Inequality: Introduction

August 02, 2017

Inequality: Introduction

William L. Peirson

‘Go and do likewise’ Jesus commands his questioner in Luke 10:37. The prototype Jesus is referring to is the Good Samaritan, who has just made an astounding offer—‘whatever you spend, I will repay’ (Lk 10:35)—an offer made to an innkeeper to look after a rescued, injured man.

The Good Samaritan is Jesus's famous anti-hero, who fulfils God's second great command by truly loving his neighbour as himself. He defies human expectations, caring for an injured Jew in spite of belonging to a people group who were despised by their Jewish counterparts in Jesus’s day.

The command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ transports us back to Sinai and the roots of Judaism and Christianity (Ex 20, Lev 19).

Does this command indicate that God considers that all people are equal? Does it mean his people have a responsibility to promote equality? Like any question about equality, these are meaningless unless we are more specific: equal in what regard?  The characteristic in view in the ‘love thy neighbour’ principle is love: our love for our neighbours is to equal our love for ourselves, or to exceed it (cf Phil 2:3-5).

The Bible tells us we are all are made in God’s image (Gen 1:27), and so highly valuable and worthy of respect. It also teaches that we’re equally sinful, equally deserving of God’s condemnation, and equally offered forgiveness and new life through Jesus (Rom 3:9-26). Yet it also acknowledges the reality that people are unequal in some ways—that there is great diversity among humankind: some are rich, others poor; some are simple, others wise. There are servants and masters, children and adults, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, disabled and able-bodied. People have different strengths and weaknesses, different situations, different backgrounds, different preferences.

For those in Christ Jesus, these walls of difference are not to be barriers to unity and love (Gal 3:28). But this in itself doesn’t tell us whether the differences are evils of a broken world, or part of God’s good created order. To merely point out the existence of diversity (‘inequality’) is not enough to tell us whether that particular difference is a good or an evil. There’s no easy ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. Blanket demands for equality are facile; we must do the hard work of working out what is good in each situation, and show the same level of care for others that we would apply to ourselves accordingly.

Some of this labour has been undertaken by this issue’s authors. Catherine de Fontenay leads off with a large-scale perspective on income and wealth distribution, and explains the impact of high levels of economic inequality. Penny Barletta zooms in on the streets of Sydney through the justly famous Rough Edges, where the marginalised are cared for and the carers blessed in return. International Justice Mission’s Jacob Sarkodee reports on the horrific new form of child abuse known as cybersex trafficking—the live-streamed exploitation of the powerless by the powerful.  And Kirk Patston asks whether God is racist, examining racial distinctions within the biblical narrative, and highlighting the profound beauty of human society when characterised by the Judeo-Christian ambition of mutual care.

 I am very thankful to our writers and supporters who have made this edition of Case Quarterly possible.

My overall feelings, having read this quarter's contributions, were a sense of inadequacy coupled with a desire to do something. My prayer for all those who read this edition is for our mutual commitment to the command of Jesus.

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