The battle cry of "equity" serves as a summons to action, or at least outrage, wherever a person feels an injustice, or a passing over. The trouble for Christians is, in a field of politically charged verbage, words like "equity" or "individualism" tend to get obscured by the broader political tapestries these terms are woven into. Thus the politically conservative Christian will hear and react against a demand for equity without necessarily having a clear reason why, or knowing what they are reacting against.
God declares that He rules with infallible equity, and that His kingdom is one of perfect justice, righteousness and equity (Ps 67:4; 75:2; 98:9) The great promise of Christ is that He will not judge by appearances, but rather make his evaluations of all people, including the poor and meek, with righteousness and equity. (Is 11:4). Equity, or fairness, is deeply rooted in God's character, and one of the central pillars of His kingdom which Jesus establishes, and which Christians are called to testify to and display in our lives.
But what do we mean by equity? Is equity an echo of God's declaration that what matters is the heart-- the reason why He passed over Saul and chose David? Is it the desire to set up a fair competition where David the underdog can still triumph over Goliath? Is it taking up Jesus' imperative to the Pharisees: to stop judging by appearances, but to judge rightly? These are goals which Christians should cherish.
If, on the other hand, equity means identical existence and reality, God is the most inequitable being we could imagine. Taken in that sense, He is not equitable in whom He sets His love on: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom 9:13). He is not equitable in whom He gives power to. He raises up kings and puts them down. (Daniel 2:21). He is not equitable in assigning race, or gender, or athletic prowess, or intelligence. Nor is this the sort of equity we would want.
Surely no one imagines that equity is some sort of nightmarish carbon copied cul-de-sac, where everyone lives in the same type of house, wears the same clothes, drives the same car, and goes to the same schools? We recognize that a proper celebration of diversity celebrates the expansiveness of who God is, and what only He can hold together perfectly through His Spirit. No sane person would argue that establishing equity means to jettison, rather than accept and celebrate differences.
What most often lies at the heart of debates around equity are views on socio-economic differences. As the world's riches increase, so does the wealth gap, studies say. It's questionable that a medieval serf working the land for his feudal lord would have agreed with this comparative historical assessment, but the question remains what are we to make of the issue of wealth inequity? This is where everyone has room to get a little uncomfortable.
God warns those who are rich in this present world not to set their heart on riches, but rather to be rich in good deeds, generous, and ready to share. (1 Tim 6:17) Followers of Christ cannot shelter behind hard work and a free market as grounds to do what they wish financially. Rather, wealthy Christians have an obligation to share and help those who cannot help themselves. We also must guard our attitudes toward rich and poor. James makes it clear that when we see a rich, well dressed person, and treat him better than a poor, homely person, that we are making distinctions which God does not. (Js 2:1-7)
On the other hand, having wealth, even massive amounts of wealth, is not evil. Privilege is not something to be scorned and rejected, but rather stewarded. "Happy are you O land, when your king is the son of the nobility." (Ecc 10:17) Daniel rose to power in Babylon because he was born into Israelite royalty. Moses received the best upbringing and education in the world. Jesus submits to and does the will of God the Father.
We recognize the necessity, even goodness of inequity every day. A manager at McDonald's gets paid more than a front of house cashier, though within a given hour or day, the cashier may have the much harder work. But if we insisted on paying them the same amount, the restaurant would soon go bankrupt and no one would have anything.
Christians should fight the hardest for equity of opportunity; Jesus did precisely that when he died on the cross to offer salvation free of cost or condition. The real danger comes when we view money or prestige as the indicators of our worth, and therefore become either arrogant or envious. Equity among humanity comes from our created endowment, bearing God's image. Yet differences of rank have always existed, and will always exist. Jesus says many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mt 19:30) Our goal should be to use our gifts to serve each other, each according to the measure which God has assigned (Rom 12:3), and, whether poor or rich, to boast in the equity we have as sinners in need of God's grace.
Justin Poythress (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the assistant pastor of student ministry at Christ Community Church in Carmel, Indiana.