There is probably a lot wrong with what follows, not least the spelling and grammatical mistakes, but I’m trying to flesh out some thoughts:
Iâ€™m a political and international affairs junkie. Even since Jr. High School, as a paperboy at a young age of 13, I would read through the newspaper nightly, watch the network news telecasts and then turn over to PBS to watch the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour. Okay, I was a freak. So, I focused on Political Science, Sociology, and History for my Bachelorâ€™s degree (while spending most of my spare time in the campus ministry I was a part of). I know well the issues and demands surrounding â€œcivil-rightsâ€ for all kinds of different groups of people that are not part of the majority. Empathetically, I know far less of the trials and tribulations of peoples who have had to and continue to suffer under the prejudices, bigotry, and discrimination of far too many people within the majority. There is nothing new under the sun. I do know from my own personal distinguishing marks what it is like to be the center of the majorityâ€™s conversations, arguments, denunciations, and social and religious decision making concerning â€œmeâ€ (a class of people) without my input, however.
I looked up the term â€œcivicâ€ just to make sure I hadnâ€™t missed some more nuanced definitions of the word. Itâ€™s pretty straightforward: â€œof or related to citizen, a city, citizenship, or civil affairs,â€ to quote the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Law. The word has its root in the Latin â€œcivicusâ€ or â€œof a citizenâ€ (according to the Online Etymology Dictionary) and translated more specifically, â€œcitizenâ€ (according to the American Heritage Dictionary). I also looked up the word, â€œcivil.â€ There is much overlap in the way people use the two words, but â€œcivilâ€ also denotes the way in which we behave within the contexts of society and the relationships we engage in between groups and individuals.
We should all be â€œcivilâ€ in our â€œcivicâ€ lives. If I wanted to translate the secular and civic vocabulary of the previous sentence into the verbiage of the Christian Faith, I might suggest the words Jesusâ€™ second great commandment: â€œThou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.â€ (Mark 12:31; Matthew 22:39; and by extension Luke 6:31 or Leviticus 19:18)
From the U.S. Declaration of Independence from England, we find these words
â€œWe hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.â€
Then, there is the Equal Protection Clause in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
As a citizen of the United States, Iâ€™m glad these words are part of the documents of governance that we uphold and strive to obey. In our civic lives, we can advocate for and even demand that these rights be upheld and applied to all people (even though, from what I remember and perhaps incorrectly, when they used the word â€œmenâ€ originally, that is exactly what they meant â€“ the males of the species, and actually white, landed, men).
As citizens of the United States of America, I content that it is the right, privilege, and obligation of all citizens to be engaged in securing and protecting the equally applied and defended rights of all people. â€œRightsâ€ language is properly situated within this kind of discourse and action.
Iâ€™ve heard many Church people advocate for and protest on behalf of civic rights for dispossessed people groups, which is certainly an appropriate course of action for Christian citizens for the betterment of our society. Before I became an Episcopalian, I followed the goings on in the mainline denominations and listened carefully to the arguments for equal treatment of people within the various denominations begin to more often center on the word, â€œRights.â€ The language and understandings used to justify the demand for changing the non-equal practices within the various Church bodies, whether because of skin color, gender, or sexual-orientation, sounded increasingly like civic discourse rather than the language and understanding of the Church. Socio-political understanding and verbiage began taking precedence over theological and ecclesiastic understanding and verbiage.
Within the Christian faith tradition I grew up in, the idea that as Christians we die to self and give up all our â€œrights,â€ understood in the civic sense, was commonly discussed and emphasized. This wasnâ€™t an attempt by leaders to subjugate congregants or to retain power, since we were congregational in governance, but put into proper perspective the differences between of civic and religious understandings of how we are to relate to one another. (Obviously, sometimes abuses occurred in religious culture and still do as in civic culture).
Christianity uses different concepts and language to deal with unjustified perceptions of other people that tend to denigrate their God-blessed humanity. To anyone that wants to deny the assertion that all humans are equally of Godâ€™s purposeful design, there is Galatians 3:27-29:
â€œâ€¦for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
At the heart of our consideration of how we want to and how we ought to consider and treat one another the significant difference between the intent and language of the civic minded and the faith minded is the difference between concepts of â€œrightsâ€ and â€œlove.â€
I believe it is a mistaken application of civic â€œRightsâ€ language when we talk of our interactions and treatment of one another within the Church. For the Christian, at the point when we decide to declare our intent to follow Jesus (when we become born anew), we give up all of our â€œrights.â€ Why? Because we give ourselves freely to be transformed out of our culture-bound misunderstanding of Godâ€™s Way (a mal-formation) in order to more fully be brought into the Body of Christ, the Family of God (a re-formation).
Our cause as Christians within the context of the Church is not to fight for rights! I have no rights. Our cause is to fight for the common, consistent, and complete application of Christâ€™s command to â€œlove one another as we love ourselves!â€ The language is a language of â€œlove,â€ not â€œrights.â€ There is no â€œrightâ€ to baptism. There is no â€œrightâ€ to communion. There is no â€œrightâ€ to leadership. There is no â€œrightâ€ to ordination. Justice in the Christian sense is not that we treat everyone the same, but that we treat everyone appropriately. (Because there are those who misapply this idea, who remain in their mal-formed state, does not mean the concept is corrupt or wrong, but that we fallible humans are.)
When we descend into civic rights language for Church purposes, as in â€œI or this group has a right to be considered for leadership at all levels of the Church and including Holy Orders,â€ we open up for other people the â€œrightâ€ to work to deny equal consideration of all people alike. When we get into the language of â€œrights,â€ we open up the â€œrightâ€ to deny â€œrights,â€ else we act hypocritically.
Instead, we have a privilege and sacred obligation! If we want to be Christian, we are commanded to and must obey the call to â€œloveâ€ one another, as God defines such a word. (John 15:10-15) As Christians, we have a sacred obligation. We do not have the â€œrightâ€ to not love another person, treat them with considered respect that looks like and is received as respectful intent by our opponent. I donâ€™t have â€œrightsâ€ in the Church; I have the obligation to loveâ€¦ therefore I do not have the â€œrightâ€ to not treat others as I want to be treated. Hear from the Gospel writers:
â€œThen he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Luke 6:27-32 –
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.â€
There are issues of social or civic concern that all citizens need to be aware of and engaged in whether Christian or not. There are issues of concern within the Church that on the surface may seem identical to the civic endeavor, but are to be understood on a fundamental level differently from concerns of the citizenry of the State. There are often overlaps between the civic and the religious, but for the Christian in the context of religious affairs the beginning point (the entire point) is to â€œlove,â€ not to demand â€œrights.â€ The foundations of thought, ideology, and methodology by which we deal with issues of how we regard and treat other people are different, or at least should be. Frankly, if we incorporate the Christian difference as Christians within the civic arena, we truly will be a â€œpeculiar peopleâ€ (I Peter 2:9 KJV).
The language of civic discourse concerning the way we treat one another is, “Rights.” The language of Christian discourse concerning the way we treat one another is, “Love.” As we confuse the two, as we are rabidly apt to do these days, we open within the Church the “right” of those who wish to deny “rights.” It is forbidden of us to not “love” our neighbor as ourselves, to not treat others as we want to be treated.