For the Health of the Nation: Human Rights (Part 7 of 9)
In 2004 the National Association of Evangelicals released the groundbreaking document For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. This historic document outlines seven different areas of concern for Evangelicals engaged in politics. In an effort to make Christians more aware of this work we are taking nine weeks to highlight the importance of this document. You can read it in its entirety by clicking here.
This week we turn our attention to the incredibly important notion of human rights. Before we begin, however, it is important to highlight an oft forgotten distinction. Human rights are different than civil rights. A civil right is something that a government grants its citizens by law; a human right is something that every person—regardless of where they reside—has by virtue of being made in the image of God. As Stephen Monsma has articulated, “No government gives us our human rights; no government can take them away” (To read more on the distinction between human and civil rights click here).
For the Health of the Nation also begins by noting that human rights are rooted in the Imago Dei (Doctrine of the Image of God). They include having access to basic needs such as food, nurture, shelter, and care, but also having the right to form associations, the ability to hold opinions without fear of governmental intervention, and the rights to private property, raising a family, and educating your children. The authors note that government is not there to provide the basic necessities of life, but rather to maintain a society where no one is unjustly deprived of their resources. Additionally, government should work to strengthen organizations that promote the common good.
The NAE also notes that religious freedom should be protected as a human right. Having the freedom to believe what you choose is foundational for society, and is closely tied to the rights of expression and assembly. However, the authors are quick to caution against expanding the language of “rights” to include areas that need public debate (such as homosexual marriage and assisted-suicide). They point out that calling something a right can unnecessarily and prematurely shut down the public debate on these controversial issues.
Finally, this portion of the document closes by recognizing that, tragically, our own country has had a gross history of violating individual’s human rights. From Native Americans to African Americans, we have not always lived up to our ideals. As followers of Christ we should certainly cherish the blessing that is America, but we must also be willing to point to her failures and prophetically call her to a higher standard.