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Friday, February 7, 2014

Should Christians Demand Their Rights

It's no secret that religiously conservative Christians are all but absent when it comes to activism especially when it promotes social justice and the rights of others. They are all but absent except for perhaps the abortion and 2nd amendment rights issues. But outside of that, religiously conservative Christians have an aversion to protesting for rights especially for the rights of the disadvantaged in society. There are a number of reasons why but perhaps one of the reasons is what is written in I Corinthians 9. A sermon on this passage (click here) is included and given by Reverend Steve Constable (click here) from Stony Point Presbyterian Church outside of Richmond Virginia.

In his sermon, Constable talks about how the Apostle Paul voluntarily surrendered his rights so that he could better minister to the Corinthian church. And this was done despite the fact that Paul could claim a number of rights that were associated with being an apostle. The list of those rights can be found Scripture passage included in the link to the sermon. In most cases, the Christian reasoning with regard to demanding rights is that they must be surrendered for Christ. And since we are called to evangelize others, being concerned about their rights takes a back seat to evangelism. And a successful result of evangelism would mean that people become Christians who would surrender their rights. Thus, we end up minimizing the rights of others.

At the same time, we have Occupy Wall Street's (OWS) Declaration Of The Occupation Of New York City (click here). Towards the end of that document is the exhortation to all people to exercise their 'power' and rights. 

So the question is, who is right here? Is Constable correct in telling us to surrender our rights or is OWS correct in calling us to insist on our rights and those of others? The cop out answer, which will be given here, is that both are right within the context in which they speak. As Constable is reflecting on the history of the Church in general and the Corinthian church in particular, the giving up of rights was  done to further the Gospel in a preChristian world and, to an extent, still needs to be done today. It was important back then for Christians to make specific sacrifices to further this new Gospel in the Roman Empire. 

At the same time, when one reads the list of grievances listed in the Declaration Of The Occupation Of New York City, it is moral for those in society, and that would include both Christians and nonChristians, to insist that not only their grievances be merely heard, but that they would be acted on in a satisfactory manner. 

As Christians, we must think of how the reputation of the Gospel would be hurt if our Gospel is associated with the continuation of the abuses listed in the grievances. These grievances include the illegal foreclosure of houses, the poisoning of food, the channeling of wealth to the rich at the expense of all others, the stripping of rights from employees, and the profiting from torture.

Such an association can be made because we live in a time when there is a transitioning from a Christian dominated society to a post Christian nation. Thus, the Church has had, and sometimes continues to have, a close association with the same people who have wealth and power and who are accused of abusing others. This is why the denial of rights to others might sully the reputation of the Gospel. For if the Church does not renounce its past connections and challenge the status quo, the Gospel could very well be associated with such abuses. And if the reputation and furthering of the Gospel is more important than mere imitation of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 9, then perhaps insisting on our own rights and the rights of others might just become a necessary for the Church to practice.

So one of the real obstacles to religiously conservative Christians from becoming involved in advancing people's rights depends on what they see is the focus of passages like I Corinthians 9. Is the main point of this part of Corinthians to get people to imitate how the Apostle Paul denied himself, or is what is most important is his passion for spreading the Gospel in today's world? There will be some Christians who will be too afraid to do anything but imitate. Such imitation is done without understanding because important questions are never asked. As a result, the imitation can amount to nothing more than superstition regardless of the intention.

In a group that is dominated by authoritarianism, imitation is the most likely choice and that is what we see in most religiously conservative Christians. After all, those favoring authoritarianism tend to believe in a world that is simple so that difficult questions need not be asked (click here). Thus, one of the keys to involving religiously conservative Christians in social justice activism in America is to teach them the difference between a Biblical respect for authority from authoritarianism so they can be weaned from the latter. And until that happens, the OWS demand that one's rights be respected and the voluntary surrendering of one's rights as described in Constable's sermon will be seen as mutually exclusive by religiously conservative Christians.

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