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DEI programs under fire: Advocates turn to Bible for defense


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DEI programs under fire: Advocates turn to Bible for defense

Commentary by Walter Hesford | FāVS News

In right-wing states, university diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) programs are under attack. Courses and whole programs have been eliminated. Many more are on the chopping block. In Idaho, last year’s SB 1357 would have cut, for example, the University of Idaho’s Women’s Center and Black and African American Cultural Center. A similar bill is likely to move forward next year.

Why? Ultra-right wing conservatives see such programs as a product of left-wing ideology promoting “wokeness,” indoctrinating the youth of America in progressive ideology.

I’m here to proclaim DEI programs are gospel, both literally and biblically.

Gospel literally means “good news.” DEI programs have indeed been good news for the poor who without need-based financial aid could not advance their education and for those marginalized by their race, ethnicity, gender, religion or physical and mental disabilities. DEI programs are essential for recruiting and retaining a diverse student body and for creating a community of belonging that benefits all.

Far from being the invention of left-wing ideologues, diversity, equity and inclusion are promoted by the Bible.

Examples in the Bible

Economic equity is central to the Bible. Recognizing that poor people fall into debt and from there into debt slavery, Hebrew laws required that debts be forgiven every seven years (Deuteronomy 15). Recognizing that wealthy landowners kept accumulating more land, dispossessing poor farmers, Hebrew laws required that every 50 years, the land be redistributed (Leviticus 25) — these were heralded as Jubilee years.

Hebrew prophets such as Amos denounced mistreatment of the poor (Amos 8:4-6). Jesus continued this tradition, critiquing the accumulation of wealth (Luke 12:16-21), proclaiming “good news” to the poor (Luke 7:22).

Jesus’ good news has, of course, a spiritual dimension, but also an economic one. Debt forgiveness is necessary for the coming of the kingdom of God, as we learn from the prayer he teaches his disciples: “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). In a parable of Jesus, a king who forgives the debts of a slave condemns the slave when he does not forgive debts owed him by his fellow slaves (Matthew 23-34). Measures that promote economic equity are the model for ones that promote social and spiritual equity.

A startling promotion of economic and spiritual equity occurs in Jesus’ parable of a landowner who hires laborers at different times throughout the day to work in his vineyard, then pays them all the same (Matthew 20:1-15). This strikes those hired early and perhaps readers now as unfair, but Jesus’ vineyard owner insists he has the right to be generous.

What these Biblical examples look like today

Jesus might support such equity measures today as debt forgiveness, reparations and a guaranteed national income, which enabled those who come late to the vineyard to sustain themselves and be included in the community.

Diversity programs are also necessary for inclusion and have a gospel foundation. Jesus ministered to all those excluded from the community by their perceived physical and mental disabilities. He reached out to those considered “unclean,” like the man with the skin-disease (Mark 1:40-45) and the woman suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years (Mark 5:25-34). Through his healing touch and their faith, such people are restored to the community.

A Gentile woman whose daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit encourages Jesus to include in his ministry not only his own Jewish people, but Gentiles too (Mark 7:24-30). This turns his ministry into a really diverse gospel program, eventually drawing in even the likes of me!

Early followers of Jesus continued his gospel agenda by practicing equity, diversity and inclusion. According to Acts 4:32, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (NRSV)..

Acts 8:26-38, in which the Apostle Phillip baptizes an Ethiopian eunuch, offers a prime example of including among the believers a diverse range of people. Laws in Deuteronomy 23:1-8 had banned eunuchs along with foreigners from participation in the community. Now they can participate, and the community is thereby enriched.

The Apostle Paul continues the good news of ethnic, class and gender inclusion: “There is no longer Jew of Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

A modern-day Jubilee

Granted, Paul’s vision of an egalitarian community is premised on conversion. Secular governments should sustain a unified community that honors religious diversity as well as other forms.

Gospel teachings offer much to build on. Wouldn’t it be a Jubilee if we harkened to the good news of Jesus rather than the divisive dictates of far-right legislators?

The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.

Walter Hesford
Walter Hesford
Walter Hesford, born and educated in New England, gradually made his way West. For many years he was a professor of English at the University of Idaho, save for stints teaching in China and France. At Idaho, he taught American Literature, World Literature and the Bible as Literature. He currently coordinates an interfaith discussion group and is a member of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow. He and his wife Elinor enjoy visiting with family and friends and hunting for wild flowers.

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Paul Graves
Paul Graves
1 month ago

Thanks again for your well-researched and articulate column, Walter. I hope many people both read and pay attention to your understanding that DEI has a significant basis in biblical truth-pieces. Well done!

Jonas H
Jonas H
27 days ago

While equity, diversity, and inclusion should mark our way as we follow Yeshua, these are not Christ”s gospel. Nor is DEI – its stated aims are noble, but in practice it too often fosters a position of victimhood by which people are defined by what they have survived (and the guilt of their oppressors) above their true nature as God’s Beloved, designed for integration and metanoia. It divides people into those we should despise and those we should support. Please let’s not identify any political movement as gospel.

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