, and then respond to the world around us with the love of Christ.
Recognize the Value of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are Christian Concepts
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have always been Christian values. We see examples of these concepts in creation, in Jesus’ teaching, and in the unfolding of God’s plan for salvation. God’s creation reveals an amazing diversity of human beings from “every tribe, and tongue, and nation” who all have equal value and dignity in His eyes.
But as Christians, we have to realize that many conflicts between our Christian perspectives and worldly perspectives arise from usage of language. Differences are often magnified because of the way we define words and the way we use language that is filtered by a certain political or ideological lens. Compare the following definitions of D.E.I. terms (Secular definitions are from Wikipedia):
DIVERSITY (Secular Perspective)
Diversity describes a wide variety of differences that may exist amongst people in any community, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexual identity, disability, neurodiversity, and others.
DIVERSITY (Christian Perspective)
Diversity refers to our unique creation as God’s children – that as people we are His image bearers who reflect the amazing breadth of His qualities and character. God’s love for diversity is also seen in His commission for our lives on Earth2 and in His ultimate vision for His Kingdom.3
The secular definition emphasizes the personal identity of the individual, while the Christian definition places more importance on the variety of people who make up God’s Kingdom and exist for His glory.
EQUITY (Secular Perspective)
Equity is the practice of providing fair opportunities via personalized approaches based on individual needs, thus aiming to “level the playing field” by taking into account the different starting points of different individuals. Therefore, “equity” aims to achieve fairness by considering each individual’s trajectory and context and should not be confused with the notion of “equality” which aims to treat everyone the same.
EQUITY (Christian Perspective)
Equity refers to God’s love for justice and fairness, and the value He places on individuals. God looks beyond earthly status, and we are promised that His ultimate judgement will reflect His righteous character.4
In the secular definition, equity goes beyond equal opportunity since the desire for equal outcomes is the ultimate goal. As a result, systems or conditions that do not lead to equal outcomes are seen as unacceptable. There is an implication that as humans we need to take control and create justice by our own power. The Christian definition implies that our value comes from God, and His love for us binds us together with a spirit of unity regardless of social status.5
INCLUSION (Secular Perspective)
Inclusion specifies the desired outcome, namely, ensuring that individuals find opportunities and spaces to participate, regardless of their differences.
INCLUSION (Christian Perspective)
Inclusion refers to the way that God invites everyone to pursue His Kingdom work, as He calls His Church to sacrificially love one another in unity. In Paul’s letters he exhorts the Church to lay aside our earthly differences to find unity in the cross of Christ.6
The secular definition goes beyond welcoming, respecting, support, and value and demands approval of all choices as right and good. Once again, there is more emphasis on the self, with everyone realizing their own potential as the ultimate goal. The Christian definition speaks of unity and interdependence and implies the importance of serving each other.7
Reframe the Issues Based on God’s Truth
DEI in a Secular Context
For many believers, our experience with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion falls outside the church within a secular context, such as a workplace or educational institution. These issues start to center around how Christians should interact with non-believers. There is particular sensitivity around issues of gender identity and sexual orientation where there are clear differences between a Christian perspective and a worldly perspective. As Christ followers, how do we react when Christian concepts such as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are applied in non-biblical ways? How can we be accepting of others without celebrating a view that we do not share?
When we engage the non-believing world it is tempting to dive right in, and argue about specific issues relating to D.E.I. But it is important to take a step back to understand the fundamental differences between a Christian worldview and a more mainstream secular worldview. A Few of the main contrasts are listed below:
Truth from God is absolute8
People are born with a sin nature9
We deserve judgment from God10
Our purpose is bringing glory to God11
Truth is relative
People are basically good
We deserve good things from life
Our purpose is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
When we encounter expressions of D.E.I. from a secular worldview, we notice that even though many biblical ideals are reflected in secular views (such as fairness, equal opportunity, and respect), these secular views lean heavily into cultural relativism. In a secular society we have to accept a certain amount of relativism – we can’t expect everyone in the world around us to live by Christian principles.12 Whereas some would see a relativist world as an ideal place where people don’t judge each other, believers are reminded of the phrase that echoes through the book of Judges – “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Sadly, we see from God’s Word that this individualistic, self-centered worldview leads to isolation, emptiness, and separation from God. Philosophically, relativism also begs the question of what makes any of those high ideals right or true? Without God’s truth even lofty principles lose their meaning.
