War and the Christian Worldview: Human Rights and Christianity

By Dr. Amanda Jenkins, Faculty, College of Theology

constitution and the cross for human rights and christianity

Part five in the seven-part series War and The Christian Worldview

Grand Canyon University was founded with a Christian worldview to give students a better curriculum for their education. This week, Dr. Amanda Jenkins explains how human rights and Christianity are related and how they tie into human creation in the image of God.

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Below is a transcript of War and the Christian Worldview, episode 5, Human Rights and Christianity:

Hello, I am Dr. Amanda Jenkins a professor for the College of Theology and theological seminary at Grand Canyon University and today we're talking about Christianity and how it deals with human rights overall in general.

I'm going to start us off with talking about Thomas Aquinas and something that we call a natural law. So Aquinas is one of our fathers as far as theology goes, helping us to make a kind of discourse with what we believe constructs Christianity. He writes something that actually many countries base their legal codes upon, something called natural law. What natural law posits is that there is something inside of humanity that gives them an instinct toward right or wrong

We naturally know something is good versus naturally knowing something is bad. We see this in small ways. Something as simple as when you go to a restroom, and it says it is the law and common courtesy to wash your hands in the public restrooms there. This is natural law; that’s because we know what germs are. It is right and good for us to not inflict those germs on other people. We also see it in broad strokes if we think about something in Nazi Germany.

It was the positive law, meaning that it was the law of Nazi Germany to corral and put Jews into concentration camps. But the world, and then later the U.N. after, decide that actually it's against what is good and right to inflict these types of things even if it is the positive law. It's against the natural law and so the natural law is actually one of the things that we put forward as organizing thoughts for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — for other things that we see of course on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are pantheists and there are atheists on this as well but many people even from other world views are also going to argue that we do inherently have these things that we say are right and wrong.

So, then we move forward a little bit to C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis writes in the first chapter of Mere Christianity that there is a moral law here. There's a law of the universe and in which we actually all believe that there are some things we should do and some things that we shouldn't do. He says that you may think that it's fine to steal someone else's seat but if someone steals your seat, you're going to say that this is inherently wrong.

We have these types of things built into us and so what this is saying, overarchingly — what we see Thomas Aquinas arguing, what we see C.S. Lewis arguing, what we even see built into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — is that there are some things that are inherently good or inherently bad and that all of us have something inside of us that actually begins to tell us this.

Human Beings are Made in the Image of God

If we look at the beginning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it talks about all human beings having inherent dignity and worth and inherent dignity. Worth is something that, when we think about it, means that being human gives you something. It gives you dignity to have rights to some particular things. It gives you worth and this it comes out of the Christian worldview. Where we believe that all human beings are made in the image of God and to be an image bearer means two things in particular.

The first thing that it means is that as image bearers we have inherent dignity and worth regardless of anything else in life — regardless of our ethnicity, regardless of our socioeconomic status, regardless of our intelligence level, regardless of socioeconomics. We all have inherent dignity and worth as image bearers and then also as image barriers we have capacities to actually image or reflect God in some ways. We have capacities to image goodness. We have capacities to image freedom. We have capacities to image justice, righteousness, peace. These things that God is he gives distinctively to humans over anything else in all of creation.

Human beings have the ability different from puppies or cabbages to actually display their image bearer-ness and these different attributes of peace or love or goodness or justice here. So, when we're talking about the Christian worldview we're specifically saying here that we believe first off that there is something inherent to all humans where we know that there are things that are right or wrong and, second, we believe that all human beings have inherent rights to dignity and worth. Many other worldviews affirm this. This is why as I said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came about because people said “actually, we can't say that people should be marginalized or put aside or murdered or oppressed because of particular things.”

And so, when we think about the Christian worldview, specifically, how do we live out these things? How do we live out our natural law? How do we live out the moral law of the universe or specifically our capacities as image bearers? One of the things that all Christians are called to do is to live up to some of these capacities. We're to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. When we distort these things, we're distorting part of what we were created to do but even more so than that. What I would argue is what we see in Galatians 6:10 is that we do good at all times especially to those in the family of believers and so as Christians we're called to actually walk into this goodness.

We're called to humanize people and by humanizing we allow them to live up to their capacities. Where they are made to experience peace capacities. Where they are made to experience justice capacities. Where they are made to experience goodness and so we live out our image baroness by doing these things.

Also, we humanize others by allowing them to live out their capacities in these ways, so we do good to all especially to those in the family of believers. So, if we are a Christian and we're talking about human rights we primarily seek to help our brothers and sisters, our family of believers. This should be our first organizing factor. Over and above political lines, over and above other things, is that when we see an image bearer who has been distorted, we are, one, upset because we do good to all, but we particularly move to help other Christians.

We are obligated to them as family members to care for, to pray, to help, to come alongside of and to mourn with those who mourn, to rejoice at times with those who rejoice. When we're talking specifically about Christianity and about human rights what we see is that Christianity is committed to human rights inherently to creation in Genesis 1. God gives humanity his image which means that they have the rights to justice and goodness from their creator; of course, this gets distorted in the fall.

Other image-bearers take away the rights for these things. We see that the world does not function and all of the goodness that it's supposed to, but this is what human beings were created for. They were created for dignity and worth and they were created to be able to reflect these things and receive these things.

Read other blogs in this War and the Christian Worldview series and learn about theology and ministry degree programs offered by GCU's College of Theology today.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.