Lesson 8: Fairness

Economic Justice The pandemic immediately revealed it is not realistic for our society to base all its decisions on the economic market. As soon as the crisis hit, we began talking about the right for all of our citizens to food, housing, medical care, and a basic income. Without much reflection, the government quickly sent emergency funds to individuals and businesses.

People began asking all sorts of questions about social justice, many of them involving the tremendous separation of the rich and poor. Sadly, the conversation often ends with the observation that things are not going to change; the rich will come out of this even richer and the poor even poorer. However, a significant group hopes we can build a fairer justice system.

Christians can begin that by reminding ourselves how realistically the Bible describes justice. First, it reminds us if we want to talk about real fairness, we have to take into account the natural differences between the strong and the weak. There is no way to have a fair competition, because the strong are going to have an advantage in every situation.

That means there has to be some regulation if the weak are to have enough. Jesus makes this clear in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The owner pays them all the same wage no matter how long they worked. That seems unfair until you realize everyone got a day wage that would feed their family. The parable is based on the Torah command for employers to pay their workers their wage on the day earned. The teaching remains relevant in our day as large corporations hold back payments so they can gain more interest on money belonging to other people.

But the Bible is also realistic about fairness going beyond this distributive kind of justice to a redistributive one. Over time, the strong will inevitably gain more and more, making it necessary to adjust things regularly so they do not get out of hand. The Torah talked of Sabbath and Jubilee years when debts were to be forgiven, so everyone could start over. Jesus began his ministry declaring he brought this Jubilee. Again, the relevance is quite evident as modern credit is designed to entrap the weak in more and more debt that reaps more and more profit for the credit companies. This also plays out when international debt is used to sustain a form of dependent colonialism. In other words, the Bible realizes to be really fair we must constantly be making changes.

At the same time, Christians are also realistic enough to realize human nature prevents this kind of justice from prevailing in our society. Some can practice it in small groups, others can give their government checks to those who really need them, we all can speak up for laws and practices that bring us closer to this ideal, but we shall never completely enjoy the Just Society until God establishes his kingdom in the future.

In the meantime, we can champion the need for a really fair graduated income tax and promote a narrative that supports this kind of thinking. It is surely time to acknowledge that a decent society is built on co-operation not competition and that just laws are needed to protect the poor. The establishment’s present narrative turns all that upside down. It claims laws should protect the strong, because in some magic trickle-down effect the welfare of the strong benefits the weak. You readily see how contrary to the Gospel message this story is when welfare mothers are accused of abusing the system. It only takes a little thought to realize these are the modern equivalent of the widows and orphans that the Bible says society must protect in a male-dominated world.

Interestingly enough, our counter narrative is based on family values, although not those presently being used by some Christians to support the status quo. Our social teaching models the economy on the family that asks if the children and dependents are well fed, clothed, and sheltered, if the sick are given special care, and if all members are treated fairly.

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