How culture turned itself into god
It’s hard to find any news article about education or business or culture that doesn’t reference DEI in some way, shape, or form. At its surface, “diversity, equity, and inclusion” sounds beneficial to society. It seems to embrace the notion that every person should be treated with respect, honor, and grace. It elicits strong emotions from both the far left and the far right, with the left insisting that anyone who doesn’t embrace their agenda be removed from any social conversation and the right condemning any form of CRT, something most of them can’t even define. (For the record, critical race theory is not necessarily part of diversity, equity, and inclusion. CRT is mostly philosophy; DEI is mostly policy.)
As a Christian, I understand the importance of treating fellow humans with respect and grace. The concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion are at home in the working out of faith. However, cultural DEI ignores the importance of why every person is valuable. And it is the why that makes DEI a legalistic cultural religion rather than simply good policy.
“Follow me,” Jesus said to fishermen, tax collectors, poor people, rich people, sick people, healthy people; anyone willing to take up his (or her) cross and deny himself (or herself) was invited to follow him. His disciples were diverse in ideology, social status, political points of view, physical abilities, education, and nearly every other possible way. They were all Jewish (the historical foundation of Christianity), but that is about all they had in common. And over the course of Jesus’ ministry, Samaritans, Canaanites, and even Romans believed and followed him.
As for inclusion, Jesus included the least and the greatest in society. From the lame man who spent 25 years waiting to get into the Pool of Bethesda (John 5) to the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea and Pharisee Nicodemus, both men and women were included in a way that defied cultural practices of the first century.
Jesus made equity explicitly clear: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Every human on the planet has equal access to the love and grace of God in Christ. What people do with that access is up to them.
Equal access, however, does not mean equal outcomes. Jesus himself had one disciple he particularly loved (John), one to whom he gave a leadership role (Peter), and a small group who had a special relationship with him. (Peter, Andrew, James, and John.) The disciples argued about who would be the greatest and Jesus did not respond with “everyone will be the same,” but rather with “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20). Paul even made note that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are more desirable than others when he established a hierarchy in 1 Corinthians 12. The hierarchy (apostles, prophets, then teachers at the top) in no way affects the equity of access to the Body, but it shows how the different members of the Body work together in a unified whole. Paul wrote, “the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” (1 Corinthians 12).
So, if diversity, equity, and inclusion are ideals that Jesus taught and practiced, what is wrong with cultural DEI? And how did it become a secular religion?
In theory, there is nothing wrong with DEI. The distinction between Biblical Imago Dei and secular DEI comes in foundation and praxis.
The Bible tells us that humans were created in the image of God, or imago Dei in Latin. There are two Hebrew words used to describe how men and women were set apart from the animals from the very beginning of humanity. The first, צֶלֶם (tselem), means “image” as in something cut out, or a shadowing forth. The tselem is not the actual thing, but is like it as a representation. The second word is דְּמוּת (dᵊmûṯ), a resemblance or model. Tony Evans likens it to a mirrored reflection. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, compresses the two words to one: εἰκών (eikṓn), from which we get the English word, icon. Furthermore, Genesis 2:7 says that God breathed his own breath into Adam. God’s breath, נָפַח (nâphach) literally brought Adam to life; no other part of creation can claim that distinction.
The Imago Dei is the why behind the Biblical calls to the value of all human life. Tony Evans put it this way,
In theology, we call this imago Dei — referring to the concept that humans are created in God’s image. An image is a mirror or a reflection. This also means that everybody, regardless of their race or ethnicity, has intrinsic value and worth. Dignity is innate. All humans are born with esteem because they are created in the image of God.
Secularism, on the other hand, relies on materialism, humanism, and postmodernism. Bertrand Russell wrote of what inspires modern secular morality,
In action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free, free from our fellow-men, free from the petty planet on which our bodies impotently crawl, free even, while we live, from the tyranny of death. Let us learn, then, that energy of faith which enables us to live constantly in the vision of the good; and let us descend, in action, into the world of fact, with that vision always before us…When, without the bitterness of impotent rebellion, we have learnt both to resign ourselves to the outward rules of Fate and to recognise that the non-human world is unworthy of our worship, it becomes possible at last so to transform and refashion the unconscious universe, so to transmute it in the crucible of imagination, that a new image of shining gold replaces the old idol of clay…it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built….
In essence, the secular mind attributes everything to the independent self, apart from the influence of a creator. Even people who identify as spiritual or “christian” are more often philosophically inclined to a form of what socialists call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a view that promotes personal happiness and good feelings as central to the purpose of life. The secular non-religious (including atheist and agnostic) agree that people are supposed to be good to each other and that there are no absolute moral truths. Ignoring the logical contradiction (what is being good if there are no moral truths?), it is on this shaky philosophy that much of current culture is derived. Anything that hinders personal happiness is “bad.” The problem comes when one person’s good feelings come at the expense of someone else’s. Or one group prospers by devaluing another. Everyone worships at the shrines they have built.
To many people in current society, objective truth is replaced with personal truths that often change with the seasons. Buzzwords of lofty goals rise on the breath of the powerful until the next buzz comes along. Appearing to honor others becomes a self-improvement checklist or a way to look socially responsible in the eyes of popular culture. And that checklist is just as legalistic as any religion that functions on rules over relationships.
