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Ethics of Equity: Part 4

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stephen M. King
December 15, 2023

For this last piece in my four-part series on the ethics of equity, I contrast the meaning and influence of diversity, social equity and inclusion (i.e., the DEI paradigm) with unity, individual equity and belonging (i.e., the Judeo-Christian ethic). The former is rooted in critical theory. It demands the unequivocal “exposure and elimination of structural discrimination,” while simultaneously advocating increased government control, administrative regulation and appropriation of redistributive social justice. The latter, however, is theologically informed by the spiritual principle of human flourishing and facilitates the moral meaning and purpose of building and strengthening individual relationships and organizational connection. At its core, the Judeo-Christian ethic espouses what the DEI paradigm does not: the human yearning for a deeper and more holistic meaning of individual identity and worth.

Diversity is not designed to unite individuals in a moral knitting; instead, it coerces human behavior, requiring compliance through strict processes, rules and mandates. It substitutes unity of individual meaning and purpose with something akin to identity groupthink. Bishop Robert Barron contends diversity is not an “absolute moral good;” one that is “common to all.” Rather, he argues, it only points to what separates us as categorically defined identities, not what unifies us as humans created with eternal purpose and meaning.

Unity, on the other hand, is the harmonious process for welcoming unique individuals into a spiritual bond and a covenantal relationship. Unity is embedded in and motivated by universal principles of human virtue, such as character, empathy and love. Unity of heart, soul and mind, framed in an institutional context of trust, transparency and service, elicits collaboration between people, aimed at achieving goals beneficial and common to all. The Old Testament prophet Amos wrote, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed” (3:13)? And in Acts 17, Paul wrote “from one man God made every nation, every race.” It is here, in the unity of humankind, true diversity is achieved.

In public administration, social equity is the intellectual and practical attempt to not only recognize inequities in the process or system of administration of fairness and equality but mandates intellectual and practical action on the part of the scholar and practitioner, respectively. Forged out of collegial, yet vociferous debate at Minnowbrook I in 1968, public administration proponents of social equity, namely pioneer George Frederickson, argued for an enhanced role of government to right the wrongs heaped upon minorities and other distressed groups in a variety of administrative and policy areas. By the mid-1970s forward, largely because of David Hart’s work, and theoretically infused by John Rawls’ redistributive theory of social justice, social equity incrementally embraced a normative ethical approach, largely validating the expectation for administrative, policy and scholarly action.

Individual equity reflects a personal relationship between two persons, both who are uniquely special in the eyes of God (Psalm 96). As such, God’s understanding is fair, just and compassionate to both (Pro. 2). In Isa. 1:17, God tells the Israelite people to “Learn to do well; seek judgment (i.e., justice), relieve the oppressed, bring justice to the fatherless (i.e., orphans) and plead the cause of the widow.” God’s declaration is applicable to not only the nation of Israel, but to people everywhere. For example, all individuals, regardless of heritage or lineage, are responsible to “learn to do well,” a requirement underlying the principle of self-responsibility. Second, individual equity recognizes the eternal worth of all individuals, who are designed by God to fulfill a purpose greater than themselves (i.e., Parable of the Good Samaritan). Third, individual equity does not disavow what theologian Thadeus Williams labels “non-sinful discrimination.” Certainly age, physical stature, intelligence and the like are obvious differences that exist between individuals. However, these differences should not be exploited for administrative, policy or political gain.

Inclusion is supposed to “embrace all people,” regardless of their differences, who are to be part of the greater whole of society, institutions and organizations. All individuals are theoretically “given equal access and opportunity” to resources and attention. However, quite often the practice of inclusion demands an organizational environment centered around promoting the inclusivity of disadvantaged or historically ill-served individuals from racial, ethnic or gender identity backgrounds, thus instituting selective inclusion.

Belonging is rooted in the abiding principle of “individual acceptance,” where the “excluded are embraced and offered hope.” We wish to be surrounded by individuals who “will be there for us through good times and bad.” As human beings one of our greatest desires “is to know, and be known, to love and be loved.” Progressive theologian Kathryn Tanner writes, “All human beings are creatures of God…Therefore they are all due the respect owed to God’s creatures.” All of humanity longs to belong to a tribe, a community or a nation, anchored in principles common and acceptable to all. This ageless truth confirms what Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” The act of belonging is not predicated on coercion or cajoling; instead, it is natural and spiritual. It is natural to want to belong to a group that reaches out, extends an invitation and expects nothing in return. It is spiritual because the desire to belong is rooted in the heart and soul of each person. St. Augustine intoned that men in community must live in harmony, “…being of one mind and heart on the way to God.”

In a recent Tablet Magazine piece, Bari Weiss “called for an end to DEI programs,” because in her words “they undermine the central missions of institutions…,” implying DEI proponents believe ideology and politics are more important than institutional morality. Whether or not Weiss is correct, as scholars, who live a life of thinking and reflecting, it is our responsibility to use our gifts and calling for purposes that are greater than ourselves, putting aside our ideological and political demands. And as private individuals we must recognize the worth of all people, regardless of any differences. In the end, we must be committed to both positions.

Author: Stephen M. King is Professor of Government at Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA. He teaches undergraduate courses in American politics, state and local government, and public policy, and graduate courses in public policy analysis and ethical leadership and administration. He frequently publishes on the topics of ethics and public administration and leadership, and spirituality in the public workplace. He was elected President-Elect (AY23-24) for the Hampton Roads Chapter of ASPA. He also serves on the Advisory Council for SEIGov, ASPA. His recent book, Ethical Public Leadership: Foundation, Organization, and Discovery, published by Routledge, came out in September 2023. Contact him at [email protected].

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