“Equality” is a word you hear a lot these days. It comes up in conversation about politics, economics, employment, and especially, gender. It generally means that everyone should be treated the same regardless of their place in life or their accomplishments. According to the purveyors of this line of thinking, no one should be treated any differently than another; everyone should be valued the same, given the same attention, status, pay, and privilege.
Equality, it is thought, is really the opposite of discrimination. So it is that today’s western society has become inordinately sensitive about every nuance of discrimination. In this context, it’s not unusual to hear references to racism, a word applied to almost every instance of perceived inequality. We live in a society that ardently fears and reacts to the smallest innuendo of discrimination. The result is that people everywhere are constantly thinking of themselves as victims, as the disadvantaged in so many social relationships — in the work place, in economics, and in marriage — to name a few.
An example of this in the last week or two is that, in the wake of the sad exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual exploitations in Hollywood, women everywhere have come forward with instances of how they have been sexually harassed. While it is sad to hear of Weinstein’s manipulations, one wonders if women generally are overreacting. The irony of it is that women want to make themselves attractive to men. While it is wrong for men to exploit women in any of these ways, women shouldn’t exactly be surprised if men admire them or are attracted to them. However, in this situation it’s difficult for men to communicate with women in any sphere without wondering if they are being seen as sexual predators.
Something seems horribly wrong with a society that no longer appears to recognize the legitimate differences that exist between people for many reasons. While it’s true that everyone should be valued for their personhood and treated accordingly, it seems to me, there is a certain kind of legitimacy to an honourable discrimination based on age, accomplishment, giftedness, and office. Clearly, for example, though they are both valued as human beings, it seems right that one should show more deference to the Queen of the British Commonwealth than some “commoner,” as her “subjects” are called.
The Christian theological perspective on equality is profoundly simple. All human beings, regardless of race, geographical place, sex, age, accomplishment, and so on, should be valued equally by virtue of the fact that they all have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1, and 2). Though this is a great mystery, at the least it means that everyone is worthy of love and care because they reflect something of the Creator’s own being — His affable personality, His ability to think and create, His commitment to accomplish a purpose.
However, as one studies the Holy Scriptures, it soon becomes evident that God discriminates between people on the basis of righteousness and wickedness, for example, or simply because he has so determined to think and act. Out of all the nations and peoples of the world, He chooses Abraham to become the father of a special nation called, Israel. As we shall eventually see, He has His own good reasons for that kind of discrimination, but it doesn’t take long before it’s evident that some people are more gifted than others, or that some have different callings and purposes in their lives. And this shows up again and again in what people are able to accomplish. Clearly some are smarter than others, more gifted, and, we would conclude, more privileged. And it’s not for us to say why God has chosen to create people with those kinds of differences. This is what Paul concludes in Romans 9:19-21 when he asks who we think we are to question God’s purposes to make people different from one another. In this context, and others, some are “chosen,” and others are not.
The fact that God has given different statuses to people is evident in how he calls us to relate to one another. There are many illustrations in the New Testament of how parents are different from their children in terms of the respect or care that they should receive from the other, of how the governed should relate to their national rulers, of how slaves or employees should relate to their owners or employers, and also, the way in which women should relate to men, and women to men — especially in the context of marriage and church ministry.
Though it is true, for those who are in Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, between slave and free, or between male and female (Galatians 3:28), nevertheless it is also true that all are not called to the same privilege and status. Each has a responsibility to fulfill their calling according to God’s pre-determined plan, which may appear “unequal” from our human point of view. Thus wives are called to submit to their husbands and husbands are called to love their wives, and to treat them with “consideration as the weaker partner in the relationship” (1 Peter 3:7). This is an interesting text because it alludes to difference as just cited, but also sameness in the phrase, “as being heirs together of the gracious gift of life.”
It seems to me, that equality, when taken to the extreme (as in our post-modern western society), distorts the meaning of what God had in mind. Clearly, though all ought to be equally valued, all are not equally called and privileged. We should make distinctions as God does (in the Bible), and leave the final judgment of who He has been ultimately privileged (as in people’s eternal destiny), to Him.