October 17 – Our Elections: Social Justice

Equity or Equality

Vital Sign Religious Freedom

As the world sees it, social justice comes through the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. According to the United Nations, “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” The National Association of Social Workers says, “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.” The San Diego Foundation references equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal treatment as the values of social justice. 

Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have joined the voices calling for social equity. The University of Melbourne says, “To be clear, ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ are terms that are often used interchangeably, and to a large extent, they have similar meanings. The difference is one of  nuance: while equality can be converted into a mathematical measure in which equal parts are identical in size or number, equity is a more flexible measure allowing for equivalency while not demanding sameness.” 

According to a Pew Research Center survey published in August 2021 with over 10,000 respondents, 34 percent of adults believe “a little more” could be done to ensure equal rights for all Americans, while 50 percent believe “a lot more” needs to be done. Of that 50 percent, 25 percent believe systems are fundamentally biased against some racial/ethnic groups and need to be rebuilt. 

The contrast between equality and equity can be seen in comments made by Vice President Kamala Harris following the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian. In discussing bringing relief to Floridians, she said, “We have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity, understanding not everyone starts out at the same place.” For those most in need, “equity” must come first, she said. 

A commonly used illustration of equity and equality shows two frames of children wanting to look over a fence to watch a ballgame. One child is tall, another mid-sized and the third is small. Each has an equal size crate to stand on. The tall child has no problem viewing the game, in fact, he could have seen over the fence without the crate. The middle child is lifted high enough to peer over the fence, but, even with the crate, the smallest one still has no view of the game. That is equality—each was given the same size crate. In equity, the tall child’s crate is given to the smallest child. Now all three can watch the game over the fence. While the process to secure the result was not equal, the outcome was the same for all three, and that is equity. 

Winston-Salem University in North Carolina explains the difference between equality and equity this way: “Equality is typically defined as treating everyone the same and giving everyone access to the same opportunities. Meanwhile, equity refers to proportional representation (by race, class, gender, etc.) in those same opportunities. To achieve equity, policies and procedures may result in an unequal  distribution of resources.” 

The Bible speaks of equity and equality as aspects of justice. One example is Psalm 99:4, which states, “The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity, you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.” Or 2 Samuel 8:15, “So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people.” 

In an article in The Religion & Politics Blog, the main Hebrew word for equity conveys ideas like uprightness, straightness, levelness, fairness, truth, order, and integrity. “Such definitions,” they say, “are very broad but seem to capture the underlying core principles of justice and how God would judge a situation. … Equity looks towards what the law was intended to do and seeks to judge on that basis, not judged solely based on what the letter of the law says.” 

The author continues, “Biblical equity and equality are much more holistic in nature and do not lead to the simplistic outcome-driven political solutions like modern critics seem to imply. … Biblical equity does not necessarily entail equality of outcome but seems to place greater emphasis on equal and equitable treatment… more than equitable outcomes.” 

When it comes to elections, every citizen is entitled to cast a vote (with some lawful exceptions). That is equality. However, voters may have difficulty getting to polling places, others might not have identification (where it is required), and there may be other barriers for other groups. Eliminating all barriers is the goal of equity-based candidates. For candidates, some benefit from much greater fund-raising to conduct a political campaign, while others may not have as attractive a public appearance. Are equity interventions needed in order to equalize them before the voters? 

“And if you call on him as Father, who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear through the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:17-19). 

How then should we pray? 

  • For the president and his administration as they pursue policies of equity.
  • For governing officials at every level as they determine the balance between equality of opportunity and equal outcomes.
  • For U.S. educators and school administrators as they decide the ideology of the curricula that will be taught in public schools.
  • For Attorney General Garland and the lawyers within the Justice Department as they focus on civil rights and equity.
  • For federal, state, and local officials as they review the question of equity regarding political coverage and debate between candidates.
  • For candidates as they choose how to run their campaigns, whether they focus on equity and social justice or things like the economy and national security

See previous Pray 7 daily featured readings.

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