Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper coined the phrase “the paradox of tolerance.” Writing in opposition to the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, Popper noted the limits of toleration: “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant … then the tolerant will be destroyed.”

In today’s culture, a battle rages between two contentious ideas: inclusion and exclusion.  Proponents of inclusion advocate for diversity and equality, respecting the nuances of social, ethnic and economic differences. In an attempt to include more segments of the culture, inclusion advocates conclude cultural nuances must be factored into social policies, leading to stronger communities.  

Proponents of exclusion argue individuals should only be evaluated on merit-based factors, disregarding cultural nuances. They think the strongest merit-based candidates are excluded when cultural nuances are factored into admission and hiring formulas. Factoring social privileges is seen as a deviation from merit-based results.  

This battle is playing out from the Supreme Court to local communities.  

The United States Supreme Court struck down affirmative action for college admissions last year, opening the door for America’s privileged to use their wealth and power to exclude those without resources and influence. The decision was divided ideologically, with the six conservative judges voting to gut affirmative action.

Affirmative Action dates back to 1935 with the Wagner Act, a federal law that gave workers the right to form and join unions.  Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson expanded affirmative action policies during the Civil Rights era. During that time, young African American students demanded that colleges and universities change admissions policies to be more representative of society.

In the case striking down affirmative action, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “Many universities have for too long … concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin,” he wrote. “Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s second African American justice, wrote, “While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold our enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles that … all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”

Herein lies the problem and the need for policies requiring institutions to consider other reasons for admitting students and hiring a diverse workforce. History confirms that when given the opportunity, the wealthy and privileged will exclude those they deem to be under their social class.  

Policies such as affirmative action offer opportunities to include people who might otherwise be excluded due to their lack of privilege, influence and social status.  Inclusive policies such as affirmative action provide guardrails to ensure societal institutions remain open to all people.  

Fueled by the Supreme Court’s decision, exclusionists have now set their sights on dismantling Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs across the country. Last month, Oklahoma Governor Keven Stitt signed an executive order defunding DEI programs in state agencies, including public colleges.  

Stitt said: “In Oklahoma, we’re going to encourage equal opportunity rather than promising equal outcomes. Encouraging our workforce, economy, and education systems to flourish means shifting focus away from exclusivity and discrimination and toward opportunity and merit.”

Reading between the lines, Stitt’s comments reflect a rising sentiment among white evangelical Christians in the country. They contend they are being discriminated against because of their identity and religion. The idea makes the argument that diversity, equity and inclusion programs promote the exclusion of white evangelical Christians.

This may surprise you, but they have a point. However, it’s not exclusion white evangelical Christians are feeling. It is a leveling of the playing field. White evangelical Christians have benefited from their privilege for so long that they have grown to equate their privilege with an inalienable right.  

Therefore, my second New Year’s wish for 2024 is not to tolerate the intolerant. As an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion, I recognize the feelings white evangelical Christians are expressing. However, advocating for more inclusive social policies does not exclude them.  

DEI programs and policies are simple acknowledgments of social and economic privilege while, at the same time, creating opportunities for those without the same layers of privilege. The feeling that white Evangelical Christians express towards this false claim of exclusion is guilt – and if there is one feeling the privileged hate more than any other, it is feeling guilty about their privilege.

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