affirmative action

Affirmative action is an old story, an old issue. It used to be much talked of, but I think even liberals got tired of it. Lately, however, I have heard some Christians espousing the need for affirmative action for churches and Christian institutions to redress past wrongs. Some of my Christian friends, who once (and might still) considered themselves politically conservative are applauding these statements.

It is more than astonishing to see this. It is as if we suddenly turned into liberal parrots, mindlessly repeating left wing talking points. This is just wrong. Affirmative action has high sounding motivations, but it fails on many levels, not the least of which are Scriptural levels.

Affirmative action is the deliberate preferment of an individual for a position or opportunity based solely or at least firstly upon race (or some other minority characteristic). It is a kind of reverse discrimination. Racial discrimination is the deliberate restraint of an individual from a position or opportunity based solely or firstly upon race. Christians in America have sometimes practiced racial discrimination. Colleges throughout the nation certainly did up until the 60s and 70s. The argument for affirmative action is that since the minority group has been held back (blacks, or women, or Hispanics, or handicapped, or homosexuals…), then the dominant group must now reverse that practice, hold back its own (regardless of their merits) and prefer the minority (even if they don’t actually qualify).

My question is this: should Christians “lead the way to racial reconciliation” by employing affirmative action? That is, by discriminating against whites in favor of blacks (or whoever)? Is this an acceptable or Christian solution to the problem?

In the New Testament church, early on, James, the elder of the church in Jerusalem, addressed the problem of discrimination – of rich against poor.

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? (Jas 2.1-4)

Isn’t that an interesting scenario. James uses pretty strong words for the practice of economic discrimination. He repeats the principles a bit further down in the passage:

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (Jas 2.8-9)

Showing partiality is discrimination. You are convicted by the law of loving your neighbor as a transgressor. Very interesting, isn’t it? The next verse in James is very well known.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. (Jas 2.10)

Consider the context in which it is offered – the context of discrimination. Discrimination is a very serious offense, according to the Bible. You are guilty of the whole law if you stumble here.

Obviously the discrimination described here is greater to lesser. It is clearly wrong, a sin of grievous proportions. But according to the doctrine of affirmative action, we are told that in order to correct past discrimination we need a new kind of discrimination, that of lesser to greater. Would you say that is biblical? Would James endorse such a plan? Should the church of the first century have put down the wealthy to keep them out of the church or make them support the poor in some way in order to redress the wrongs that other rich people had committed in the past?

Is that what James means in chapter 1?

But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. (Jas 1.9-10)

I think that the “high position” of the poor and the ‘’humiliation” of the rich in this passage refers to the same thing: the equality of the brothers in Christ.

Indeed, the testimony of the New Testament with respect to brethren in the church is one of equality.

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3.26-28)

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. (Col 3.9-14)

When we evangelize, we should not be thinking about skin color, ethnic background, wealth or poverty, intelligence, educational levels, or what have you. We shouldn’t “evangelistically profile” anyone. We should just look for willing hearts to receive the gospel and be set free from their sins. We should serve the Lord together regardless of who we are or where we came from.

Let there be no discrimination, in either direction. It is soundly condemned by the word of God.


  1. Wally Morris says:

    Excellent post, especially in light of recent comments coming from our alma mater.

  2. Sophia says:

    If Christians think that by shifting philosophically as much as we possibly can or by using as much politically correct language/action as we think we can possibly squeeze into our Biblical worldview in order to appease whomever, what will Christianity start to look like? We can never fully appease those who do not understand us or who are not willing to completely forgive past wrongs when they are redressed. We can only move forward handling future decisions as Biblically as possible. Going overboard to seek the world’s approval will have us seeking approval from the wrong source.

    • Thanks for the comment, Sophia. I agree. It is not that I want to be deliberately offensive to the world, but we only serve to confuse them by adopting their terminology and style of speaking (not to mention confusing Christians who are watching). We would do better to simply speak like the Bible speaks and trust the Holy Spirit to bring about change in hearts.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3