“We want a fairer society.” Don’t we all: but what do we mean? A society in which all people are wholly the same? Where male and female roles are fully interchangeable? Maybe, writes Rev Sydney Maitland, but in our hearts we may wonder if this is really credible, even if there are photo-opps and enthusiastic write-ups of people aspiring to the more dramatic role- reversals.
What about equality in sport: no male/female separations of sports, all teams mixed, but no winners or losers mind, for that would be elitist. But the whole purpose of competitive sport is to excel, and to rise above the competition. Competitions are not about coming second. So here, equality as such is openly rejected. Perhaps all artists are to be equal and the same: so no distinction between the roles or expectations or qualifications or performances of ballet dancers, musicians, writers, painters, sculptors or photographers. So how do we recognize what is and what is not art?
In truth, we want our sports competitors to excel and our artists to inspire. We want our engineers and medical specialists and airline pilots to be trained properly and to meet professional standards, and if they do not then they should not practice.
So perhaps fairness is less about equality or sameness and more about respect. There is no reason why we should not give respect to all we meet and with whom we interact. That applies to the artistic or sporting performer, dentist, and the street beggar.
But there is something else which St Paul draws attention to in the life of the church in that all members are expected to exercise an area of Christian service in proportion to their natural abilities and their spiritual gifts and ministries. All are members of the same spiritual body and accordingly none may despise or reject another for not being like him or herself. lt is as meaningful as the eye ofthe body rejecting the hand or the head rejecting the foot. Equally the foot cannot resent not being a hand and the ear cannot resent being an eye. (1 Corinthians 12). Moreover St James is emphatic about not being partial to rich or poor: all are to be treated and regarded equally.
Here then is a model of equality that seems to work without violating the essential variety of human abilities and identities.