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Justice, equality and truth

As the government presses ahead with 'equality' legislation, James Torrens asks some pertinent questions

‘What is truth?’ Pilate’s question echoes down the centuries, long after he asked it of Jesus.

His query was prompted by Jesus’s claim that he came into this world ‘to testify to the truth’ and that ‘everyone on the side of truth listens to me’ (John 18.37). Significantly, Pilate did not wait for a reply to his question, but turned his back on the Truth and gave in to the cries of the crowd and the lies of the religious leaders.

Are justice and equality the same?

A question closely related to Pilate’s famous query is, ‘What is justice?’ For, as the trial of Jesus demonstrates, without truth there can be no justice. Justice is undermined by lies, be they the lies of the accused, the witnesses, police-officers or judges. For justice to prevail, truth is essential. Therefore, in our courts, witnesses are directed to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

All this might seem obvious, but it seems we are in danger of forgetting this in our ‘progressive’ society. For example, it is often stated (or assumed) that justice is the same as equality. However, my dictionary defines justice as ‘the quality of being just; integrity; impartiality; rightness’. Nowhere does it mention equality. Fairness, yes; equality, no. Why is this? Doesn’t fairness mean treating all things equally?

Well, yes and no. Yes, if the things to be treated are truly (there’s that word again) equal. So if two people commit the same crime under the same circumstances with the same motivation, then justice would demand that both receive the same punishment. But the fact that most criminals do not receive the same sentences, even for the same crime, is not just a reflection of the unpredictable nature of judges. It is because the judges weigh up the different circumstances and motivations involved and pass sentence accordingly.

So justice turns out to be a more complicated matter than it seems at first glance. When it is based on truth — as it must be — it does not always result in ‘equality’. In fact, where the matters under consideration are not ‘equal’, justice must discriminate and announce its ‘unequal’ verdict accordingly.

Examples

Consider some examples from life. Two children are misbehaving. The exasperated mother sends both of them to their bedroom as a punishment. She has treated both children equally. But has she treated them fairly? If one child is an avid reader and has a room full of books, it is not much of a punishment. If the other child hates being indoors and is not a book-lover, it is a far more severe punishment. So, to be fair, the mum should send the first child outside to tidy up the garden or wash the car. Justice does not always mean equality.

Another example is the ruling by the European Court of Justice which states that, as of December 21 2012, women must pay the same car insurance premiums as men, despite women being safer drivers than men. (The same ruling applies to life insurance, even though, in general, women live longer than men. This may, of course, be related to their safer driving!) Here is a ruling which is unfair, because it is treating men and women drivers as equals, when they are not. Here, equality has trumped justice.

It is no accident that the above matter has to do with ‘gender equality’, for there is no other area of modern life where there is so much confusion and controversy. Much of the confusion and controversy is deliberate, provoked by those who wish to downplay and deny God-given differences in gender and sexuality, in the name of ‘equality’ and ‘justice’. But, as we have seen, if ‘justice’ is not based on truth and fails to discriminate between it and lies (or the appearance of truth), then it is not justice, however ‘equal’ it may appear.

Gay marriage

In terms of the ongoing national debate about the legitimacy of ‘gay marriage’, the implications of the above are clear. Much of the debate is couched in terms of justice, but the word is often used loosely and synonymously with ‘equality’. However, the Bible’s teaching is clear. The only proper context for the full expression of human sexuality (whatever our orientation) is within the confines of heterosexual marriage. This is what God has determined is right: right by him and right for us.

If this is the truth, then this is what justice must be based on. Real justice will, therefore, discriminate between truth and its counterfeits and between what is right and wrong. Real justice will state that ‘homosexual marriage’ is a contradiction in terms. Real justice will recognise that to treat as equal things which are unequal is, in fact, unjust.

So, when people ask, ‘Where is the justice in this?’, we should also ask, ‘What is the truth of this?’ For without truth, justice is impossible. With truth, judgment becomes just. It is then, and only then, that the exercise of grace and mercy becomes possible.

Dr. James Torrens is the minister of Highland International Church, Inverness, an International Presbyterian Church.