Affirmative Action

by PammyMcB

Almost no one who advocates for affirmative action fully understands it. Affirmative action is primarily concerned with fairness and justice, and the significant discussion about what is just or fair.

Affirmative action starts with certain basic assumptions:

    1. Past injustice has made the playing field unfair; it is an uneven playing field. It is  NOT ABOUT the playing field being unfair because of the lottery of life.
    2. This field is unfair to identifiable groups, which tend to be minorities and women.
    3. Unfairness is statistically demonstratable. If we start out with assumptions that women and minorities are not equal, then the playing field is not even.
    4. Success equals correcting the statistical imbalance. There is a theoretical stopping place. We are trying to make the playing field level; and once those in power look like the distribution of the race and gender, then the playing field is level and affirmative action must stop.
    5. Affirmative action involves unfairness to individuals for the sake of a fairer playing field for the whole.

What affirmative action is meant to do is take race, gender, ethnicity, and religious beliefs out of the equation. Once they are removed, the most qualified person should be hired. If not, then an injustice has occurred.


    1. Affirmative action is about meeting quotas.
    2. Affirmative action means hiring or admitting unqualified people and gives preferential treatment to minority groups that have been historically discriminated against among the pool of qualified people.
    3. Affirmative action is about the person hired or admitted. It is not about us, it is about our children, and it is about working a generation forward.
    4. Affirmative action can and does lead to reverse discrimination, such as the Bakke Case, where a white male applies to medical school in California and is refused admission. Several African Americans with lower qualifications got in. Bakke sued for racial discrimination and won.

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that ruled unconstitutional the admission process of the Medical School at the University of California at Davis, which set aside 16 of the 100 seats for “Blacks,” “Chicanos,” “Asians,” and “American Indians” (and established a separate admissions process for those 16 spaces). Several years later, the African American man, who won the final position, had his medical license revoked, because of medical incompetence in the deaths of two women, and the maiming of a third. 

From a Christian Pluralistic Deontological stance, ask yourself if affirmative action benefits all of the people. Does a minority group have an even playing field that can either help the community or harm the community depending on the circumstances? If a person with inferior qualifications gets a job based on his/her race and is not the most qualified person for the job, then the playing field has not been fairly leveled. An example of this would be that the the gentleman in the Bakke case, that was admitted to the University of California, severely altered the lives of three families. So, in cases like these, should we listen to God’s word which states, Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly. ~ Leviticus 19:15?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” So, does that mean that Dr. King would have been against affirmative action?

To take the other side would be for us to say that affirmative action is just, as disciples had commanded that affirmative action was warranted when Hellenistic widows were being neglected in receiving daily sustenance.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. ~ Acts 6:1-7

This, in essence, is a form of affirmative action.

Continuing to take a Christian Pluralistic Deontological stance, we run through each of the seven prima facie duties put forward by W.D. Ross.

    1. beneficence (to help other people to increase their pleasure, improve their character, etc.) – Improving a person’s station in life can and will help increase their pleasure and improve their character. A person that lives in poverty and has difficulty finding work because of the race, gender, and religious beliefs will have a decreased sense of pleasure in their lives. Furthermore, a person who is not pushed to strive for more in their lives may become very weak of character. For instance, many youths involved in gang activity believe that the playing field is not level, and they have no choice but to commit crime.
    2. non-maleficence (to avoid harming other people) – Improving one’s station in life does not hurt that person. However, giving a person a job that they are under qualified for, depending on the job, due to their race, gender, and religious preferences, can and sometimes does result in the subsequent harm to others in the community.
    3. justice (to ensure people get what they deserve) – If an under qualified person receives a job because of affirmative action, and a more qualified person is overlooked because of their race, gender, and religious preferences, then justice has not been served. The qualified has been passed over for a job that he/she deserved or earned, while the under qualified has received a job that he/she did not deserve or earn. Furthermore, the more qualified person may end up in poverty and not be capable of providing for himself/herself or his/her families due to not being able to obtain suitable and deserved/earned employment.
    4. self-improvement (to improve ourselves) – Affirmative action can work to improve us as a whole, but may not be able to improve us as individuals. This happens when people living in poverty who have been overlooked due to their race, gender, and religious beliefs are raised to the level of their peers of different races, genders, and religious preferences due to affirmative action. However, people who are in the majority may be lowered in social station and economic station due to not being able to obtain adequate employment due to affirmative action.
    5. reparation (to recompense someone if you have acted wrongly towards them) – Many people believe that affirmative action is just, as it provides minorities with a reparation promised to them by the U.S. government after the abolition of slavery. But when should affirmative action stop according to Christian doctrine? Do we hold a man responsible for his father’s sins?The Bible states, The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die. ~ Ezekiel 18:1-4
    6. According to the aforementioned verse, we shall not pass the sins of the father to the child. However, the two following verses from Deuteronomy contradict one another on the topic.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. ~ Deuteronomy 5:9

Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin. ~ Deuteronomy 24:16

Should we believe to place the sin on the child? This is a very controversial topic. Therefore, for the sake of compromise, should we say that if the sin is to be passed to the child, then it should not go passed four generations? Does this mean that reparations should end, as more than four generations have passed since slavery was abolished?

With that being said, we should look to the next part of the sentence, “showing love to a thousand generations.” Does that mean that a child, who loves God and is also a child of a man who hates God, would that child still carry the burden of his or her father? Deuteronomy 24:16, leads me to believe this is not the case.

So, does that mean that four generations of whites, whose ancestors maintained slaves within their custody should be held responsible for the reparations of the ancestors of the slaves? But, what if the family, whose ancestors owned slaves, are devoutly religious and love God within that four generation time period, are they still responsible for reparations?

Then what do we do to the thousands of descendants whose ancestors did not own slaves? Should we declare that thousands of descendants of Celtic ancestry should not be held responsible for the sins of the other Anglo-Americans due to their lack of involvement in slavery and the poverty level of the Celts, which deterred them from owning slaves?

Next, what do we do about several thousand American ancestors that did buy slaves and technically owned slaves, but they bought the slaves only in order to free the slaves. Should the descendants of these Anglo-American ancestors be held responsible for reparation? I conclude that this question cannot be rightfully answered without knowing the specifics of each individual case, in which reparations are to be awarded.

  1. gratitude (to benefit people who have benefited us) – Affirmative action cannot be answered by this question unless the nature of the situation is directly and fully discussed. If a job is given to a person due to gratitude, they have earned that job, as the person was given the job on the basis of his/her character. In essence, affirmative action has, most likely, been removed from the equation.  This is why the nature of the situation needs to be known and understood in order to determine if affirmative action is warranted or even a contributing factor.
  2. promise-keeping (to act according to explicit and implicit promises, including the implicit promise to tell the truth) – Affirmative action is warranted in this case due to the Supreme Court’s ruling that affirmative action is to be used in order to level the playing field for all people regardless of race, age, gender, and religious beliefs. Furthermore, freed slaves were promised reparations for the injustices that befell them due to slavery.

In some circumstances, there may be clashes or conflicts between these duties and a decision must be made whereby one duty may “trump” another, although there are no hard and fast rules and no fixed order of significance.

In conclusion, the answer of whether or not God believes and approves of affirmative action cannot be answered on the text of the Bible or through ethics. It is possible that God is for affirmative action, as it evens the playing field for all people. However, it is also possible that God is against affirmative action due to his doctrine stating that we have shown partiality to the poor and are not judging our neighbors fairly. The question is put to you, do you support affirmative action?

Personally, I do as long as it is used properly. Many companies misuse it by using quotas as a way to gauge whether a person is hired or not. Furthermore, schools that use affirmative action as a way to determine entrance to programs should use it rightfully and fully. If a person is not qualified for the position in which they have applied, they should not get the position as it could cause harm to others in the community. I will strive to give anyone regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, and gender a fair advantage to obtain any position that I am told to fill.