Thinking Biblically About Inequality And Injustice

Mar 27th, 2021 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Equality: An important and foundational term in America’s democratic–republic, central to our founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Jefferson’s triumphant declaration, “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights . . .” is complemented by the Bill of Rights, which articulates the equal rights that all citizens are guaranteed.  Equality is also an important biblical concept.  For example, every human being bears God’s image equally (Genesis 1:26ff) and, in Christ, there is the declaration of unimaginable spiritual equality (Galatians 3:7 and 3:28).

 

But in our Postmodern world, there is a growing focus on inequality and the concomitant proposition that inequality equals injustice.  Martin Gurri, Visiting Fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, captures the essence of this proposition:  “What is self-evident, they affirm, is inequality in power, wealth, influence, education, achievement and ability, between individuals and groups alike. A mass of damning statistical evidence can be cited, from Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century to articles such as “The Top One Percent of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90 Percent,” “Ten Shocking Facts About Inequality in America,” and many more . . . The tendency today, particularly among the young and the well-educated, is to assume massive levels of injustice: that is, to explain inequality by the prevalence of racism, sexism and various kinds of phobias triggered against oppressed groups.”

 

The essential challenge about such claims within society is what do we really mean by “equality”?  We could, for example, define equality in mathematical terms.  Gurri writes:  “One way to resolve the definitional problem is simply to assert that every measured outcome and every organization must mirror exactly the makeup of the general population. Failure to do so becomes, axiomatically, proof of injustice. If Black individuals are underrepresented in finance or women in technology, that’s all the evidence we should require that racism and sexism are rampant in those sectors.” We speak about “diversity,” “gender imbalance,” “bro culture” and so forth.  However, when our culture begins to discuss the meanings of these terms it focuses on mathematical formulations.  For example,  “women are 50% of the population but only 17% of the tech workforce. That number, 17%, becomes the answer to the question about sexism in technology.”  Such “inequality” is therefore an injustice.

 

Additionally, as Gurri correctly asks, “What are we to make of this concept of injustice? To the extent that it hides behind implicit and unstated assumptions, the approach seems to me highly dishonest. When the subject is injustice, we should make clear where we stand. Is justice fulfilled only when women comprise 50% of every profession? If not, what are the grounds for acceptable exceptions? If so, is this an ideal to be strived for or a political demand to be implemented at once—and if the latter, how can this be achieved without harsh and sustained interventions of state power?” Therefore, confusing numbers with justice seems wrong and unworkable in the real world.  Nonetheless, our Postmodern culture relentlessly pursues this numerical definition of justice.

Buttressing this numerical approach to the proposition that inequality=injustice is the importance of history, for, it is argued, history details the origins of numerical injustice.  Gurri:  “History, on this account, chronicles the uninterrupted feasting of human wolves upon the weak. Injustice, not truth, is the daughter of time, and it’s systemic, structural and inescapable.”  This, for example, was the intention of the “1619 Project” of the New York Times.  The influence of neo-Marxism is clear here, but it is actually a distortion of Marxist thought.  Gurri explains:  “The new hero of the story is identity, not class, which leads to a random and confused toggling between the political and the existential: a confusion, I should add, that attaches itself to most ‘neo’ movements today as more people demand from politics what they once would have obtained from religion and community. Disenchantment with Marxist-style revolution means there’s no redemption at the end of history. There can only be more oppression, conflict and victimhood.”

A focus on history, however, produces a conundrum for those who advocate that inequality=injustice.  Democratic-republican values, “wrested out of the historical struggle against despotism, repurposed from the vast store of Christian doctrine, are taken for granted: liberty, dignity, compassion and, of course, equality. To a Marxist, such values are false, a camouflage for exploitation. For those who espouse the historical theory of injustice, they are true but insincerely held.  Once liberal values are introduced, however, we have a standard of moral progress—and it’s at this point that the historical theory begins to fall apart. The past, far from being the root of all evil, becomes the ground for the liberating forces the critics claim to embody . . .  It seems almost impolite to note that, on this score, progress has been striking. There are no kings. There are no aristocrats. There’s no slavery or Jim Crow. We are, regardless of our chosen identity, freer, wealthier, healthier, better educated, and more mobile and connected than our ancestors . . . But in the context of liberal values, the progress of the past two centuries is difficult to deny.”

