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Equity and Equality: Exploring Biblical Perspectives and Contemporary Interpretations

Equity and Equality: Exploring Biblical Perspectives and Contemporary Interpretations 

Equity and equality are terms that may sound similar but are different, which often leads to misunderstanding. Adding another layer of confusion about these terms, the Bible’s use of “equity” and “equality” do not fully align with their modern usage.

Given the importance of equity and equality in the work of biblical unity at Valley Christian Schools, let’s examine their meanings and applications. For more context, read the two previous articles exploring the topics of biblical unity and biblical justice.

What are Equity and Equality?

Equity recognizes each person has different circumstances and needs, meaning different groups of people need different resources and opportunities allocated to them to thrive. Conversely, equality gives everyone the same resources across the board, regardless of individual or groups of people’s actual needs or opportunities/resources already provided to them.

Equity is one of the foundational concepts in the professional field of diversity, equity, and inclusion. To achieve equity, policies and procedures may result in an unequal distribution of resources. For example, need-based financial aid reserves money specifically for low-income students. Although unequal, it is considered equitable because providing access to education for low-income students is necessary.

A helpful distinction in thinking through the common uses of these words is to distinguish between treatment and outcomes. In treatment, equality refers to treating everyone equally regardless of their circumstances. In contrast, equity takes a person’s circumstances and needs into consideration as a starting point for treatment.

When discussing outcomes, equity and equality are often used interchangeably. To have an equitable outcome is often misunderstood as having equal outcomes; as frequently stated in political contexts, “Equitable treatment means we all end up at the same place.” Thus, clarifying whether one is discussing treatment or outcome-based equity or equality is essential.

What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible addresses both equity and equality as aspects of true justice. In many English translations, the Bible uses the word “equity” several times in the Old Testament. One example is Psalm 99:4: “The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

Equity is an integral part of biblical justice. However, it’s not given an exact definition in the Bible. The main Hebrew word for equity (mê·šā·rîm) conveys ideas like uprightness, straightness, levelness, fairness, truth, order, and integrity. The word “equality” also appears several times throughout the Bible. It can denote equal amounts of something measurable like money, goods, or time (as in Exodus 30:34 and Ezekiel 4:5). It can also refer to using the same standard for everyone, such as weights and measures used in trade (Leviticus 19:35-36, Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Proverbs 20:10). Or, it can refer to comparing the qualitative attributes of two persons or things, like status or beauty (Isaiah 46:5, Ezekiel 31:8, Philippians 2:6).

Throughout the Bible, the principle of equality is evident. Humans share a fundamental equality with one another, being created equally in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27, Proverbs 22:2, Job 31:15), having all committed sin (Romans 3:23) and all needing redemption through Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11, Romans 10:12). When discussing justice and the law, there are instances where strict equality is required. Everyone is treated similarly (Exodus 30:15, Leviticus 19:15), and instances where that is not the case (Leviticus 5:7, 5:11, 14:21).

Equality seeks a subjective outcome without regard to the truth, whereas equity is truth-based. Regarding justice, Scripture teaches that we should judge with equity in mind, not equality. John 7:24 underscores this principle, where Jesus says, “Do not judge according to appearance but judge with righteous judgment.”

“The rich and the poor have a common bond, the LORD is the maker of them all.” ~Proverbs 22:2 (NASB)

Differences in Modern Usage

Biblical usage of equity and equality are similar to modern usage in discussing how we treat one another. Biblical equity roughly corresponds to what people would call “fairness” today, which involves considering people’s needs and circumstances when they are relevant and remaining impartial when people’s needs and circumstances are irrelevant. Likewise, biblical equality speaks to people’s fundamental sameness as God’s image-bearers. It ensures that uniform standards, rules, and laws are used for everyone.

From another viewpoint, biblical equity and equality are much more holistic and do not lead to the simplistic outcome-driven political solutions that modern critics imply. Biblical equity does not necessarily entail equality of outcome but emphasizes equal and equitable treatment. The emphasis on equitable treatment rather than equitable outcomes is a significant difference between the cultural and biblical worldviews.

Reflection

The takeaway for Christians is that they should not assume that modern conversations about justice use the words equity and equality precisely like the Bible does. Nor should they immediately think that cultural use of the words is unbiblical. Instead, consider the context of the discussion and whether the application of equity or equality is about outcomes or treatments.

In 2021, Valley Christian Schools established the functional role of the Director of Biblical Unity to lead our school community to apply God’s principles of justice to respect equity and equality within our diverse community. VCS believes that diversity and equity lead to belonging, which is a gospel matter. The gospel leads to a profound heart change needed to address the inequities, brokenness, and suffering in our neighborhoods, communities, and society.

Prayer

Gracious Heavenly Father,
Give us wisdom and discernment so that we can build an educational environment that celebrates belonging:
To create a caring community for all to share their gifts,
To know that each of us is loved,
To help us to see the light of Christ in all whom we serve.
Remind us of Your love, Your purpose, and that each of us is necessary.
May we balance mercy and justice to achieve equity and access for all of Your children.
We ask You in Jesus’ name.

Resources
https://advocatesfortruth.com/blog/does-the-bible-promote-equity-or-equality
https://belonging.berkeley.edu/equity-vs-equality-whats-difference
https://lorindasponderings.com/2021/04/17/equity-critical-theory-or-biblical-definition-part-2

For more information about Biblical Unity, visit vcs.net/biblicalunity or contact Dr. Steven J. McGriff, Director of Biblical Unity, Valley Christian Schools.