In the Bible, there are very few rights we are given by nature of our status as humans, and any of these can be taken away by impersonal circumstances. Instead, God focuses on human responsibilities. We are responsible to enforce justice and extend mercy (Micah 6:8). If everyone concentrated on what they are supposed to do, rights wouldn’t be an issue. We would receive what we need.
With so much conversation about “rights,” it is not surprising when Christians inject this rights language even into our faith life. Christians can easily lose sight of our responsibilities to others when we prioritize self-interested “rights” over Christ’s teaching. Instead of seeing every moment as an opportunity to share the love of Christ, too much focus on ourselves can create a bunker mentality, in which we lash out reflexively against a world we believe is out to strip us of our freedoms at every turn.
For North Americans, we can see a subtle shift away from Jesus’ teaching when discussing “rights.” North Americans are proficient at discussing what they have a “right” to do. There’s a right to privacy, a right to speech, a right to practice one’s religion, etc. New rights are proclaimed at a seemingly increasing pace. But this focus on “rights” language can draw us away from the heart of the Gospel. We essentially become burdened with an array of rights that, rather than allowing us to do what we ought, isolates us from our neighbors who often have competing rights that supersede our own.
The influence that the Bible has had on our culture is difficult to ignore. However, you may not agree with this characterization of history, and you may not share our opinion of the Bible’s importance in regard to social justice or human rights. In fact, you have the freedom to disagree with us. And it is to that freedom, religious freedom, we now turn.
The Christian must strive, by the grace of God, to break out of these awful, self-centered attitudes. That said, Christians do well to uphold certain rights when they are in the service of a true good. All our focus on rights must give way to a renewed focus on our collective responsibilities to each other.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazis for his part in an assassination plot against Adolf Hitler, wrote extensively about Christian freedom, Christian engagement on the world stage, and the importance of a free exchange of ideas. He wrote, “The essential freedom of the church is not a gift of the world to the church but the freedom of the Word of God to make itself heard.” What he is saying here is that the Bible has its own authority and its own freedom. The truth found in the Bible needs only to stand and be presented.
Whether you choose to believe the Bible or not, whether you choose to read it or not, there is little cause for doubt that the Bible continues to have an impact on our culture. There are reasons, beyond mere habit, why it is a source of comfort in days of national strife and mourning. There is a reason why you can find it behind the scenes, supporting the structure of our society. We would like to propose the radical idea that the Bible is a unique text that is more than just another book, more than a mere collection of stories; it is a revelation of divine character.
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