The Fairness Doctrine

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"It's unfair!" Rose complained to her neighbor. She had just spied the new shrubs that Peggy and I had volunteered to plant in Sharon's front yard. Rose, a Charis (volunteer built) homeowner like Sharon, had not received any new plants for her yard. It was a clear case of favoritism, Rose was sure. And she was incensed. It shouldn't have caught me off guard like it did. I've seen this sort of thing happen so often in so many settings that I should have seen it coming. It's just that Sharon's situation was so distinctly different from Rose's that I thought it would be obvious. Sharon did not have her final landscaping installed when her house was constructed in the middle of a hot Georgia summer. Our Charis staff somehow forgot about it and the shrubs never got planted. Rose's house, on the other hand, was landscaped when it was built, though admittedly her shrubs had not done very well. But could she not see the difference?

As I said, I should have seen it coming. The fairness doctrine is something I am very familiar with. It has been the source of many lively child rearing discussions at my own home over the years. Peggy is a stickler for fairness. It's a function of her sensitive nature. If we bought Jonathan new clothes, then we should buy Jeffrey new clothes also. If we spent $100 on Christmas presents for one, we should spend the same amount for the other. Discipline should also be meted out equally, and affection as well. According to Peggy, this was how to avoid favoritism and make our boys feel equally loved.

I, on the other hand, always felt that each of our sons was unique and should be treated accordingly. When the older is ready for a computer, the younger should not expect to have an equal amount spent on him for toys. When the younger responds quickly to correction and the older requires sterner measures, neither should feel more or less valued. Should, that is. Both boys were quick to pick up on the finest shades of differential treatment and, being schooled at an early age in the fairness doctrine, were adept at using it to their own advantage. You can see that our family dynamics were never boring.

I am still amazed at how quickly the fairness doctrine can convert a kind deed into an entitlement. It can turn a thoughtful act of generosity into an obligation and suck the joy right out of it. Buy your son an ice cream cone at the mall and it's like doing an injustice to his brother (when he finds out about it and he surely will!). Do a favor for a neighbor and somehow you're expected to do it for everyone. "It's only fair!"

Where did this fairness doctrine come from, anyway? I know it's human nature to desire what another has. People have been doing this since the beginning of time. But how has fairness thinking received such current widespread acceptance? Perhaps it's our attempt to correct a long history of injustices against certain groups of people. Or maybe it's a distortion of the equal rights movement that has yielded the mal-formed fruit of political correctness. Somewhere along the line, however, we got fairness confused with justice. Instead of equality being related to human worth, it has come to mean that everybody deserves to have the same thing.

This doctrine certainly does not issue from scripture. The Book is filled with inequities. Eve is subordinate to Adam. Cunning Jacob is blessed while deserving Esau loses out. Some people are annihilated and others receive mercy. Unequal members comprise the Body, some "honorable" and others "uncomely", all valued but each with different stations. In God's economy, some work long and hard for their pay while others get the same reward for minimal work. God simply does not seem fair! He is Merciful and Loving and Good and Just. But He is not fair. The word doesn't even appear in His Book!

Life is not fair, either. Resources are not distributed equally. Some people are born leaders while others must follow. Some ride the crest of opportunity while others never catch a wave. Inequities, whether calamitous or commonplace, are facts of life. Try to explain them and our answers come up short.

So how does all this relate to our dilemma with Rose? Well, I must certainly be sensitive to avoid creating hard feelings among my neighbors. Peggy helps me with that. And I must always stand against injustice of any sort. But I have determined that I will not allow a distorted concept of fairness to rob me of the joy of doing random acts of kindness. Perhaps I should do my good deeds as anonymously as possible. But I refuse to be paralyzed by pettiness. Call it favoritism if you must.

There is another doctrine, much less popular in our day, that may serve as a corrective to the fairness heresy. Call it the doctrine of contentment. It goes like this:

"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have." (Heb 13:5 KJV)

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