Six Reasons I Don’t Believe in Equality

March 1, 2013

I hear the war cry, the drums being beaten, the trumpets sounding…

It is the nearly deafening cacophony of noise and disparate voices.  And what is the noise all about?

Equality.

It has become an almost daily stream in my blog reader.  Every day, someone is marching on, demanding equality where some perceived inequality exists: between the sexes, the races, the classes, whomever.  And the people who feel slighted or abused cheer them on, anxious to finally feel that their injustice has been righted.

I have a confession to make.

I don’t believe in equality.

I know, this is going to be tough to explain.  You might be already readying your pitchforks.  Hear me out.

Six Reasons I Don’t Believe in Equality

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…”

Philippians 2:5-7

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”

Mark 10:43-45

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:3

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Ephesians 5:21

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

“…In humility consider others better than yourselves.”

Philippians 2:3

I can shout, raise my fist, fight the man, defy the powers, assert my rights and never be silenced in my quest for equality.

But somehow, that doesn’t seem to cut it for me anymore.

How can I submit my interests to my wife’s interests if I consider my interests merely equal to hers?  How can I take the lowly state of a child, a servant or a slave if I must remain equal to my peers?  How can I consider others better than myself if I assert that I am equal to them?

I don’t see Jesus going around saying, “Hey guys, take a knee because, guess what? I’m God!”  Instead, he washes his disciples feet like a slave.  I don’t see him asserting his rights when facing Pilate.  I see him staying silent.  I see him dying for sins he didn’t commit.  I see him telling his followers that they’ll have to lay down equality with one another, deny themselves, love their enemies, give up seeking retribution and justice for themselves and become like slaves.  

I don’t see him teaching equality.  I see him teaching something much bigger.

I see him teaching the gospel.  

What do you think about that?  Is the message of equality somehow not quite enough?

 

36 responses to Six Reasons I Don’t Believe in Equality

  1. Well, if more of the folks with the power actually lived according to those verses, there wouldn’t need to be anyone demanding equality. Just sayin’.

  2. Oh, and don’t be surprised if you get flamed on this one. Asking for people to become more humble and servant-like like the Bible says has been a nice tidy way for the privileged keep the underlings in their place throughout time immemorial.

  3. Totally awesome!

    In a related note, the Phoenix city council yesterday amended their equal rights law to include transgender people. In addition to legally preventing Phoenix business and city contractors from discriminating against transgender people, it also requires Phoenix businesses to provide equal access to facilities, like bathrooms. In other words, it means that a man dressing as woman is free to use the women’s bathroom or a woman dressing as a man is free to use the men’s bathroom. To be honest, I am guessing that I have already shared public restrooms at some point in my life with transgendered men because they work hard and usually successfully to look like women, and bathrooms usually have stalls with doors. So it should have been a minor issue, maybe even a non-issue. Instead, it was front page news because there was opposition to the bill. However, I think discrimination against stay-at-home moms is a VERY serious issue and should be addressed immediately (heh, heh, heh).

  4. Whoa. Provocative title, incredibly thought-provoking piece. Thank you!

  5. “I don’t see him teaching equality. I see him teaching something much bigger.” Love that. It was bigger, and upside down, and backwards. Great thought for me to think on. Thanks.

  6. When I take into consideration the verses you mentioned as well as the comments you’ve gotten so far, I wonder if many people really understand what it means to “die to self and take up the cross daily.” That, in a nutshell, is sacrifice (or even submission), but I don’t think that it’s the opposite of equality. The opposite of equality, obviously is inequality (synonyms being disparity, unevenness, etc.). The opposite of sacrifice or submission would be holding onto to something, resistance, or fighting. So with all that in mind, the Bible essentially calls us to root out selfishness and narcissism (Jesus demonstrated this in its most ultimate form), it doesn’t say (and I know you’re not trying to say that he is) that we overlook injustice. Isaiah 1:17 says: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

  7. I agree with Steve Hill.

    I think the main issue with what you’re presenting here is this: If people are not equal in the first place, there is no opportunity to practice humility. The whole reason Paul can hold of Jesus as a wonderful example of humility in not reaching for equality with God is because Jesus was *already* equal with God in the first place (“being in very nature God…”). Same with the Mark verse you quoted: If some are already “servants” in this world by the very nature of what gender/race/whatever they’ve been born, how are they supposed to become a servant?