Some might argue that God’s Kingdom is not really inclusive unless everyone is accepted just as they are. It is true that joining God’s family is not a free-for-all – it requires us to submit to His authority. However, we submit to one “who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6-8) His humility reminds us that God’s family is not an exclusive club, but open to the poor, the weak, and marginalized who are so often overlooked.13 Jesus reached out to everyone where they were, but He called them to denial of self, purity, obedience, and holiness: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matt 16:24)
Within the Church, we are called to value diversity, equity, and inclusion as Jesus did. Throughout His ministry Jesus cut through the physical and social boundaries of His day to engage a world in need of spiritual healing. He looked beyond earthly characteristics and saw into the hearts of the people He encountered. As always, Jesus provides us with the perfect example of how we should engage that world.
Respond to the World Around Us
Love but not Affirm
One challenge we see in our world today is a prevailing view that either “you must affirm me” or “you hate me.” This is especially seen in the areas of homosexuality and gender fluidity. As Christians, we must engage relationships around us, and love all people with the eyes of Christ. No matter who He encountered, Jesus always acknowledged their humanity. He treated others with dignity as valued creations of God. Yet with all of the love that Christ showed, He did not affirm sinful lifestyles – He called on others to “go and sin no more.”14 As Christians we have to stay true to the Word of God, and say, “I love you,” but “I cannot affirm you.” Believers cannot sit passively by in conversations and not speak to the realities of these concepts. It is unloving not to speak to God’s design and how it was meant for us to flourish as individuals and together. This is especially true when addressing fellow believers that have sought to embrace current views to be more appealing to the world. Unfortunately, there is no formula or easy answer for the way we respond – we have to ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and provide us the words we need to engage a hurting world around us.15
Opportunity to Seek Common Ground
As Christians, we sometimes get caught up in efforts to “defend” Christianity, whether it be in the laws of our communities, the practices of our companies, or the rules of our organizations. We sometimes forget that God’s truth is stronger than the laws of men – our lack of faith can lead us to “take control” of the situation on our own power. When we look to scripture we see Christ followers as bold witnesses, more often than not from positions of weakness or conditions of oppression. God is in control of His plans even in a seemingly un-godly world.
Because of the biblical nature of D.E.I. concepts, we may be able to find agreement with secular colleagues and friends around making people feel valued, standing up for the under-represented, and striving for fairness of opportunity for all. We may have a stronger witness if we are less worried about proving that we are right, and more focuses on finding common ground with non-believers around us and trusting God to work on their hearts.
We often avoid conversations about subjects that are culturally sensitive because we want to avoid conflict. In fact, open dialogue and communication may provide ways to overcome stereotypes and prejudices as we walk the line between speaking God’s truth and showing compassion for others around us. As Christians we need to see our differences with the world not as a barrier, but as an open door to challenge our culture to see diversity, equity, and inclusion from a biblical perspective.
FOOTNOTES: 1 Psalm 82:3-4; Isaiah 1:16-17; Micah 6:8 2 Matthew 28:19-20 3 Revelation 7:9 4 James 2:1-4 5 Galatians 3:27-28 6 Romans 12:15-18 7 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 8 2 Timothy 3:16-17 9 Ephesians 2:3 10 Romans 5:12 11 1 Corinthians 10:31; Revelation 4:11 12 1 Corinthians 1:18 13 Matthew 5:3-12; James 2:1-13 14 John 8:11 15 Ephesians 1:17; Luke 12:11-12; Colossians 4:5-6