Monday, March 21, 2011

Is That Discrimination?

In an NYT article about alleged discrimination by Evangelical churches against unmarried male pastors, one evangelical leader makes the following defense:
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said it was unfair to accuse churches of discrimination because that word implied something "wrongful."

"Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society," he said, justify "the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married."

Putting aside whether an open bias against unmarried men for the mentioned reasons is or isn't "wrongful", I do agree with Mr. (Rev.? Dr.?) Mohler on one thing: "discrimination" does imply something "wrongful".

Some folks try to get very cute with defining "discrimination" as any sort of distinction or evaluation. It's a valid usage, and can even be a point of praise (as in "he has discriminating taste"), but it is also rapidly becoming archaic. In our society, discrimination does imply not just that a distinction is being made, but that the distinction is wrongful. Which, perhaps it is -- but that's usually precisely what is being debated. If one doesn't think that there is anything wrong with Evangelical churches preferring married men to their single peers, then it's a bit weird to still call it "discrimination". The way that language has involved gives discrimination an inherent connotation of wrongfulness and immorality, which is something that must be demonstrated by argument -- it can't be inferred simply from the fact of a distinction.

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