    I don’t understand how Matthew 18:3 fits into this conversation. Luke 9:23 either, for that matter. I kind of feel like you’re just proof-texting with these verses.

    Ephesians 5:23 and Philippians 2:3 have the same issue as being raised as “against equality” and Philippians 1 and Mark 10. If some people, by their very nature, are being treated as less-than, they don’t really have the chance to submit to anyone out of love, since it is already required of them because of their societal status.

    So, while I completely agree that Jesus taught humility, I don’t think that fighting systemic inequality is antithetical to that at all. In fact, I think it’s necessary for true mutual submission to be able to happen.

    • Isn’t humbling ourselves below others the best way to fight systematic inequality? If I’m always putting others’ interests ahead of my own, considering others more important than myself, will not all the injustices and inequalities between us be rectified?

      • Actually, Matt, I’d push back on this. Hermeneutically, all the passages you have quoted function in a much larger context than you seem to consider. Take Ephesians 5. That passage, indeed that epistle, is a radical redefinition of personhood. The whole letter, from start to finish, is getting Jews to realise Gentiles are ONE in Christ, that men and women are ONE in Christ, that children are ONE in Christ, that slaves are ONE in Christ. It is a radical move by St. Paul to let the Church know that women, children, and slaves are no longer property. That’s imperative. These letters have historical context. What he is saying is redefining the culture. The letter argues *for* equality. And then, once equality is made know, *then* he follows it with instructions about submission. But Ephesians spends a long, long time getting there. Let’s please take some care, as both white men who have a lot of privilege here, in realising that submission as you describe it and as Paul is using it is within the equal harmony of the Church. Let’s use the Text with care.

        • I’m looking forward to discussing further with both of you soon. As I mentioned on Twitter, Preston will likely be coming at this from a theology/hermeneutics perspective, and I may come at it as an advocate for justice and equality.

      • I know others have said this as well, but I just really like this sentence from Shaney:
        “If people are not equal in the first place, there is no opportunity to practice humility.

        Humbleness and service are voluntarily given as one who was first lowers themselves to become last. This is what we see in Jesus. This is what we seek to emulate. Inequality and injustice are taken as one who is first forces others to become last. Completely different concepts. Fighting for justice and equality IS laying down our privilege for the sake of others… you do realize that, right? That within the Church, equality isn’t about “me and my needs” but about standing up for those whose voices have been taken from them? The Isaiah-style fasting IS about denying ourselves for the sake of justice. If dying to ourselves doesn’t promote equality and justice, I would wager it is no better than the meaningless sacrifices of the OT, the laws of the Pharisees and the self-flagellation of the monastics.

  8. I would really recommend reading the theologies of those who are seeking to end oppression before talking about how you don’t support equality. The sin of pride or will-to-power is something that is common to those is positions of power – they need to be humbled, release power, and submit to others. Yet those who have been forced into positions of inferiority and submission have internalized such messages so that their sin is often the opposite – self-abnegation and not living into who they were created to be. They have often had the very verses you mentioned used as clobber passages to tell them why they should never question their oppression and just submit to patriarchy/slavery/racism/colonization… respectfully. To silence them once they start to live into the fullness of their lives by saying that they must not seek equality but learn to serve better simply repeats the rhetoric of oppression. It makes sense if one is coming from a theological experience where the lesson one needs to learn is how to love and serve, but is said in those ways is harmful and hurtful to others. It is dangerous to assume that the privileged and the oppressed always must repent of the same sins – or that there are not people who must repent of pride at some times and self-abnegation at others. If it is right relationships that are being sought, what the bible calls justice or shalom, then what people need is support in reaching that wholeness from whatever position they are currently at.

