Affirmative Action

2016 Book of Resolutions, #3373

The United Methodist Church has long been committed to the principle of social inclusiveness. That is, in keeping with the spirit of the gospel, we affirm that all persons—whatever their racial or ethnic identity, whatever their gender or national origin, what-ever their physical state or condition—are full-fledged members of the human community with every one of the rights and privileges that such membership entails. The implementation of “affirmative action” reflects a shared understanding that diversity is a positive outcome of social inclusion that yields benefits for the entire community.

In light of that commitment, the church has, in years past, adopted a strong stand supportive of the concept of “affirmative action.” Recently, this concept has been subjected to intense opposition. While some of the particular policies adopted under that rubric may be in need of revision—given developments that have occurred over the course of time—we would, at this moment, reconfirm our support for the basic concept. Inclusionary efforts that lead to diversity yield enriched environments for our daily living and learning.

The Declaration of the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Durban, South Africa, 31 August to 8 September 2001) contains the following affirmations:

  • recognition of the need for special measures or positive actions for the victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in order to promote their full integration into society;
  • recognition that such measures should aim at correcting the conditions that impair the enjoyment of rights;
  • recognition of the need to encourage equal participation of all racial and cultural, linguistic and religious groups in all sectors of society; and,
  • recognition of the need for measures to achieve appropriate representation in educational institutions, housing, political parties, legislative bodies, employment, especially in the judiciary, police, army and other civil services.

The concept of affirmative action emerged in response to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s as one of a set of public policies designed to overcome a tragic history of racist and sexist practices throughout this nation and to create a more equitable social system in keeping with the spirit of the gospel and in keeping with the proclaimed democratic ideals of the American people.

Affirmative action is not intended to enable class privilege for the wealthy, such as using family legacies or donor contributions to gain personal advantages. The specific intent of affirmative action, given its origins, was to bring the prestige and power of government to bear on economic and educational institutions, requiring them to put into effect carefully conceived plans to admit qualified persons who traditionally had been excluded from participating in them—women, ethnic and racial persons, and, at a later time, persons with disabilities.

Over the past three decades, programs of affirmative action have had a significant effect in the employment patterns of corporations and public agencies and in the character of the professional staff and student bodies of educational institutions, private and public. Proportionately, more women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities have found their talents and training recognized than before such programs were instituted.

At the same time, however, many women, racial and ethnic persons, and persons with disabilities, though fully competent, have confronted obstacles in these settings, stifling their advancement in education and in employment. Unemployment of racial and ethnic persons remains appreciably higher than the national average. Women workers continue to earn less than male workers in the same or similar positions, and they continue to confront limitations in promotion to a more prestigious and responsible level of jobs. Persons with disabilities are bypassed regardless of their motivations.

Despite these persistent inequities, the concept of affirmative action is currently under severe attack. In some locations, it has been abolished as a public policy on several (somewhat different and not altogether compatible) grounds:

  • that it promotes the hiring (in business) or admission (to institutions of higher education) of unqualified persons;
  • that it discriminates unduly against white males;
  • that it has a negative impact on the self-esteem of affirmative action candidates; and
  • that its goals have been at this time fully realized and therefore it is no longer necessary.

In light of the evidence, however (except in those cases where policies of affirmative action have been badly or improperly administered), all of these alleged grounds seem specious. The implementation of affirmative action has resulted in concrete gains for people of color and women in higher education and the corporate world. However persuasive they seem on the surface, they tend to slough off or to ignore the persistence of significant and widespread inequalities of opportunity affecting women, ethnic and racial persons, and persons with disabilities throughout our social system.

From the perspective represented by The United Methodist Church, the most fundamental premise underlying the concept of affirmative action is both moral and spiritual. Concern for the disadvantaged and the oppressed is a major feature of the message of the Hebraic prophets and of Jesus. According to biblical teaching, we are mandated, in the face of inhumane discrimination—whether that discrimination is intended or unintended—to do what we can to redress legitimate grievances and to create a society in which the lives of each and all will flourish.

For this fundamental reason, we reconfirm our commitment to the concept of affirmative action. The use of numerical goals and timetables is a legitimate and necessary tool of effective affirmative action programs. This concept retains its pertinence as a means of attaining a more inclusive society in our educational systems, in our businesses and industries, and in religious and other institutions. No persons—whatever their gender, their ethnic or racial heritage, their physical condition—should be deprived of pursuing their educational or employment aspirations to the full extent of their talents and abilities.

Fairness is the rule for affirmative action, guaranteeing more opportunities for all to compete for jobs. Indeed, the purpose of affirmative action has always been to create an environment where merit can prevail.

Rather than curtail or abolish programs in affirmative action, we should instead move toward the reallocation of the resources of our society to ensure the fullest opportunities in the fulfillment of life.

At the same time, given the tenacity of many forms of racism, sexism, and ableism—both blatant and subtle—the concept of affirmative action retains its relevance as part of an overall effort to create a more just and equitable social system.

Therefore, be it resolved, that the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church calls upon all its members to:

  1. affirm our Judeo-Christian heritage of justice and inclusiveness as a foundation for the concept of affirmative action;
  2. constitute a model for others in society by practicing and strengthening our own affirmative action policies, whatever our station in life;
  3. declare our support of efforts throughout the society to sustain and, where needed, strengthen affirmative action legislation and programs;
  4. collaborate with movements and initiatives seeking to ensure effective participation of ethnic and racial persons, women, and persons with disabilities in all sectors of our society; and
  5. interpret the genuine meaning of affirmative action, dispelling the myths and responding to the specious appeals that would undercut and vilify affirmative action policies and programs.

Be it further resolved, that the 2016 General Conference reaffirm its mandate to implement affirmative action programs in all general church boards and agencies, annual conferences, church- related institutions, districts, and local churches.

Be it further resolved, that the General Commissions on Religion and Race and the Status and Role of Women continue to assess the progress of The United Methodist Church and related institutions and to provide assistance in helping them move toward greater conformity with the principle of inclusiveness.

AMENDED AND READOPTED 2004, 2008, 2016

See Social Principles, ¶ 162A.

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Copyright © 2016, The United Methodist Publishing House, used by permission