THE WORDS 'equality' and 'diversity' are often used to criticise one group or another. Sometimes they are used to criticise the Church, writes the Reverend Mike Firbank, rector of Camborne Parish Church. What do they mean, though?
Equality is about 'creating a fairer society, where everyone can participate and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential' (Department of Health, 2004).
This is, I hope, a definition that we can all sign up to. It rests on the belief that each individual has potential, but that sometimes (or perhaps often) there are barriers and hurdles that we should remove or shift out of their way.
The recent Paralympics could be seen as an extraordinary example of this. I watched with awe as Josie Pearson (GB), an athlete with a broken neck, won a gold medal with a distance of 6.58 metres in the discus.
You will have seen many more amazing examples of people being given space to fulfil their potential, whatever their disability or injury.
However, there are many examples where there is a lack of equality in society, such as in the NHS where 'women make up almost 75 per cent of the NHS workforce but are concentrated in the lower-paid occupational areas' (Department of Health, 2005).
Diversity, however, is a very different word and literally means difference. When used properly it is about both individual as well as group differences. It commends us to treat all people as individuals, while valuing and celebrating the fact that we are all different. In fact, it encourages those differences to manifest themselves.
Again the Paralympics demonstrate this beautifully, as we were treated to a number of different 100-metre men's and women's finals with various categories for athletes with specific and very different disabilities from wheelchair races, to races for the partially sighted, for blind athletes with a running partner, the 'blade-runners' and many more.
I support the Diversity and Equality Act (October 2010) because it says to people, 'It is good to be different and there is space in British society for you'. In fact there is space for the Secular Society and for the Church, space for community schools and for church-run schools. There is space … isn't there?