Not all discriminations are bad. There are legitimate and justifiable and legal forms of discrimination. Then there are illegitimate, oppressive, unjustified forms. We have cultural expectations and even laws to prevent illegitimate disriminiation. 

However, the kinds of differences for which people might be discriminated against are different, and so the points at which discrimination is legitimate are also different. Here is a slightly editing list from the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Irrelevant Medical Record
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Sexual Practice
  • Relationship and Martial Status
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
  • Religion Belief or Affiliation
  • Religious Practice
  • Political Belief or Affiliation
  • Political Activity
  • Disability
  • Association with Any of the Above

These are not all the same and so we should be careful in our thinking, laws, memes, rhetoric, preaching, moral outrage, Faceobooking etc from drawing total analogies between them. At the same time, it's worthwhile noting that there are some similarities: they are all things that someone could be unjustifiably excluded or criticised for. Many of them are things that are a significant part of a person's sense of self and experience of life.

 A bunch of reflections:

  • Everyone changes age, but it is much harder to see how a person can change race or disability.
  • There are legitimate contexts where one might legally discriminate based on these things:
    • age-based programs
    • certain restrictions for minors based upon age of consent
    • cultural groups for particularly ethnicities to preserve culture
    • religious and political groups for particular affiliations to further their cause
    • biological sex-restrictive groups/service and spaces for the particular issues relate to that sex
  • Some of these categories have more distinctives than others:
    • There are very few matters of significance that distinguish people of different races. And so there are very few justifiable grounds for discrimination.
    • There are some biological differences between the biological sexes that might allow for more forms of legitimate differentiation.
    • There are many ways that we can make more and more space for those with disabilities, but there are limits to this, and so at some point, there will be justifiable ground for discrimination. The category of irrelevant medical record recognises that there might be relevant health issues.
    • There are some significant developmental differences between age.
    • Relationship status, gender identity, sexual practice, religious belief and practice and political belief and practice are all in part exercises in human intellectual and moral choice.. As a result they are much more complex than inherited or acquired characteristics outside of our intellecutal and moral control.
  • Some forms of discrimination happen due to not making ways for people to be more fully involved — eg for disabilities or women having children or single people in a culture that is built around marriage couple and families. These are more 'sins of omission' rather than 'sins of commission'.
  • Affirmative action is a peculiar kind of positive disrimination to counteract historic negative discrimination and is a very complex minefield to be discussed another day
  • There is a distinction between religions affiliation and religious practice, just as there is between sexual orientation and sexual practice. It is possible for someone to identify as Anglican and never go to church, and likewise it is possible for someone to have a sexual orientation but not be (or want to be) sexually active.
  • We need to be careful about creating to simplistic a hierarchy of which things are foundational parts of someone's identity and which are incidental: is sexual orientation necesasrily more fundamental to a person's sense of self than their political affiliation? We must be careful to jump to conclusions on this.
  • On the other hand, it is possible that some of these things are a minute part of a person's sense of self. They are incidental to their identity and lived experience, and so their sense of frustration comes when they are excluded or discriminated against in some way that reduces them to this or that matter.


Xian Reflections is written by Mikey Lynch.

Mikey graduated from the University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Arts in 2002. In 2000 he became one of the founding leaders of Crossroads Presbyterian Church where he was the lead pastor for 7 years from 2003.

Mikey now works as the Campus Director of the University Fellowship of Christians, University of Tasmania, Hobart. Mikey is the chairman of The Vision 100 Network (Tasmania) and a founding director of Geneva Push (national) – both church planting networks. He is also a chaplain at Jane Franklin Hall and the chairman of New Front Door: the Church IT Guild.

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