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by Donald A. G. Burling

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . "  Whatever we think of this statement from the American Declaration of Independence, one thing we can say is that it is not based on the Bible.  Moreover it said nothing about women, nor about the thousands of black slaves being imported from West Africa at the time

Yet ideas like this have become something of a religion among us, so that we have an Equalities Minister as part of our government.  But we still ignore the really big inequality, between the millionaires and the people sleeping rough on the streets.

There are two main ways of thinking about equality, which could be called the lawnmower and green bottle approaches.  The first, favoured by revolutionaries, believes that the rich and privileged should be cut down to size, and their wealth distributed among the poor.  Unfortunately we find that, if the revolution succeeds, most of what is taken from the rich ends up in the hands of a new elite, and the poor benefit little.

The green bottle approach assumes everyone to be equal; all that is needed is equality of opportunity.  Some will make good use of their opportunities and are entitled to their rewards; others will not.  If some accidentally fall, that is no concern of anyone else.  All this approach does is allow those with advantages to exploit them, accentuating the inequalities that already exist.

In a family it would futile to argue that children have equal power and responsibility with their parents.  Christian social reformers like Lord Shaftesbury were not concerned with equality; they used their own positions of privilege to help the poor.  The Bible does not permit the poor to steal from the rich, but it places a responsibility on all who have means to support those who have not.  "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none, and he who has food, let him do likewise" (Luke 3 v 11 NKJV).  If the spirit of this were generally observed, the question of equality would hardly arise.

One thing the Bible does say is that Jesus did not try to claim equality with God (Philippians 2 6,7) - although He was accused of doing just that.  As forgiven sinners it is a question whether we have a right to claim anything.  On the other hand we do have responsibilities, depending on how much has been entrusted to us.

All green bottles will eventually fall, for we cannot escape our own mortality, nor the reality of resurrection.  The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16 v 19-31) suggests that the inequalities we experience in this life will be reversed in a life to come.  Covetousness only brings discontent; let us rather seek to be faithful and generous with what we have.  We can then leave questions of equality to God.


Reminder:  All articles on this website, including mine, express the views of their authors and should not be regarded as expressing wider opinions within our Church - A.W.B.


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Isleworth Congregational Church - Twickenham Road - Isleworth - Middlesex - TW7 7EU - United Kingdom

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