Human rights are commonly understood as fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.
The Baptist World Alliance is promoting Human Rights Day on Dec. 7-8 (depending upon whether they worship on Saturday or Sunday) around the world.
The date coincides with the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 after the conclusion of World War II.
The declaration includes 30 articles; it states that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth “without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The opening statement in the preamble says the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
I believe this is a strong statement and a worthy goal for the global family, but my foundation for human rights is rooted in my faith experience.
It finds its foundation in the creative activity of God, the giver of all life. We are all brothers and sisters by creation, and we are bound together by our common humanity.
Jesus urges us to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). We cannot and were not meant to live in isolation from each other, but in relationships, communities and societies.
These relationships and the larger communities were to be governed by justice, mercy and compassion.
Jesus’ words in the sixth chapter of Luke make it clear that the standard for how we treat each other is not based on whether we deserve it, like each other or trust each other. There is a deeper, more significant foundation for how we treat each other.
In a world where fear and greed become the foundation of many relationships, God’s children are to be advocates for a different approach. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and personal safety because each person is seen as a child of God.
A Christian cannot accept any type of slavery, torture, cruel treatment or discrimination because these are incompatible with the teachings of our faith and the nature of God as we know him through Christ.
Yet for a Christian, our understanding of human rights goes well beyond the obvious injustices.
We must lift up the fallen, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for the sick, visit the prisoners, speak for the voiceless and love our enemies.
What does it mean for the Baptists of North America to promote human rights? As people of faith we must stand with the oppressed peoples around the world.
We cannot remain silent in the face of injustice and inhumanity. We cannot allow our greed and lifestyles to be an excuse for the oppression of people in other parts of the world.
Much of the American church has bought into the scarcity mentality and systems of greed in our country, which pit people against each other instead of promoting community.
A growing percentage of our own population lives below the poverty level, and many people go hungry in the wealthiest nation in the world.
Millions of Americans do not have access to quality, affordable health care because we have made health care into one of our most profitable marketplaces rather than a basic human right.
In our criminal justice system, the wealthy and the privileged that are guilty are far better off than the poor and the minorities who are innocent.
Human trafficking and slavery are a reality in our country as they are in many parts of the world.
Religious oppression still exists in a country founded upon the principles of religious liberty. We cannot speak with authority to the world family about human rights until we take a serious look at our own communities.
Jesus called for a radical realignment of human values and relationships. Americans like to talk about “their” rights, but as children of God we are to stand for the rights of the oppressed and the vulnerable.
Human rights is not just an issue in troubled regions of our world. It is an issue right here where we live every day.
When will the church stand up and say injustice is wrong? When will the people of God stand up for the basic human rights of “every person” in our communities and around the world?
Jesus’ parable said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Human rights is not an abstract exercise for conversation, it is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it should be the passion and mission of every person who bears his name.
Jim Hill is executive director of Churchnet, a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, and president of the North American Baptist Fellowship. He blogs at Our First Priority, and you call follow him on Twitter @myfirstpriority.