by Rev. Brad Sheppard, Immanuel Presbyterian Church
In today’s American political and cultural climate it is not unusual to hear someone speak of their “God given rights.” There is a long and varied history among philosophers, ethicists, theologians, politicians and just about everyone else about what rights human beings receive by God. Personally, as someone both interested in and committed to human rights I believe that there are numerous inalienable rights belonging to all humans. As both a Christian and a citizen of the United States I find it my duty and obligation to defend those rights not only for myself but for others as well—especially those most at risk of losing their rights.
Yet, I think as a Christian that the talk of God given rights can and oftentimes falls short. When the language of “God given rights” is used it is frequently in support of a particular personal liberty and without regard for other people. For instance, a person may say their freedom to speech is a God given right even when their speech is offensive, hurtful or hateful. Or someone may defend their right to a firearm by saying it is a God given right even when the legal possession of certain military grade firearms puts people and communities at great risks. So I think if we stop at God given rights we will likely miss the mark as followers of Jesus.
I can’t recall places in the Bible where Jesus talks about personal rights; but I can certainly recall instances where Jesus talks about communal responsibilities. Jesus not only expected particular attitudes and actions from his followers he often commanded them. Consider some of what he called followers to do—
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Not only did Jesus give specific commands but he lived a life for others—feeding, healing, forgiving, restoring, encouraging, loving. To live and walk in the way of Jesus is to live a life centered on others. We are called and commanded by Jesus’ words and deeds to live compassionately in relationship with Him and with others—family, friends and foes.
When many around speak of “God given rights” particularly as a quick defense for personal liberties let us be quick to practice our “Christ given responsibilities.” May we live fully and wholeheartedly for others practicing compassion, forgiveness and love. May our actions reflect that we are followers of Jesus and committed to his way of love.