In Defense of Diversity

Response to Dr. Cary’s Lecture,“Chastity Does Not Discriminate”

We need to discriminate. Yes, if we are to preserve diversity and difference, and to love each other well, we need to discriminate

On September 18, Dr. Cary, a professor of philosophy at Eastern, gave a lecture at the invitation of the school’s philosophy club to an auditorium full of students and faculty in which he articulated this need to discriminate. His lecture was in defense of the letter signed by Dr. Duffett this summer regarding Eastern’s right to require faculty to uphold a standard of conduct which conforms to a traditional Christian sexual ethic.

In the lecture itself, Cary explained that the university has always upheld a traditional Christian sexual ethic and Dr. Duffett’s support of the letter only expressed what has always been the case. Although the policy is controversial in light of the varying beliefs Eastern’s students and faculty hold, Cary argued that Duffett’s actions did not signal any change at Eastern. Rather, it simply defended Eastern’s right to act on policies it has always maintained.

Cary also asserted that the school’s hiring policy is discriminatory, but it is a good kind of discrimination. Though discrimination intuitively sounds morally reprehensible to any modern, Cary argued that maintaining a certain kind of discrimination is necessary for upholding diversity, difference and the love of one’s neighbor.

According to Cary, discrimination, drawing borders between oneself and others, is necessary for personal and communal identity. A person needs to distinguish oneself from the other; a family needs to distinguish their house from their neighbor’s; Christianity needs to distinguish itself from Judaism or Islam. Recognizing difference is essential to identity. Cary argued that this drawing of borders, this distinguishing of oneself from other, is good and necessary to our identities. It is the kind of discrimination we need.

Cary was not naïve to the fact that much evil has come from discrimination. He recognized that borders are the places where conflicts occur, but that this border violence is the antithesis of good discrimination. Good discrimination practices the virtue of hospitality and extends an invitation to one’s neighbor, inviting them into one’s home to eat and share at the dinner table: this is good discrimination, that which recognizes difference, respects it, and upholds the dignity of the other. Ultimately, Cary suggested that this good discrimination was what Dr. Duffett was endorsing by signing the letter.

He stressed that Eastern was not discriminating against people but against behavior. The school’s hiring policy upholds a traditional Christian sexual ethic, and in doing so, enforces a kind of discrimination which says employees must behave in ways which conform to the school’s official values. Though the hiring policy discriminates by requiring faculty to uphold Christian beliefs, it is important to note that it does not discriminate against differing beliefs about sexual ethics, but only behavior.

Personally, I found the lecture compelling. We are all “others” in a sense: I am distinct from you, you from me; my community from yours, yours from mine; and on and on it goes. Difference is not necessarily bad. Difference and diversity is beautiful. All the creatures God created are beautiful in their diversity and difference. Our differences can be beautiful too, and we should learn to appreciate them, to see the unique beauty God has created in us all. At the same time, we ought to be open to change: our neighbors might have much to teach us! We must, as the poet Wendell Berry once said, “Conserve the good and be free.” To do this, we must discriminate and must recognize difference.

Of course this good discrimination becomes more challenging in community. Community, by its nature, attempts to bring otherness into communion. So, how do we do this well? How can we be together and yet apart at the same time? I think Dr. Cary showed us how: by respecting each other’s identities while simultaneously being open to learning and change. To do this, Cary suggested we must challenge ourselves to be open, we must invite our neighbors to dinner, we must, as he eloquently puts it, “Carry the cross of listening.” Let us carry our crosses, invite our neighbors into our homes, pursue truth together and pray that we can see the beauty which God has uniquely placed in us all.

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