    • Julie, while I completely understand what you are saying, and I agree that many people in power oppress others unjustly, I am not one of those people. So for me to preach those verses is not to oppress others but to humble myself. I’m doing my own little part to promote the gospel in my own world by putting others ahead of myself. I’m sorry that so many people so egregiously misuse scripture, but that misuse does not take away its true meaning or beauty for those of us who try to live it out.

      • It’s fantastic what you are trying to do in your life. It just comes across as oppressive when someone who isn’t oppressed tells those seeking to be loosed from the chains of oppression that they just need to be more humble and submissive. What they need is solidarity and love and not just more of the same.

        • I’m sorry you interpreted it that way, but I attempted to use first person pronouns throughout. I’m preaching to myself. :)

          • I think that would have come across a lot more clearly if you, 1) hadn’t started out by talking about the “daily stream” of blogs (or perhaps not mentioned it at all), 2) said I don’t believe in equality *for myself* instead of just “I don’t believe in equality” (two very different meanings), and 3) explicitly stated that you were saying this as a white male who has a lot of privilege in our society.

            I think I see what you’re trying to say, but the original post did not communicate that very well.

          • Shaney, I do appreciate your feedback, and I say that with complete sincerity. :)

          • “I’m sorry you read it that way” isn’t an apology. It’s a non-apology that makes the apologizer feel like he did something. I’d advise you to strike it from your vocabulary.

            Using the language and rhetoric of oppression – even without the intent of oppressing – still functions as oppression. This piece extends from your white male privilege, yet makes a universal declaration toward all Christians, which ignores the many of us for whom “equality” is a justice issue. In fact, I’d advise you in this post to go back and substitute “equality” with the word “justice.” See how ridiculous it sounds now? That is your privilege talking.

  9. Matt, friend, I see what you’re getting at. I really do. But I’ll be honest, this smacks of privilege. And I guess I’m just not sure in what context you are talking “equality.” In gender roles? In government structures? In actual slavemaster/servant constructs in third world countries? On your own street corner between you and the homeless guy? Between you and God?

    Because when your words are put in the context of real inequality, not just a singular relationship between you and your spouse in middle America – for actual slaves, victims of abuse, the poor, women – your reasoning is the antithesis of what Jesus was actually saying. I don’t think Jesus expected oppressed people not to desire freedom or equality, nor do I think that He expected free people, like you and I, not to seek freedom and equality for them.

    It’s true, we shouldn’t be seeking equality for the sole purpose of validating our own worth or “making ourselves God,” but we should be seeking equality and justice for the poor and disenfranchised, for abuse victims and the enslaved, for men and women who need to know that their voice and their story matter equally in the eyes of God. God does see each of his sons and daughters as equal, and that’s the good news we should be bringing to people every day.

    • Ah, I knew this would be the sticking point and I’m glad it came up. I guess each of us has to decide what “kind” of equality the Bible preaches when Jesus says “the first will be last.” Those of us who are “first” have to be willing to give up our privilege.

      • …so if you’re willing to give up your privilege for those who don’t have it then presumably that means you believe in elevating them to your status and lowering yourself to theirs – ie, you believe in equality?

  10. I would challenge those here who argue that the abdication of “equal rights” is a sure way for oppressors to maintain power over the oppressed. This seems to me a myth perpetrated by the likes of Marx and theologians like Cone. The problem with equality language in the context of “rights” is that it simply protects the oppressed from certain expressions of oppression. For example, the thirteenth amendment restricts the perpetuation of involuntary servitude. That is important. But it doesn’t do anything to relieve the framework of slavery. Since it presents the question in terms of volition. It is quite obvious to me that volition is quite simple to coerce. So, equality is a moving target and has to do more with what is fashionably oppressive, then what actually causes a restriction of God given freedom. There are many forms of slavery and most of them are voluntary and wouldn’t be considered ‘slavery’ by those who are oppressed(I think of those who argue that prostitution should be de-stigmatised because it is simply a form of business). Julie, I do think you hit on something that is important that has been well articulated by Dr. Cynthia Crysdale: that each needs to approach the cross as both perpetrator and perpetrated according to their own experience. However, she stresses that, to a degree, each person is both. I think that is what Matt is talking about. He, in my estimation, seems to imply that the more capable of power one is, the more humble she must be. There is no equality there. The sentiments of rights language is valuable, but to consider that as the panacea for oppression is to perpetuate true oppression. “Rights Equality” does allow certain individuals to be released from oppression, but it allows the Slavers to simply be more cunning in their application. True heart change for all parties is the heart of the Gospel and the real path to reconciliation. Humility, not equality, is the vehicle for that. But, we should not conceive that all individuals must approach reconciliation from the same footing. Can you imagine if God simply exercised his rights?

