Why Bother with Human Rights?
Posted by Rick Manafo on March 30, 2017
Topic: UA Summit
Human rights are important to all of us because we’re all human, right? The United Nations lists 30 human rights that should apply to all people. From the right to equality, to the right to a fair public hearing, to the right to rest and leisure, there is a sense that these are rights all human beings should enjoy.
But if human rights exist simply because we’re human, then why did it take so long to arrive at such a universal list? Why, even today, do many human beings around the globe not enjoy these rights?
In many parts of Western culture, we take human rights for granted. We overlook the abuses that are happening in other parts of the world and, when it’s convenient, we even overlook the travesties that are right under our noses.
In antiquity, the Romans began talking about something they referred to as “Natural Law”—something that should be intuitive to all people about all people. The Apostle Paul referred to it as the law that was written on all human hearts (Romans 2:15). However, as we are well aware, power corrupts even the noblest of ideas. Despite its advanced thought, the Roman Empire exploited and oppressed many people.
In order to advocate for human rights, one cannot believe whatever one wishes. One must believe that all human beings are equal and that each and every person on earth has a dignity worth protecting. When that belief breaks down, human rights are in jeopardy. Things like racism, caste systems, human trafficking, and even genital mutilation become part of a culture. But belief and words are not enough.
For instance, one cannot believe that women are equal to men and yet support disparity in salary and recognition for performance of the same work. Believing that no one should be tortured or degraded should incite rage in us and spur us to resist things like human trafficking and the pornography industry.
Belief is important—the right belief is even more important. The idea that all people are created equal comes from the Judeo-Christian worldview. Only that worldview unabashedly states that human beings are who they are—by design—and should be treated respectfully.
Some accuse the Bible of being the catalyst behind some of the atrocities in our world – from slavery to the Holocaust. However a closer reading of the biblical text shows that even slaves, products not of a divine directive but of human brokenness, were to be treated with dignity and presented a road to emancipation. The Bible teaches us to consider others better than ourselves and to love and forgive those who do evil things against us. The biblical narrative directs people to Jesus, who came to heal and redeem and be near to those who were outcasts of society.
But Jesus was interested in much more than just human rights; he was interested in making humans right with God. That’s where the cycle is broken. Love God and love others as yourself.
People who claim to believe that Jesus came out of love for all people—to tear down walls, to make the world right—should be on the leading edge of ensuring that all people understand how valued they are as human beings. They then must go beyond words and take action in our world.
Consider attending RZIM Canada’s Summit on Human Rights July 12-15 in Winnipeg, MB. There, we will grow in our understanding of human rights and how we can help make them a reality in our culture and around the world.