Helping More Churches Commit to Supporting Human Rights


To say that it matters in a world where this may not be recognized, ... that is what human rights seeks to do, Blythe says. (Image courtesy of winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The Baptist World Alliance encourages Baptist churches throughout the world to observe a Human Rights Sunday each year.

This is the Sunday in December closest to Dec. 10, which is Human Rights Day.

This year the BWA encouraged: "During this year's celebration, Baptists are encouraged to 'stand up for someone's rights today,' this year's Human Rights Day theme, by being living witnesses of Proverbs 31:8-9: 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.'"

At this and other official levels, Baptists articulate a commitment to human rights.

From my experience in Scotland, I doubt that few know of this BWA day and their clear articulated commitment to human rights. Or if they do know, few make any reference to it in Sunday services.

That is at the level of practice the operant theology of Baptists at least in Scotland if not indeed the United Kingdom and Europe. There is no operant articulated commitment to human rights.

Why is this so?

Some say that human rights are not mentioned in the Bible, others that people under God have responsibilities not rights, and still others that this is a political issue rather than a theological one.

All of these responses probably betray that the lack of attention given to the issue of human rights in Baptist preaching and worship is the ongoing inherent dualism in evangelical theology, or at least large parts of it, between the personal and the social.

Overcoming this dualism contextually does indeed require engaging in hermeneutics that goes beyond dealing only with issues as so named in the Scriptures but this is no more than is also required of some doctrinal issues, such as the Trinity.

I think that there are clear theological grounds for the support of human rights as an important feature of human living.

I do not mean that people need to accept these theological grounds in order to support human rights, as many who support them do not.

Rather, for those who do believe in the God revealed primarily in the person of Jesus Christ, I think that there are specifically compelling faith-based reasons to support their defense, implementation and development of human rights at an international and concurrently necessary international level.

It is clear, however, that this is a case that needs to be made rather than being assumed as accepted.

In approaching the theological grounding of human rights in general, there are several valid approaches. But let me in this post argue that the incarnation is not a seasonal doctrine but essential.

Here I simply reflect that much has recently been made of the incarnation - all these sermons and clichés about God becoming human in a vulnerable baby, a real baby if one wishes to maintain orthodoxy.

In order to emphasize this, people get quite creative. Yet, this part of the redemption good news story, God becoming human, tends, along with the Christmas decorations, to be put back into the box for most of the year.

Instead, we get on with the real themes of death and resurrection. These are big themes, indeed.

Yet, the one who died and was raised was this Jesus - his death and resurrection and all associated divine meanings are deeply embedded or better embodied in his humanity.

He did not, as it were, become less than human or cease to be fully human - God raised Jesus of Nazareth.

In turn, this one human, the story proclaims, has universal significance. He was not just for a nation but also for the nations, the Savior of the world it is claimed.

God, it seems to me, was pretty committed to the human project in his goal and method of salvation.

Humans matter - let us start there. They all do.

God, indeed, revealed God's value of humanity not simply in creation, nor even in salvation, but in his approach to salvation - becoming flesh; human flesh matters.

To say that it matters in a world where this may not be recognized, where Herod-like powers and interests needs to be spelled out in practice - for all flesh - that is what human rights seek to do.

The official lines on this, however, need to be encouraged to become operant.

Stuart Blythe is rector of International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Politurgy, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @StuartMBlythe.

Editor's note: Glen Stassen (1936-2014), former Fuller Seminary Theological Seminary professor, discussed Baptists and human rights in a 2012 video interview with EthicsDaily.com.

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Tags: Baptist World Alliance, Baptists, Human Rights, Stuart Blythe


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