In my last post, I explored how Critical Theory (CT) defines equity and the problems that CT followers run into when they attempt to put their theory into practice. Here’s one way critical theorists define equity:
Equity is achieved when other aspects of identity cannot be used to predict one’s success and that our systems and structures work for everyone. It is not simply the absence of discrimination, but also the presence of systems and supports that deliberately aim to achieve and sustain equity through proactive and preventative measures.Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Family Services
Based on this definition, equity occurs when the outcomes of all people are equal. To achieve this goal, the disadvantaged, people of color, are provided more resources than “privileged” white people. Merit and personal responsibility are tossed out the window.
On the other hand, the traditional definition of equity stresses the importance of impartiality. Merriam-Webster defines equity as: “justice according to Natural Law or right; specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism.” The Bible also follows this definition.
Biblical View of Equity
For the past few months, I’ve been reading through the Psalms. When reading Psalm 96, the tenth verse grabbed my attention:
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns;Psalm 96:10 (NASB, underlining mine)
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
The word equity jumped out at me. I had never noticed that word in the Bible before. Due to my study of CT, that word now pops out at me in all contexts.
My Bible’s footnote says the word can be translated as uprightness. The King James version renders it righteously, and the New Living translates it as fairly. Because the word equity has gained cultural prominence, I decided to investigate how the Bible uses that word.
The word equity in the above verse is meshar in Hebrew, which means evenness, uprightness, straightness, equity. It appears in the Old Testament 19 times. In the New American Standard Bible, meshar is translated as equity only in the Psalms and Proverbs, and it is always connected to judgment and justice. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, meshar is translated as smoothly, peaceful arrangement, right things, rightly, sincerity, smooth, upright things, uprightly, uprightness, and what is right (Strong’s Concordance).
Obviously, the Bible considers equity as a synonym for the idea of being right. When God judges with equity, he makes the right decisions.
Equity and Justice
A few days later, I read Psalm 99. Verse 4 reads:
The strength of the King loves justice;Psalm 99:4 (NASB)
You have established equity;
You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Here God establishes equity, and the term is sandwiched between justice.
What is justice? Its Latin root, justus, means “upright, righteous, equitable; in accordance with law, lawful; true, proper; perfect, complete.” In the Webster 1828 edition, equity and justice are synonyms.
Frequently, the Bible states that God is just. With justice being part of God’s character, we must use God’s Word as the yardstick by which we judge all things. My Bible dictionary defines biblical justice this way:
Justice, then is doing what is in harmony with the divinely revealed norms of interpersonal behavior. God has given “regulations and laws that are just and right” (Ne 9:13), and it is these that define justice for mankind.i
Biblical Justice vs. Social Justice
In the Bible, “to do justice” often means helping the poor and oppressed. However, it never refers to equal outcomes or providing justice based on an identity group as the followers of CT do.
Instead, God commanded his people to judge others impartially (see Leviticus 19:15; 1 Peter 1:17). In fact, the definition of social justice contradicts godly justice in many ways. For starters, biblical justice follows God’s standard for moral behavior. Social justice affirms sexual immorality and abortion, sins against the Lord.
Social justice also contradicts biblical justice in the area of economics. CT adherents expect the government to care for the needy. This belief leads to higher taxes and forced redistribution of wealth. The welfare state causes the recipients to become lazy, irresponsible, and forever dependent—enslaved to the state.
Social justice also creates resentment among those who generate wealth. This resentment reduces the work ethic and eventually leads to a decline in productivity. Why work hard when a portion of your earnings are going to some able-bodied unemployed person? So, the economy shrinks, and prices increase due to scarcity.
Old Testament Charity
In contrast, God expects individuals, not the government, to meet the needs of the poor and oppressed. The Old Testament Law states that
- loans were to be made without interest.
- those who sold themselves into slavery (indentured servants who needed to pay off a debt) were to be released on time and supplied generously.
- farmers were not to go over their fields a second time but leave behind some produce for the poor to glean. Working to gather food also preserved the work ethic and dignity of the poor.
- sold land was to be returned to the original owners in the Year of Jubilee.
These actions depended on their obedience to God, not the enforcement of the government.ii In fact, Israel’s failure to care for the poor and oppressed is one reason God destroyed their nation and sent them into exile.
New Testament Charity
In the New Testament, early Christians never sought to create an egalitarian society. They understood human nature well enough to know that was impossible. Moreover, unlike Israel, Christians were members of various nations and not called to create a theocracy.
Jesus commanded his followers to love one another as he loved them. One way they did this, in contrast to their surrounding culture, was by treating each other as equals with a servant’s heart (see Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 1:20-30).
They also showed love by pooled their resources to care for their own and to help other churches when in need. As in the Old Testament, God expected his followers to help anyone in need (see James 2:14-16 and 1 John 3:17).
Some view the early church’s sharing of resources described in Act 4 as an example of communal living or as a form of socialism. This is not a correct interpretation. The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 clearly states that believers have complete control over their personal property and are not compelled to share it.
The NT does not command the distribution of wealth to bring about a leveled society, but the rich are to see their wealth as a gift God has given them to alleviate the needs of brothers and sisters.iii
Suppose Christ-followers regularly and voluntarily shared from the wealth God has blessed them with. In that case, we could lift many out of poverty and free them from governmental dependency. We would preserve their dignity with a hand up instead of a handout.
If the government lowered taxes, more people would be motivated to generate a profit. The godly could grow their money so they would have more to share with those in need. When the economy grows, the needs of more people are met through more jobs and more charity dollars.
The definition shift for equity to the unequal distribution of resources based on narratives of oppression increases division between people groups. By returning to the original definition of equity, we restore unity, prosperity, and godly justice.
iRichards, Lawrence O.“Justice/Injustice.” Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. ©1991. p. 368-369.
iiIbid. “Poor and Oppressed.” p. 491.
iiiIbid. p. 494.