    • Adam, thank you for a very complex and thought provoking contribution.

      What is interesting to me is that Jesus seems to assume that everyone will always be unequal on Earth, and the kingdom of God is manifested not by everyone becoming equal, but the entire paradigm of equality being upended. The kingdom of God lives in me when I lay down my rights and self interest for the interests of others.

  11. Oddly, I have just been reading French history [ 1770-1815 ] a time when so many lost their lives, over the great idea of the time, equality. This is a great blog and there are many thoughtful
    reply’s ; still I will go for more emails and conversation about the need for equality. It seems to me that the pendulum has swung to more inequality in recent years, the one per- centers or even the top ten per-centers have left most of us in the dust and and the inequality will grow, unless there is a major ground swell from the people.

    • James, that is an interesting item to bring up, but I would ask this in response:

      You mention the inequality of the “1%” verses the rest of us and we live in a time of growing inequality. Such a worldview naturally puts us in the role of the weak and oppressed. But compared to the rest of the world, it is we who are the 1%, enjoying far more comforts, freedoms, and financial prosperity than vast populations.

      It seems to me we have a natural tendency to put ourselves in the role of victims.

      • Or, IOW, “Shut up, losers–you don’t have it that bad.”

        I have a feeling that’s going to make someone a catchy campaign slogan in a few years. :)

      • Let me clarify, I am not complaining about my own status; I have had a successful business and have devoted a lot of resources to helping the poor. At the same time, have spent a lot of my personal time dealing with the courts and the legal system, which by the way, is very unequal in it’s treatment of those without representation.
        We also recognize that nature does make us equal, in intelligence, in physical ability nor in opportunity; that is why the Lord tried to get us to make the playing field a little more level.
        Recently Forbes Magazine reported that, Jeff Bezos and others gain over 200 million in net worth ever 24 hours. It is this kind of inequality that, I think, will tip the scales beyond our ability to reconcile them.

  12. This post, and its responses, are why I struggle so much with how to have these discussions online. Without the benefit of sitting across the table, looking into someone’s eyes, and knowing their story, it is so difficult to hear a message well. Often what is intended and what is perceived do not match- no matter the argument.

    I see many good points- in both the article and the discussion. Perhaps that is a benefit of the online space. When we can handle it, it can be a place to flush things out and hear from one another.

    I wonder if this would have come across differently if written by a woman?

    When I read it, I did not perceive it as a privileged man writing from a place of privilege. Maybe it is in part because I have met Matt in person, and in the kindness of our interaction, I cannot imagine that voice in his writing.

    What I read was a challenge for all of us to consider as we face inequality in our own lives. That if we are Christian, that should change how we approach it. Not that we don’t address it, but that we should do lots of heart checks along the way about what we are fighting for and why. As a woman in ministry, I have faced moments in which I have chosen not to fight because of the greater message of the Gospel, and other moments when I have chosen to fight for the very same reason.

    I have to ask myself… Is my desire to fight for this based on an overall inequality or sexism that should be called out based on the Christian imperative to fight for justice and confront one another in our sin? Or is my desire to fight for this based on my own grasp for power and authority that is a sign of the sin within myself?

    It is difficult to pause and discern our own motives first, but it is one of the calls I see within the Scriptures, and that is the call I perceived Matt giving here. I also see the call of the Scripture to exhort and examine one another, and that is what I perceive in those who spoke up and said that is not the message they heard. Our voices and perspectives are all different- as we write and as we read. I hope that we can somehow do that while always still seeing the best in one another.

  13. matt, this actually reads a whole lot like “Six Reasons I Don’t Believe in *Inequality*”.