Christianity, when Jesus is at the center, honors people because they are made in the image of God, Imago Dei. The resulting actions come from a heart and mind committed to extend the love, grace, and mercy that God showed to them. The foundation is serving others, not self-improvement. Biblical diversity, equity, and inclusion promotes unity within the Church, a unity marked by love and grace. “In Christ,” wrote Paul, “the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part” (Ephesians 4:16 CSB). Building up, not tearing down. When the Church is faithful to working properly, it can then demonstrate what unity in love is. Every person is valued, not by what they do or how they look, but by who and whose they are. The foundation upon which DEI is built will crumble like sand on the seashore when the next “thing” comes along. The foundational Imago Dei is eternal.
When people are valued only by what they represent or how they identify themselves, division is the inevitable result. Freire said, “Sectarianism, fed by fanaticism, is always castrating..it turns reality into a false (and therefore unchangeable) ‘reality.’” Freire’s solution was a radical transformation of both the far left and the far right, making the case that humanity for both oppressors and oppressed should be the goal. He also recognized the virtual impossibility of equity based on humanistic practices. If the “oppressors” believe everything is reduced to the status of the material (having as a condition of being) and the “oppressed” see sharing the trappings of “oppressor life” (what Freire called “colonized mentality”) as the ultimate goal and revenge, everyone is dehumanized. Freire rightly noted that the pursuit of humanization is not individualist nor isolationist, but in “fellowship and solidarity.” What he missed, however, is human nature. Human nature seeks out itself. Nearly every leader who begins with noble intentions becomes entrapped by the systems of power and perpetuates the cycle of self-protection and self-glorification.
By definition, diversity should value differences of opinion, civil discourse, listening, and respect for the traditions/cultures of others. In practice, however, diversity of thought is often discouraged. Unity under DEI is not about agreeing to disagree, but is rather unity of perspective, attitude, and belief. Ideological diversity is neither pursued nor welcomed.
By definition, equity should promote achievement, innovation, and partnership. In practice, however, equity means flipping historic inequities; there are still “higher” and “lower” ranks, it’s just that the roles have reversed.
By definition, inclusion should mean every person and every person’s story matters to the community. In practice, however, secular DEI inclusivity excludes a large portion of the US: cis-gendered people, light-skinned people, church-goers (especially Evangelicals), conservatives, married people, large families, and people who resist being categorized by race, gender, social status, ethnicity, and religion, citing historical privilege as a rationale. By doing so, secular tolerance becomes hostile toward particular people and perspectives — and non-inclusive. Without a foundational understanding of innate human value, including the respect for divergent beliefs and opinions, a secular structure of DEI will fare no differently than the systems it wants to replace.
The Church is often no better than the secular culture when it comes to living out what it means to be imago Dei, however, the foundation is unchanging. Biblically, all believers are equally valued by God, part of “one Body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians4:4–7). Living out the beauty of the whole Body means putting aside the way Christians used to be and putting on a renewed spirit and self. Reconciliation between humans and their Creator only happens because of Jesus. Religion is a “self-help” exercise in checkboxes, but Christianity is about relationships between Creator God and the created Imago Dei and relationships between every believer as members of one Body.
At the end of time, believers will gather to worship God. John wrote in Revelation, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). Absolute diversity (every nation tribe, people and tongue), absolute equity (wearing white robes and holding palm branches), and absolute inclusion:
“they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10)
Believers from ALL nations, ethnicities, abilities, cultures, social standings, denominations, and points of view will unify at the Throne. What a glorious day that will be. In the meantime, believers need to start practicing that eventuality so that the secular world will see that Imago Dei is superior to cultural DEI.
Abbot, Benjamin W., Radebaugh, Jani, & Jensen, Jamie L. (2019, October 23). Does our vision of Diversity include social conservatives? EOS.
Blue Letter Bible study resources for Hebrew and Greek words.
Code for America. (n.d.) A diverse workforce and inclusive culture are central to our work at Code for America.
Craig, William Lane. (2013, September 16). Doctrine of Man. Reasonable Faith.
Cultural Research Center. (2021, April 27). Counterfeit Christianity: ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’ most popular worldview in U.S. culture. Arizona Christian University.
Evans, Tony. (n.d.). Imago Dei. The Urban Alternative [blog].
Fawzi, Safaya. (2020, February 21). ‘Diversity and Inclusion’: Understanding buzzwords and moving beyond them toward innovation. Student Lawyer.
Freire, Paulo. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Heinz, Kate. (2022, March 13). What does Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) mean in the workplace? Built In.
Ideal.com writers (2022). What Diversity, Equity and Inclusion really mean. Ideal.com
Leef, George. (2020, May 11). The ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ mantra doesn’t mean conservatives. National Review.
Macdonald, Brady. (2022, March 24). Conservative Disney employees fear reprisals in ‘Don’t Say Gay’ debate, petition says. Orange County Register.
Rosencrance, Linda. (2021, March). diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). <sic>. TechTarget.
Russell, Bertrand.(1903) A Free Man’s Worship. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol 12: Contemplation and Action, 1902–14 (London, 1985; now published by Routledge).
University of Michigan. (2022). Defining DEI. Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.