Is Discrimination Destined to Stay?

Evangelicals work toward expanding opportunities for minorities, while avoiding affirmative-action pitfalls.

It took us 300 years to separate ourselves like this," says Spencer Perkins, coauthor of More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel, in reference to the longstanding racial divisions in America. "It's going to take a while to undo that."

As a black Christian leader, Perkins counts himself among the sober realists who are facing up to the challenge of making American society, its churches, and Christian institutions free of racism and discrimination.

With the country's rising tide of political conservatism, affirmative-action programs designed to remedy the effects of past discrimination are under sharp scrutiny by judges, politicians, and activists.

In California, a citizens group hopes to place on the 1996 ballot a measure that would outlaw preferential treatment in hiring, contractual agreements, school enrollments, and other areas for any group.

In Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court last month allowed to stand the verdicts of two recent racially charged court decisions. In one verdict, a judge voided a quota for black Birmingham firefighters, designed to increase promotions. In the second case, a jury handed out a damage award of $425,000 to a white Pennsylvania engineer who was passed over for promotion in favor of a less-qualified black man.

On the political front, many Republican candidates for the 1996 presidential nomination have vowed major changes in government-mandated, affirmative-action efforts. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) has gone so far as to pledge the program's elimination.

Among Christian institutions, there has been no similarly binding legal mandate to resolve the effects of past discrimination. But with racial reconciliation efforts gaining momentum in the evangelical community, Christian leaders ...

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