The following post, first published in Feb 2012, is our all-time #2 most popular. The level of reader interest encouraged us to continue to write on the subject of social justice. The culmination of that process is the publication of Darrow’s latest book, Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion, just released this month (May 2015).
Read the post to see what the fuss is all about … you’ll probably want to order the book.
Is Social Justice About Equality or Equity?
Is equality the proper objective in a free society? The goal of some in the social justice discussion is for people to be equal. What does this mean and what does it entail?
The U.S. Declaration of Independence sets the high-water mark for any civilization: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
First, note that we are equal, not because we are the same, but because we are created by God. Young or old, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, healthy or infirm, to be human is to be made in the image of God. This fact establishes that before God and our fellowman, each person has dignity and honor and is due respect from their neighbors and society. Being made in the image of God, each person has certain rights granted by God, unalienable rights – they cannot be conferred nor taken away by the state or any human being or institution. These rights include the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (and happiness is found when we live within the framework of the laws of liberty, established at the creation of the world).
But, aside from equality in dignity and worth, human beings are not born the same. The law of individuality makes it clear that every human is unique – one of a kind. In billions of snowflakes, no two are alike. So also, no two human beings are alike. Even identical twins are not truly identical.
Some people were made to play basketball. I can hardly dribble. Some have been born to sing opera; I only sing in the shower. We are tall and short, male and female, brown and black, gifted in languages, math, science, music and the arts, sports and oratory. From a myriad of possibilities, each person is made one of a kind. God loves diversity.
Human beings are equal and diverse at the same time. Human beings, like the Godhead, have unity without uniformity and diversity without superiority.
Equality and equity are very different.
Equity assumes the diverse, unique individuality of each person. While people are different, they are to be treated equally before the law; they are treated fairly. The uniqueness or diversity of people is a cause for celebration, not discrimination. Equity means equal rights and responsibilities and equality before the law, for all citizens. This is a product of freedom. The goal is equity among diverse peoples.
Equality, in contrast, assumes sameness, uniformity, interchangeability. Some advocate for an equal starting place – a level playing field for every citizen; others argue for equal outcomes – everyone has the same in the end. The uniqueness of individuals is often despised. The goal of equality is to make diverse people all the same.
It’s easy to see the absurdity of this philosophy. Equality means I should be put on the starting lineup of the Los Angeles Lakers. And, at the end of the season, my team should have the same win-loss record as all the other teams in the league.
Equality, pushed to its natural conclusion, would divide an insulin dose equally between a healthy child and the diabetic child. Equity, on the other hand, gives the diabetic child all the insulin.
Social justice seeks equity, not equality
Because people are born unique, there will always be diverse starting places and outcomes. The only alternative is tyranny, as C.S. Lewis imagines a demon’s instruction in Screwtape Proposes a Toast:
The moral is plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, and all nobodies. All equals.
This was the outcome of the Communist experiment in the Soviet Union and China and the direction of all utopian experiments. People dressed the same, acted the same, and thought the same under penalty of death for any deviation.
Equity seeks fairness for diverse people, equality seeks numerically equal outcomes for different people. Equality, in the sense of similar outcomes, contradicts the basic concept of individuality and human uniqueness. All humans equal before the law leads to freedom, while material equality of outcome promotes tyranny.
Social justice as God intended seeks equity, not equality, for her citizens.
– Darrow Miller