In our modern world most cultures wrestle continually with the idea of equality.
This is a current concern of mine because socialists and communists have used the equality argument as a ruse for the last 100 years to gain power and ultimately destroy countries. Millions are killed, poverty increases, and dictatorships are established under the banner of empowering the common man, uniting workers, and eliminating income disparity.
But I don’t think equality actually exists or can even be a realistic goal except in four areas:
- We all have equal access to God because of what Jesus did for us.
- We as Americans strive for equality under the law.
- We all die and step into eternity.
- We all have 24 hours in a day, no more and no less.
Other than these four areas, we are all different and will each live a unique life. Some of our characteristics will never change. Others will be difficult to change. Some factors in our lives will be determined by influences we can’t control. But for most of us, our lives will primarily consist of our choices and the results of our choices.
These realities point to the importance of parents, churches, schools, our choice of friends, our speech and actions, and the Bible.
On the subject of equality before God, Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. The benefits obtained by Jesus’ death on the cross are equally available to all regardless of nationality, race, gender or social status. Those who study the Bible have no doubt that God’s view of social equality was revealed in the way Jesus confronted racial and gender discrimination.
Consequently, all of us who are Christians have a responsibility to model Christ’s attitude toward others. Jesus said, So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. Although we live in a world where there is inequality, we as Christians must not embrace that inequality, but instead, live our lives in a way that reveals God’s love and confronts unjust inequality.
However, in regard to economics, there are realistic differences. Most of you reading my blog live in free-market, capitalist democracies. The last 100 years have proven that free-market, capitalist democracies provide opportunities for people to improve their lives and the lives of others. They’ve also proven to make the most goods and services available to the highest percentage of people, more so than any other economic or governmental system in the world. In general, in countries like ours, more members of the population are better off than in any other system.
In fact, free market democracies require that we provide either goods or services desired by someone else in order to make a living. It makes sense that those who specialize in making goods or providing services that require greater skill and training will typically earn more than those who provide unskilled labor. And this is where a natural disparity in income justifiably exists.
Brain surgeons make more than people who work in a warehouse, and those who carry responsibility for assets, goods, and services make more than those who simply show up to work for a certain time, perform a task during that time, and go home with no ongoing responsibilities. The greater the service provided to others, and the number of people able to provide that service determines its value to others. And the value others place on our service is how wages are determined.
Everyone’s labor is not of equal value. It’s those we serve who determine the value of the goods we produce, the services we provide, and the responsibilities we carry. In our system, most of us have the freedom to determine what we will do for a living. We should keep in mind, though, that our choice will influence our earning ability, and that others will have the final say regarding our income, based on the value they place on our services or the products we produce. If what we do is valuable to them, they compensate us accordingly.
When we are contemplating education and careers, we need to remember that our training has to have value for others, and if lots of people can do what we choose, the compensation will be less. If fewer people have the skills to do what we do, and there is demand for what we do, our compensation will increase. In a free market system, wages are determined by how much other people want what we produce, how we serve them, and the value of the responsibilities we carry.
The voluntary exchange of goods and services responsibly delivered for money have to benefit both the producer and consumer, which is why coercion and monopolies are illegal. For free markets to work properly at setting wages and prices, producers and consumers, or employees and employers, have to be able to freely assess the value of the goods and services being produced. Values are subjective, and the value of any item is the price the purchaser is willing to pay. If markets are truly free, the greater the value placed upon goods or services, the greater the cost to those who want or need those goods or services, and, as a result, the greater the income to the provider.
Which brings me to prices and profits. If something is very profitable and the market is authentically free, then more people and companies will start to provide those same goods and services so they can earn a portion of those profits. This practice increases the supply, lowers the cost and thus the profits until it reaches an equilibrium of the greatest value at the least cost with adequate supply. This idea is why free market economies generally don’t have shortages or surpluses, and why our free market economies have high quality and value for the price.
That is unless the government gets unnecessarily involved.
Health care is impacted by these forces. Becoming a physician takes a great deal of training and sacrifice. If the rewards are adequate, many young men and women will be incentivized to become doctors because of the potential income and benefits their work will provide for them and their families, as well as for the clients they serve. Free markets will produce the right number and types of doctors, nurses, technicians, and hospitals needed for every community. The market will determine the number of doctors needed to meet the demand and it will compensate and incentivize men and women to make the sacrifices necessary to be highly trained. Over time, an equilibrium will be reached that will ensure the greatest value, at the least cost, with adequate supply.
If, however, the government limits the benefits of such sacrifice, the incentive for young men and women to become doctors is diminished and there will be a shortage. Then the government has two choices: lower the quality of training doctors receive so their sacrifice in training is less, or ration people’s access to medical care.
This formula applies to every occupation, which is why excessive government involvement often does not lead to improvement in society or make people better off – except, that is, government workers, because greater government involvement increases demand for government workers. The solution—limit excessive government involvement other than to provide the necessary regulations for fairness and honesty and let the market work competitively.
This brings me to the last subject: privilege.
As I pointed out in the opening paragraphs of this blog, and most would agree, racial discrimination and gender inequality are sinful and unjust. Every believer should use their influence to try to eliminate these erroneous views in their personal lives and in society at large. It follows then that a skewed perspective on privilege—thinking one person is born better than another—can be sinful and harmful as well. But there is no doubt that well-lived lives lead to benefits that appear to be privilege.
For example, if a child is born into a family in which their biological parents are in a committed, life-long, life-giving relationship, the child has greater odds of developing the skills and commitments necessary to earn a good living. If the parents are involved in a good life-giving church and wisely invest their income, then their child will have greater odds of being healthy spiritually, emotionally, and physically than others. Because this child has more exposure to healthy influences, their opportunities are improved which can strengthen their family for generations. Others who were raised differently might not have the same spiritual, emotional and physical discipline, and life will, in fact, be more difficult for them.
So privilege simply because of race or gender is immoral and needs to be confronted. But privilege that occurs because of wise decisions can be used to strengthen society.
In the United States, we all have great freedom to make wise decisions to grow spiritually and responsibly, but we also have the freedom to fail, bring shame on our families and leave our children with diminished opportunities.
So, is the equality that many politicians talk about a myth? I think so. But it is also a noble ideal. It’s noble to strive for gender and racial equality, and we should never grow weary in the struggle. We’ve made great advancements toward this end, but we must continue in the quest. We as Americans also strive for equality under the law, but in some respects, we’ve not yet achieved it and are still working on it. As human beings, we also have equality in access to God that is provided through his Son, Jesus, but not everyone responds to him.
And before we conclude that privilege is always negative, maybe we could look to the Scriptures and realize that as we grow in obedience to God by his grace, our children are assured that they are blessed, prayed for, and spiritually protected, and this leads to greater opportunities. Certainly, we don’t have to sacrifice toward a marketable skill, read the Scriptures, participate in a good church, or pray for our children. Not doing so, however, might make life a little more difficult for our families.
None of us has the power to change all of society, but all of us do have the power to change ourselves. Having universal equality may be a myth, and it may not even be smart or beneficial, but if we respond wisely to the equality and opportunities we do have, we can all be better off.
This and other blogs by Pastor Ted Haggard are available at http://www.tedhaggardblog.com as a ministry of St. James Church. If you would like to strengthen the ministry of St. James Church and Pastor Ted Haggard by giving, please use the “give” tab at http://www.saintjameschurch.com.