It seems that many of the debates in our society today center around the idea of equality. We hear of social equality, marriage equality and more recently the hot topic is income equality. While at first blush these ideals seem to concur with Christian ethics, as the saying goes, “it ain’t necessarily so.”
Christian ethics would have us champion justice rather than equality. Amos 5:24 “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream.”
The prophet Micah said
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Justness is an attribute of God, and because man is created in His image, there is an inherent desire for justice as well as a disdain for injustice. Equality however is a different story. It is not a biblical concept. Jesus set the opposite example of equality by “not regarding equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6). St Paul says that we are to have that same mind and goes on to say, “Do noting from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others a more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3)
Jesus treated all of His disciples justly but He did not treat them equally. He was particularly close to John, whom the Scriptures call “beloved.” He had a unique relationship with Peter, James and John, taking them alone to the Mount of Transfiguration. He had a different relationship with the 12 Apostles than he did with the 72 disciples as well as the 120 and the masses.
Even in the life to come there will not be equality. Jesus tells the Apostles that they will sit on the 12 thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). While I don’t pretend to understand what that means exactly it does tell me that I won’t be on a throne because those seats are already taken. I seriously doubt that I will spend eternity pouting because “that’s not fair.”
It seems in the distribution of gifts and ministries that the Holy Spirit is also uninterested in equality. St. Paul tells us that prophecy is a greater gift than tongues. In the list of ministries “apostles” take precedent over “pastors and teachers.” All in the Body of Christ are gifted but not all are gifted equally. Some gifts have more honor than others. That is all by the Spirit’s choice who treats no one unjustly.
The danger of equality is that it is rooted in covetousness. Equality is expressed when I demand what you have, even if I have done nothing to deserve or earn it. Equality, especially income equality, is a Marxist concept that is the fruit and fuel of dialectical materialism. In theory it does sound like a utopian dream but because of the fall of man, it became a nightmare. Last century 94 million people were killed under this quest for equality in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea and Eastern Europe. That is over 15 times the number that died in the Holocaust, over which we are justifiably outraged. There is not one example anywhere in the world that this Marxist demand for equality has worked.
As George Orwell pointed out in Animal Farm, the quest for equality inevitably leads to some pigs being more equal than others. In the supposed communist utopia of Cuba the average worker earns about $25 per month, while according to Forbes the estimated net worth of Fidel Castro was $900 million. It therefore must be concluded that the quest for equality inevitably leads to injustice on a massive scale.
Consider this example. When I was in the university many of my classes were graded on a curve. This meant that a certain percentage would get an A and a certain percentage would fail and the rest would compete for the grades in between. Imagine the response if the professor announced that in the name of equality the nerds, who had burned to midnight oil to get the A’s, would have to share their grades with the jocks, who never came to class, so that everyone comes out with a C. The nerds would rightly be crying out for justice rather than equality.
Eschewing equality, the Christian focuses on justice and this ethic begins with the imago Dei. That is that all men are created in the image of God. We are to treat others with honor and respect and come to the aid of the defenseless such as the widow and orphan and the unborn. We are to champion for those who are treated unjustly because of their sex or race or beliefs. The only equality that we should seek is equality under the law and in this we are really demanding that justice be blind, which it must be if it is to be just.