    “perceived inequality”–cuz injustice is in the eyes of the beholder? a lot of black people, women, lgbt folks, and other minorities would disagree vehemently. racism, sexism, discrimination, and inequality are persistent realities not merely perceptions.

    “people who feel slighted or abused”–what about hurting people who ARE slighted and abused? this language from you, a straight, white man, reads like doubt and pipe down/play nice/quit your whining/get over it. it does not read like the kind of humility, loving others, and picking up your cross that i think you’re trying to get across.

    yes, we are called as christians to put others before ourselves–and this flies in the face of the oppressive, sinful, unequal power structures our cultures–and churches–are built on and frequently operate under. the kind of power that Jesus embodied was radical, sacrificial, resurrecting, and wholly different–which i think is part of what you’re trying to articulate–but a gospel that does not value the vulnerable or set the oppressed free is not good news or the gospel.

  14. I think something that helps make your point also came out Friday. It was posted by my friend at our blog Proverbial Thought:
    http://proverbialthought.com/2013/03/01/making-fun-of-the-poor/

  15. Maggie Kawena March 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Hi Adam! I am a first-time blog reader and a young student with very little formal sociological or Biblical expertise. However, I am still quite troubled and confused by this article.

    My first question is in your definition of equality. You say, “I see [Jesus] telling his followers that they’ll have to lay down equality with one another, deny themselves, love their enemies, give up seeking retribution and justice for themselves and become like slaves.” This argument is partially true, but not completely. He’s not calling us to “become like slaves” to each other. He’s certainly not calling us to “give up seeking retribution and justice” for EVERYONE. In laying down YOUR rights for the sake of those of OTHERS, isn’t that equality? Isn’t that promoting an equilibrium; a simultaneous raising up and stepping down? Jesus’ picture of equality is exactly what you described—service, humility, sacrifice—but in demonstrating these things he restored dignity and honor to people that had previously been oppressed. Loving those who have been marginalized does not mean loving yourself less. In fact, I don’t even really think this is about yourself, or myself, or any one of us as individuals. Equality is not comparative that way.

    I’d like to respond with a passage I just read that I find relevant to this discussion. In Matthew 20, Jesus’ parable of the Kingdom of God tells of a wealthy landowner who allocates equal payments to his field workers who have been working for varying amounts of time. Upon first reading this passage, the natural response might be to scream “injustice!” as you have mentioned. But upon further examination, I think what Jesus does here is demonstrate that Kingdom equality is not like earthly equality. While we may be outraged that those who worked longer got paid the same amount as those who worked for only a few hours, the landowner showed no partiality in his distribution of the wages, and somehow Jesus seems to be pointing out that the landowner has it right. Again, we see a shifting of roles, an equilibrium: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” The economy of justice in the Kingdom of God is like the landowner and the workers: all are treated equally, all are paid equally, and all are loved equally.

    Also, I think your use of the term “perceived inequality” is very problematic. I don’t understand how you can say inequality is perceived and then go on to say that you yourself believe in it. Are you talking about another kind of inequality? Are you saying that those who “claim” inequality have no reason to do so? I also don’t understand what it means for you to not “believe” in equality. Do you not believe that it’s Biblical? Do you not believe it exists?

    I have a lot of questions, but I’m really appreciative your blog has gotten so many people thinking about such a heavy and necessary topic. I thank you for your honesty and sincerity in sharing your thoughts about this! Blessings.

  16. Great post, Matt. And such thoughtful responses too. I get it. Totally. It’s an attitude, not a law. Those who need to stand up in the face of oppression can still do it with strength and humility. MLK taught us that.

  17. I see what you’re trying to say, Matt. These verses are about making yourself humble. The equality movements are about fighting for justice for your cohort and peers. Women marched for the right to vote and submitted to beatings and public humiliation for the cause of all women. Civil rights activists did the same and faced greater humiliation and violence. By your application of these verses you would be saying that it would have been more godly for them to have stayed silent and in their place. God sees the world differently: there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female in Christ. We are equal, but must actively guard one another from oppression and injustice.

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