EGALITARIANISM IN COMPENSATION: IS IT BIBLICAL?

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In one of my April, 2015 posts “CEO Pledges to Cut His Own Pay…” I related the story that hit the news earlier this year regarding Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, and his decision to raise the pay of 100% of his workers up to the same $70,000 (phased in over a three year period) while reducing his own pay down to the same amount. A surprising example of egalitarianism in pay, huh?

I found that students are interested in this story. It sparks good classroom discussion. Well, if you have been following this story in the news, you know that it didn’t go away.

Is egalitarianism biblical? This is a debatable question. There are faithful Christians on both sides of the debate. If you choose to engage students in this debate, you may want to read the following article: Elliott, John H. (2002). Jesus was not an egalitarian. A critique of an anachronistic and idealist theory. Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology 32, 75-91.

Proponents of an egalitarian view turn to the following in support:

  • The book of Acts of the Apostles describes the early church as egalitarian where they held all things in common. Nothing was offered after this to recommend anything different (Acts 2:45; 4)
  • Jesus directed the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give to the poor (Mark 10:1-31; Luke 18:22)
  • Jesus included concerns for those at the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder.
  • The ancient Hebrew principle of sabbatical and year of jubilee shows that God did not intend for wide economic disparities to exist between people.
  • Jesus directed his disciples to sell their possessions and give to charity (Luke 12:33).
  • We are all created equal in God’s sight. There should be no distinction between persons (Romans 10:12; Colossians 3:11).
  • Jesus came to this earth with no special status (Matt 8:20; Luke 9:58).
  • Leaders should be servants (Matthew 18:1-5).
  • Paul the Apostle called for equality of members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).

John Elliott and others see it differently. Here are some of the supporting ideas to his thesis that the “Jesus Movement” in the early church was not egalitarian:

  • Jesus did not call for the elimination of social and economic differences.
  • In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul the Apostle’s concern was for social harmony not the removal of differences. Paul’s discussion of leaders makes this clear (1 Corinthians 12:28-30).
  • Inclusiveness of people at the lowest end of the socio-economic ladder is inclusiveness. This is not the same as “social levelling” or abolishing inequities.
  • Jesus said that the poor would always be with us (Matthew 26:11).
  • There is no explicit command for equality in every regard in either the Old Testament or the New Testament.
  • The Bible never provides a comprehensive definition of what equality means.
  • Jesus’ teaching assumes an underlying difference in status and hierarchy. The servant is not above the master (Luke 6:40); Household owners are superior to slaves (Luke 12:42-48); parents are in a superior position with respect to children (Mark 7:11-13); some slaves enjoy a higher rank than do others (Luke 19:12-27); some places of social honor are greater than others (Luke 14:7-24); generosity and sharing toward the poor assumes that there are differences (this is not the same as equalization).
  • The experience of the early church (reported in Acts 2-4) did not become a general policy. If it had continued, the result would simply have been the transfer of wealth from the Christians to the non-Christians with the Christians ending up in a weaker position economically.

To these pros and cons you can add what you have gathered from your own study of the Scripture.

Discuss this Issue With your Students:

  1. Is an egalitarian approach to compensation biblical?
  2. What is the definition of the word “egalitarisn?”
  3. What is the definition of the term “equality?”
  4. Does egalitarian approach to wages work in a production department of a factory?
  5. Does egalitarian wage policy work in the sales department?
  6. What unintended consequences (positive and negative) might occur if the wages of all workers are identical?
  7. In the case of Gravity Payments, the announcement of the increase in wages was greeted with applause. Within a few weeks problems started arising. The egalitarian approach to compensation has already resulted in disharmony among workers. Rumors began circulating that a customer cancelled its contract with Gravity Payments. Some workers complain that the pay of slackers is the same as those who are high producers. Is this criticism valid?
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