1/2/21 Jason (see HERE)
Equity of opportunity or equity of outcome?
What does that even mean? This is a question that’s been tossed around lately, and it’s actually at the heart of many of the political differences we are experiencing. A recent Gospel outreach conversation I had with a young man named Jason got me thinking about that, and though we were talking about religion I think there are some answers for politics as well.
We know there is inequity everywhere in our society, not to mention in the entire world. Many well-meaning people want to make the world a better place by working toward a more equitable society, but often disagree bitterly on exactly how that should be done.
One side says the problem of inequity has mainly to do with our society, and if we can change our political and economic systems, we can create an equitable outcome for everyone regardless of whether they are from a privileged background or not.
Another side says the problem of inequity is mainly one of personal responsibility, and that if individuals work on the content of their character, say, on developing a strong work ethic and making positive moral choices, they can take advantage of whatever opportunities they have regardless of whatever hand they’ve be dealt.
Which approach is the best? Both sides have inherent flaws. Those working toward equity of outcome often find they have to categorize people using outward characteristics such as race or handicaps in order to use government control to give artificial advantage to those groups with perceived disadvantages. They blame racism and prejudice for many of the problems of inequality, but then end up trying to use forms of racism and prejudice to solve them.
Those who believe in equity of opportunity must face the fact that many are born with fewer opportunities than others through no fault of their own. As much as each person is responsible for taking advantage of whatever opportunity they do have, still it’s the fault of the society they are born into that there is so much inequity of opportunity to begin with. Much as they might say the competition of a free market creates a natural reward system for innovation and hard work, still some government is needed to make that system fair and opportunities equitable.
So what does the Bible have to say about it? When I was talking with Jason I was thinking about Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 which describes what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like: “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.”
Each servant was “dealt a hand” with different amounts of gold to work with, and the hand the first man was dealt was to be the master over them all and owner of a great deal of wealth. No equity of opportunity here!
The parable goes on to describe how the first two servants used the opportunities they had been given to double their money, and they were rewarded with even more responsibility while the third servant wasted the opportunity he had been given and was punished.
I believe a major point of this parable is we can expect neither equity of outcome nor equity of opportunity in life, but that the One to whom we are accountable and the One who matters the most treats us according to what we have done with whatever hand we have been dealt, no matter what the rest of the world says about it.
In Luke 12:48, Jesus said “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Interestingly, He chose not to say the obvious opposite, that “from those who have been given little, little will be demanded.” I’m thinking Jesus didn’t want anyone to focus on how little they have, for we are all given some level of opportunity to take advantage of, whether others think they are equitable or not.
I think this is what Martin Luther King was referring to in his famous quote about the dignity of work: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
What matters is not what we do that is important, but rather what He to whom we are accountable thinks of it. And no matter what sort of opportunity we have to work with, we all have to opportunity to hear the words of our Heavenly Father: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
So, imperfect as they both are, which of the two political goals are most biblical; equity of opportunity or equity of outcome? I hope its as obvious to you as it seems to me.
Thanks, Jason, for allowing me to record our conversation. It can be seen on my Youtube channel.