Official and Operant Baptist Human Rights

hr-day-graphicLast year as every year the Baptist World Alliance encouraged Baptist Churches throughout the world to observe a Human Rights Sunday. This is the Sunday in December closest to the 10th December which is Human Rights Day.

This year they encouraged:

“During this years’ 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, their clear articulated commitment to human rights, or if they do make know 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 UK 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, others that this is a political issue rather than a theological one. All of these responses probabaly 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 which 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 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 defence, 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 he theological grounding of human rights in general there are several valid approaches but let me in this post remain seasonal or rather 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 cliches about God becoming human in a vulnerable baby – a real baby if one wishes to maintain orthodoxy. In order to emphasise this people get quite creative.Yet, this part of the redemption good news story, God becoming human,  tends along with the 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 Nazereth. In turn this one human, the story proclaims has universal significance he was not just for a nation but for the nations, the Saviour 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 recognised, where Herod like powers and interests needs to be spelled out in practice – for all flesh – that is what human rights seeks to do. The official lines on this, however, need to encouraged to become operant.

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