In conversation with a friend about my forthcoming book, he mentioned something that really got me thinking. He said:
For 30 years it has been a rights oriented theology from the majority of the churches, and when Christians embrace rights as dogma, the secular community will also, with horrific consequences.
Lets unpack that a little.
The high value which Americans place on their rights is deeply rooted in American culture. The Declaration of Independence—essentially the nation's birth certificate—makes a case for inalienable rights which are endowed on us by our Creator. It also sparked a war. And since that time, claiming and even fighting for our rights is normative in the culture.
First Corinthians tells us that we have been bought with a price (6:20) and consequently have become slaves of Christ (7:22). A slave has no rights. They are completely subject to their Master. In that context, demanding rights is an act of rebellion.
On the other hand, Galatians 4:7 tells us that we are no longer slaves, but rather God's children and heirs. From that position, everything is ours and we are royal children of the King of the universe.
Which might leave you wondering, which one is it?
Well, both! From Heaven's perspective, these two paradigms walk hand in hand. But it only works when we have love. (See 1 Cor 13:1-3). When we have love, our delight is to do the will of the One our heart adores. While at the same time, his love is poured out in our hearts—filling us with the fulness of our desires. When we have love, there is no reason to demand our rights. Rather, we have the privilege of laying down our rights—knowing that nothing can take our true identity from us.
So what are some of the consequences of a rights oriented theology?
When the church is focused on rights, they are not walking in the fulness of love. They have wandered away from the calling for which they have been purchased. Demanding rights destroys intimacy; and for the Christian, that leads to losing sight of our Lord and his ways.
The things we are going through are either making us sweeter, better, and nobler men and women, or they are making us more critical and fault-finding, and more insistent on our own way. The things that happen either make us evil, or they make us more saintly, depending entirely on our relationship with God and its level of intimacy.
The farther we get from following after the things of Father God's heart, the less we will resemble the love described in 1 Cor 13; and the less we will experience in our lives the fruit described in Gal 5:22-23.
John wrote that God is light, and totally without darkness. When the church walks in the ways of the Father, they shine and the communities in which they shine will not be dark. That's what the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is a lot about. You are the light of the world, and you shine through love; not by demanding your rights.
Why is it dark here? Because there is too little light.
A couple of concrete examples. (These might not be so popular with some readers...)
Demanding to not wear a mask or to not honor social distancing guidelines during a pandemic is, in essence, broadcasting to the spiritual world that you value your comfort over the health of your neighbor. Claiming the right to carry a weapon is, in essence, showing that you do not value the life of a person whose actions may conflict with your goals. I could go on, but I hope you get the point.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
(Galatians 5:13 NIV)
A couple of the major social issue battlefields in which the American church is engaged are the issues of gender and abortion. Both of these issues are framed as rights: reproductive rights, gay rights, etc. The problem is that a Christianity which is focused on claiming its own rights, has absolutely no moral or spiritual authority to restrict these or any other perceived rights.
The "darkness" we perceive in the advance of reproductive rights, gay rights, or any of the other social changes which we might ascribe to an evil agenda, is not a result of the strength of the enemy. Darkness can only increase where light diminishes. In this context, rights oriented theology effectively hides the lamp of the church under a bowl (see Matt 5:15-16).