Human rights or responsibilities?


The disastrous effect of human rights on the gospel.

It’s been 61 years since the United Nations drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 11 years since the British Government passed the Humans Rights Act 1998. The legal debate which followed has focused on the rights of one individual or group over and against another – when two rights clash, we ask “whose rights take precedence?” High profile cases include: Asylum seekers or local communities? The dress code of religious people or company policy? The unborn child or the mother? The terminally ill or society at large? The gay, lesbian and bisexual community or those who want to promote heterosexual ethics to their children?

I believe there is sufficient evidence from 11 years of argument, bungled legislation, compromise and public dismay to say, “this is not working, what shall we do?” The entire project of granting individuals or groups of people rights over and against each other does not work. It only generates self-interest, division, discord and anger.

What are we to do? The answer must be to stop talking about human rights. But what would rights be replaced with? Another way to phrase human rights is in terms of human responsibilities. Instead of granting rights to the powerless, give responsibility to the powerful. Instead of the right to life, the responsibility not to murder. Instead of the right of liberty, the responsibility not to enslave. Instead of the right to security, the responsibility not to endanger. Instead of the right to justice, the responsibility to be just. Instead of the right to possess, the responsibility to share. Responsibility forms the basis of the 10 commandments. God’s wisdom is to make us each take responsibility for our actions.

I am a minister of the gospel of Christ. In the gospel, God is King. As King he commands that we each take responsibility for our actions before him and that one day we’ll be judged by him. We soon realise, however, that we can’t keep those commandments and so we need a Saviour, who is Jesus Christ.

For the generation which has grown up with the all invasive human rights legislation, the gospel makes no sense. After all, why would I need a Saviour if I have a right to life, even, perhaps, eternal life. To the members of the “it’s my right” culture, the idea that God would expect anything of us is entirely alien. A human rights mindset puts me at the centre of the universe and it turns God into a another agent of my rights not an awesome creator God who demands we each take responsibility before him.

So what are we to do? I’d say we refuse the dilemma of whose right takes precedent over whose. We should argue instead for a responsibilities based legal system, for the sake of the gospel.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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