Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Civil Rights vs Human Rights

I recently saw a headline referring to a very large Christian denomination stating certain rights are not civil rights.

What are civil rights? According to an online dictionary, civil rights are: "rights to personal liberty established by the 13th Amendment (neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the U.S., or any place subject to their jurisdiction.) and 14th Amendment (all persons born or naturalized in the U.S., and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the U.S. and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the U.S.; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.) to the U.S. constitution and certain Congressional acts, especially as applied to an individual or a minority group; the rights to full legal, social, and economic equality."

So, what are human rights? According to the same online dictionary, they are defined as "fundamental rights, especially those believed to belong to an individual and in whose exercise a government may not interfere, as the rights to speak, associate, work, etc."

So, from what these definitions and the Bill of Rights state, civil rights and human rights are pretty much interchangeable, therefore any and all rights afforded to the citizens of the Republic are, in fact, civil rights. But, with rights come responsibilities. Freedom isn't free, after all. Freedom is only achieved by the sacrifice made by those who have fought to purchase that freedom. Whether that sacrifice be the time and energy they have expended to fight to ensure the freedom or the ultimate sacrifice of losing one's life to ensure that others have that freedom.

As Christians, our freedom in God was purchased by the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. As citizens of these United States of America, our freedom was purchased by the men and women who fought for independence from England in the Revolutionary War and those who fought and died in every war since. So then, what are our responsibilities for the freedom and rights we have?

Our first responsibility is to ensure that no single person or group is denied the freedoms and rights we hold dear. Even if we don't agree with their speech, assembly or affiliations, we must respect their rights to those things. We, ourselves, want to exercise our right to speak freely what is in our hearts and minds, to assemble with those who are of like-mind and to affiliate ourselves with groups that share our opinions, beliefs and ideas. Therefore, we must respect the fact that there are those who have different opinions, beliefs and ideas from ours and afford them the same right to speak, assemble and affiliate.

Often, as Christians, we think it is our responsibility to forbid people from doing things which we believe to be sinful. It's not. Our responsibility as Christians, as defined by Jesus and the Apostles, is to spread the Good News that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. That no one can attain relationship with God except through Jesus Christ and to pray for those who have yet to make that commitment to serving the King and kings and Lord of lords.

When we try to forbid people from things we consider to be sinful, or wrong, we are standing in judgment of those people. Now, I know many Christians who would answer me by saying that we are to judge people by their fruits, which is, in fact, true. However, you and I are unable to see the fruits of most people's lives. The fruits we are to judge by are clearly defined by Paul: "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." For most of the people, and groups, we place judgment on, we do not see them living their daily lives, therefore we cannot judge if these fruits are present or missing in their lives. Even if we do have the chance to observe their daily lives, we are only allowed to judge whether they are exhibiting the fruits listed above, not whether they are saint or sinner, accepted or unaccepted by God. That judgment is reserved for Jesus, only.

I know many people who are members of minority groups that are ostracized and demonized by the "church", today, who exhibit every one of the fruits Paul listed. And many more who demonstrate most of them. I also know many "Christians" who are not demonstrating those fruits or are missing several in their own lives. Does that, then, give me the right to judge them? No! It only gives me the right to pray for them!

I know many people think they are being good Christians by battling what they see as sinful living, but the Word of God tells us our battle is not against flesh and blood, that the tools of our warfare are prayer and fasting. Why then are so many Christians fighting against people or groups of people? Why are so many Christians fighting to prevent others from enjoying the very rights they themselves are complaining that they're losing? You cannot demand your civil/human rights while denying them to others. That's called hypocrisy. That's exactly how the scribes and Pharisees and the sadducees and the temple leaders, the high priest and the Roman leaders of Jesus' day treated Jesus and the disciples. The very messages that Christ preached and taught throughout Judea in the first century were about the wrong being perpetrated in God's name by those people and groups. They wanted the right to say and do what they felt and believed while restricting others from having the same rights simply because those people didn't believe or behave the way they felt they should.

So, my prayer is that each and every person in this country, whether Christian or atheist, Buddhist or Jewish, native born or naturalized will remember that just because we disagree doesn't mean we cannot exist in this great land in peaceful co-existence. And I pray that we remember the lessons of the Crusades: we cannot force someone to be born again and convert to Christianity by forcing them to behave according to our beliefs and our interpretation of Scripture.