Should every instance of inequality be labeled an injustice? Scripture provides the necessary perspective for God’s view of property, social and economic differences and how we should view these differences.  The 8th commandment as an ethical absolute establishes the sanctity of private property (“You shall not steal,” Exodus 20:15).  The Old Testament affirms this in the Levitical code (see Lev. 25:10).  Neither the government nor society owns property; individuals do.  The Mosaic covenant was based on laws that defined punishment for stealing and the restitution for damage to another person’s animals, fields, etc.  Deuteronomy 19:14 even affirmed the importance of boundaries for privately owned land.  This ethical standard is also affirmed in the New Testament (e.g., Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 6:10; Ephesians 4:28, etc.).  The New Testament also states that individuals have the right of ownership of money, possessions and are to use them wisely, as a stewardship from God (e.g., Romans 12:8; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Ephesians 4:28, etc.).   The Bible therefore clearly condemns oppression, exploitation and self-indulgence in the pursuit of wealth.  But nowhere does the Bible equate inequality in ownership of wealth, or inequality in socio-economic position with injustice.

In the modern era, the emergence of communism (and socialism) was an attack on the sanctity of private property.  Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto:  “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence:  abolition of private property.”  Wayne Grudem comments that “an abolition of private property as occurs under communism is horribly dehumanizing because it greatly minimizes people’s freedom to make wise choices regarding the stewardship of their resources and prevents human economic and cultural flourishing as God intended it to occur.”

Grudem offers instructive application of the 8th commandment:  “It protects property and possessions.  By implication, we are right to think it also protects another person’s time, talents, and opportunities—everything over which people have been given stewardship.  We are not to steal someone else’s property, time, talents, or opportunities.”

  • Private Property as Stewardship: God entrusts to us our time, talents, property, possessions and opportunities as a stewardship.  He expects us to manage these well and to be wise and thankful for what He has entrusted to us.  This proposition has several implications for us as Christians:  [1] We are accountable to God for how we use our property (see 1 Corinthians 4:2).  [2] God dispenses different levels of stewardship responsibility when it comes to property.   Thus, everyone is responsible for being faithful with what they have received from God.  Those who receive much are held to a higher standard of expectation (see Luke 12:48).  [3] There are no expectations in Scripture that God will bring about complete equality of stewardship or equality of possessions among His people either in this life or the age to come.
  • The Blessings of Private Ownership of Property: Our personal possessions are not to be a source of guilt or of feelings of superiority over others.  They should be a source of blessing.  Humanity’s dominion authority over God’s world brings glory to Him (Genesis 1:28; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Since God richly “provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), personal possessions should promote a spirit of thankfulness in our lives (see Psalm 103:2; 136:1).  Since God richly “provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), personal possessions should promote a spirit of joy in our lives.  The private ownership of property is an ongoing test of our faithfulness and devotion to God (see Psalm 62:1; 73:25-26; 1 John 3:17).  Wayne Grudem writes:  The 8th commandment “gives (1) the opportunity for human achievement (by entrusting property to us), (2) the expectation of human achievement (by making us accountable stewards), and (3) the expectation of human enjoyment of products made from the earth, with thanksgiving to God.”
  • The Dangers of Private Ownership of Property:  The Bible is filled with counsel that we need God’s wisdom when it comes to private ownership of property.  Without such wisdom, dangers lurk to snare us into egregious sin.  For example, there is the danger of materialism:  See 1 Timothy 3:3 and Matthew 6:24.  1 Timothy 6:9-10 argues that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

In conclusion, the premise that inequality=injustice is spurious and, quite frankly, indefensible.  To assign pure mathematical formulas to define inequality is arbitrary and predictably unworkable.  The perspective of history does explain the origins of all forms of inequality but history also records the incredible progress of humanity via God’s common grace in dealing with these inequities.  Finally, although God stipulates the equality of all humans in various categories (see above), there are no expectations in Scripture that God will bring about complete equality of stewardship or equality of possessions among His people either in this life or in the age to come.

See Martin Gurri, “Is All Inequality Unjust?” in Discourse (9 February 2021) and Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Reasoning, pp.  895-920.

Leave a Comment