The Disparity Question

September 23, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

This is part 7 of a multi-part series reviewing Thaddeus J. Williams’ book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice. This book is published at a critical time when many in our nation, including Christians, wrestle with the concept of justice. Williams starts with the clear biblical command that Christians must “do justice” (Micah 6:8) and “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17). Not everything labeled “justice,” however, is necessarily biblical justice. Therefore, Williams poses twelve questions to help Christians discern true, biblical justice, while calling us to do true justice. I commend this book if you want to dig deeper and be more faithful in seeking justice. 

The seventh question Williams poses is the “Disparity Question.” He asks, “Does our vision of social justice prefer damning stories to undamning facts?” (p. 79). In my estimation, this question exposes what has created so much heat and division over the discussion of race and justice in the last year. It boils down to how we define systemic injustice. Williams proposes a biblical definition for systemic injustice: “any system that either requires or encourages those within the system to break the moral laws God revealed for his creatures’ flourishing” (p. 79). Systemic injustice is real. Williams provides biblical, historical, and current examples of systemic injustice. Christians, committed to a biblical view of justice, decry and work against systemic injustices. 

Many discussions around injustice today, however, do not operate with this biblical definition of systemic injustice. The prevalent perspective today is: “the way you spot systemic injustice is by looking for unequal outcomes. An unequal outcome becomes damning evidence that sexism, racism, or some other evil ‘ism’ is the foundation of a system” (p. 80). In other words, disparity of outcomes reveals injustices. Ibram X. Kendi is a prominent voice today in the discussion about racial justice. Williams quotes Kendi in saying, “racial disparities must be the result of racial discrimination… When I see racial disparities, I see racism” (p. 81). This automatic equation of disparity with discrimination “has gone mainstream as the way most conversations about social justice are framed in the twenty-first century. That includes conversations in the church” (p. 80). Fighting for social justice with this framework means equating every disparity with an unjust system that must be torn down. 

So, what’s wrong with this later view of systemic injustice? Williams summarizes, “On this road, we learn to assume the worst. We accept the most damning conclusions about others, often at the expense of both facts and biblical clarity” (p. 80). He walks through several examples of disparities that are not rooted in injustices. There are “inequalities based on things as boring and undamning as geography, age, birthdays, birth order, shopping habits, desires, and so much more” (p. 84). Connected with this is personal choice. “Different people with different priorities making different choices will experience different outcomes” (p. 86). Not all disparities are rooted in systemic injustices. 

There are dangers in not making this distinction. First, we lose sight of what real injustices are. “When we automatically assume damning explanations for unequal outcomes, we not only lock ourselves in a prison of never-ending rage but also dull our senses to the point that we will be useless for the sacred task of recognizing and resisting the real racism, real sexism, and other real vicious isms around us” (p. 84). Second, the logical outworking of not making the distinction leads to coercive power enforcing sameness. “The more fully committed we become to a vision of justice in which unequal outcomes are automatically assumed to be the result of injustice, the more our quest for justice will lead, indeed it must lead, to the use of power to enforce sameness… we are well on our way not to a fictional dystopia but to repeating the bloodiest mistakes of modern history” (p. 86-87). 

Biblically thoughtful Christians must be able to make the distinction. Not all disparities result from systemic injustices. “There is real racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the world. It is damnable and should be vanquished. If we aren’t willing to put in the effort to thoughtfully separate damning disparities from the undamning, then we don’t take discrimination and its victims seriously enough” (p. 89).


Filter Messages By: