My Faith, My Church
Equality and Fairness?
by Fr. Bohdan Hladio
Fr. Bohdan Hladio was born in Sewickley, Pennsylvania in 1957. He did his theological
studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where he was a member of the
“Tamburitzans” performing ensemble. Following university worked as a teacher and
instructor of folk music and dance. He met his wife, Tania Pidlysny, while working with
a Ukrainian Dance group in Toronto. They were married in 1984, and have three
children. He was ordained deacon in 1986 and priest in 1988. Fr. Bohdan has served
parishes in Toronto, Hamilton, and Oshawa, all in the province of Ontario. From 2005 till
2008 he served as chancellor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada in Winnipeg,
Manitoba. From 1998 through2011 he wrote a monthly column for the “Herald”, the
newspaper of the UOCC, and was a member of the Community Editorial Board of the
Hamilton Spectator from 2000 till 2002. Currently he writes a monthly column entitled
“Against the Current” for young adults, which is found on the web-site of the Ukrainian
Orthodox Church of the USA, and is a contributor to the monthly “Urbanicity” in
Hamilton, Ontario. Fr. Bohdan is also a sought after speaker and retreat leader.
“Northopraxis”, a collection of his articles, was published by Holy Dormition Press in
2009. He currently serves as pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church
in Oshawa, Ontario
We hear much in our society about equality and fairness. "Everyone is equal", "Women are equal to men", "It's unfair to deny marriage to
same-sex couples", "all people should be treated the same!" and a myriad of other examples can be cited. Often, though, those making such
statements are mixing up the idea of human equality with fairness.
Equality in a very basic sense involves an objective measurement. If a = c, and b = c, then a = b. If you have a pound of apples and I have a
pound of apples we both have an equal amount of apples. When we stop using the word to refer to numbers or measurements, though, things
become less clear.
All of us in the western world have been indoctrinated from our youth with the idea that "all men are created equal", that all human beings are in
essence the same due to the fact that they are members of the human race. This idea originates in the common Christian heritage of our
society, and can be traced back to the book of Genesis.
We have to admit, though, that no two of us are equal in the way that the numeral 2 equals and will always be equal to the numeral 2. Every
one of us is different from every other human being who ever lived. Though we are all equal in a legal sense, and a human sense, and (as
Christians we would say) a theological sense, we're not the same as anyone else physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, or
So we see that our political equality is a legal fiction, though it manifests a basic Christian truth: In the eyes of God we truly are equal as
human beings, having been created in His image, and being equally loved by Him as His children.
What about fairness? Fairness is related to the virtue of justice. It means treating people (and things) in a way appropriate to their personal
reality, taking into account and respecting their constitution, talents, abilities, limitations, possibilities, strengths, weaknesses, needs, etc.
It's easy to see that by treating all people equally (i.e., as if they were the same) we could easily be treating some of them unfairly.
This truth is embedded in our legal, academic, and employment systems. We make allowances for the physically challenged - we don't say "so
you can't walk and need to ride around in a scooter. Too bad", but spend public money to put ramps on curbs and make buildings accessible
for them. Or take the example of the youth with a learning disability. We don't say "can't cut it? Tough luck. Drop out", but have learning
specialists in the schools to help those who need extra help. We have "affirmative action" programs to help people get and keep jobs that they
normally might not be able obtain due to various factors. We don't just say "born on the wrong side of the tracks? Not my problem", but
recognize that some people, by virtue of their humanity, need to be treated with a little extra consideration in order to have an "equal" chance to
succeed in life.
We know that in political life there are differing levels of equality and fairness. Some laws are common to all of us: don't drive through a red light;
pay your taxes; do not kill other people. But there are exceptions: if I drive an emergency vehicle I may go through a red light under certain
conditions; if I am destitute or have enough tax credits I may not actually have to pay taxes; a soldier, or a policeman, may kill another human
being when doing so on the authority of the state for the protection of other people. We can see how it's not fair to treat the soldier at war the
same way we treat a serial killer, though they both are involved in the taking of human life.
It's pretty clear that equality and fairness are not the same thing. People will often confuse them, though, when making an argument to support
a particular idea or position.
A good example of this from our Church life is the issue of women in the priesthood. Isn't it unfair that women can't be priests? We're all equal,
after all, aren't we?
When trying to understand anything it's always worthwhile to start by asking good questions. In the given instance we might begin by asking:
Are women and men biologically identical? Are they psychologically identical? Are they spiritually identical? Anyone who knows anything about
this subject will tell you that the answer to all three questions is a clear NO. Men and women, as such, are not equal in their biological,
psychological, or spiritual constitution.
Some people think that if a isn't equal to b, one of them must be better, and one must be worse. If men and women aren't identical, then one
sex must be better - and depending on your particular philosophical outlook (which is usually based upon the television shows you watch, the
books you read, the people you talk to, and the friends you keep company with) you might come to the conclusion that women are "better"
than men, or vice versa. We've got to understand, though, that two people (or things) which are not equal are not necessarily better or worse
than the other - they're just different. It's pretty clear that a person who thinks that either men or women, simply by virtue of their sex, are better
than the opposite sex, is not being fair (or reasonable) in their judgment.
To treat people who are not equal as if they are is not just - it's not fair. It doesn't recognize the inherent and unique potential of the particular
individual. Next month we'll explore the ramifications of this reality in the context of the issue raised above, women and the priesthood.