I didn’t know, back when I passively accepted some of these false teachings—it didn’t even occur to me what the grim outworking, the rotten fruit, would be. But now . . . I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the lives of people I love.
In some Christian circles people are taught, “When you get angry, it’s because you thought you had rights, and you thought those rights were violated, but that just shows your pride and self-centeredness. Everything you have belongs to God, so if you’re unhappy, you’re claiming a right you should have given up, and you’re in sin. You’re not entitled to anything, but God will give you everything you need. So that should make you happy, and if you’re not, you’re in sin.” (This is paraphrased from an explanation of the concept that I found in a forum. My impression was that the one explaining it was a proponent of the teaching.)
So imagine you’re a vulnerable person (for example, a child, or a naïve young woman) in an outwardly Christian home or institution that is covertly extremely abusive. (These are far more common than you might think.) You’re taught that you have no rights.
Then you’re sexually violated. Again and again. Besides whatever threats and manipulation and lies the evil offender might snarl or whisper in the dark or write on the wall with your blood, in your ears is ringing the dictum, “You have no rights. Christians have no rights.”
The full text of this article has now been moved to BJUGrace. Read the rest of it there.
Update October 2016: The study of Christians having rights (and not “yielding” them) is now completely revised and updated in a section of the new book Untwisting Scriptures that have been used to tie you up, gag you, and tangle your mind, which you can read more about here.
This is very well stated. Scriptures teaches that in the end false teachers will come in sheep’s clothing, but are actually ravenous wolves. Beware! They are described here in Galatians 2:4-5 “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” It is the trick of the devil to thwart the truth! That is why we are commanded to take the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God and offensively use it! Thank you Rebecca! May we all, “Stand therefore!” (Eph 6:10 ff)
” But in the society of the United States, with the Bill of Rights? Ones who claim that Christians have no rights will, I believe, still cite the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and other important freedoms that are guaranteed protection in this society according to the government established by our founders.”
You’re right in saying it’s a double standard. There are many in the IFB world, but they are always explained away or ignored. This one was explained as the only reason we have those “rights” are because we are Americans and we have the Bill of Rights, but those are manmade “rights” and we shouldn’t count on them as Christians to always be there. That’s always a good Segway into persecution for the cause of Christ in other countries.
Thank you for writing this out. You hit it exactly. I grew up in a church that did the Gothard seminars until we got a new pastor from BJU that decided the church wasn’t going anymore. The same teaching still was there and came out loud and clear in Sunday School and youth group and in the Christian school. I’m still finding it in my thinking to this day and I haven’t been Baptist for 10 years.
Yes, the teaching has crept into many places. The main blog I referenced was written by a Pensacola grad working in a church pastored by a BJU grad.
Rebecca, you did an awesome job with this. Much of the reason that churches are dead and divided is because they have been following men who have been teaching their own ideas as though they were God’s.
At first, I was thinking that we have no rights in the court of Heaven, only here on earth. But then I thought, even where eternal things are concerned, the saved retain rights given to them through their salvation, and the unsaved retain the right to reject Jesus and to the punishment promised them. Though I’ve had my share of confusion (the monolith can’t be wrong–right? You know what I mean) the truth that we do have rights and can have them violated or could choose to give them up for Christ always seemed so logical. Thanks for clarifying the reasons for my confusion.
WOW! Horizontal rights vs. Vertical rights…… You did an EXCELLENTE` job on this!! Yes, I took this horizontal vs vertical away from this as well as much, much more…. you hit SO many points I can’t begin to enumerate them all. Wow, wow, wow…. acceptance, that’s a big one for me….. thank you. I’m going to share on my wall.
[…] was featured on Recovering Grace, which was pretty cool. Recovering Grace also recently linked to a blog post about Gothard’s teachings on giving up rights, which I highly recommend that you read. I had several major “ah-ha!” moments when […]
This is so helpful. Thank you. I remember being very confused by the story of Soviet dissenter Alexander Ogorodnikov, who was cruelly persecuted for his faith. But he vocally protested the torture, the substandard living conditions, the lack of food, not only on behalf of his fellow prisoners but also on his own behalf. He waged a hunger strike in order to get a Bible. He was dignified, strong, articulate, and kind, but he was anything but passive. I felt intuitively that his actions were right and noble, but I had always been taught (implicitly at least) that the godly reaction to persecution is passivity, and that standing up for yourself is wrong: only standing up for Jesus counts as right action. The categories you’ve presented make this confusion much clearer. It seems that Ogorodnikov was capable of distinguishing between giving up his freedom and safety (which he did, for a decade at least), and giving up his basic human right to these things (which he did not).
Can I share this in person with people?
We came across this same concept in an otherwise largely encouraging book called “Grace for the Good Girl.”
When the author got so many other things right, this was especially disheartening, and I honestly think it comes back around to all our desire for control: “not having expectations” probably helps some people repress their disappointment. Then there’s the classic, “We can’t control our circumstances but we can control how we react.”
It’s almost a heresy now (is it a Christian thing, or every-human thing) to say “This is just too much for me.”
Again, thank you so much for pulling this together. So well done.
Please do share—these posts are written to be shared. You’re welcome to print it out. I’m thankful it was helpful!
[…] treated like one for having different needs than the people around you want to meet, but you have every right to seek legitimate ways to meet your […]
[…] by Rebecca (First published at Here’s the Joy fall 2014, republished in part on Recovering Grace. Though we believe Bill Gothard first […]
Nicely done, Rebecca!
Thank you for sharing this. Too many unbiblical myths have crept into our church teachings and beliefs. You’ve done an excellent job of demonstrating that a Christian’s lack of rights is one of those unbiblical myths.
In God’s economy, even animals have rights, so of course humans have rights so of course Christians have rights.
1Co 9:9 For in the Law of Moses it is written, “You must not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not only concerned about oxen, is he?
1Co 9:10 Isn’t he really speaking for our benefit? Yes, this was written for our benefit, because the one who plows should plow in hope, and the one who threshes should thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.
1Co 9:11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you?
1Co 9:12 If others enjoy this right over you, don’t we have a stronger claim? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we tolerate everything in order not to put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of the Messiah.
1Co 9:13 You know that those who work in the Temple get their food from the Temple and that those who serve at the altar get their share of its offerings, don’t you?
1Co 9:14 In the same way, the Lord has ordered that those who proclaim the gospel should make their living from the gospel.
1Co 9:15 But I have not used any of these rights, and I’m not writing this so that they may be applied in my case. …
Donald, this passage of Scripture is addressed in the blog post, which I hope you’ll read. Maybe you’ve never experienced the teaching that Christians should give up all their rights, but to those who have lived under it, there is no “of course” to it. Several of them have expressed appreciation for this deconstruction of this false teaching.
This is an old post so maybe no one will see this. But here goes.
This brings to mind all the times I heard my dear mom (now deceased) saying that love requires us to give up our rights, or some variation thereof. We were not in a coercive family or church environment (at least not systemically so) and she was a very thoughtful, sincere and Biblically literate person. Reading this gives me a better understanding of the origin of that belief and why it has been so troubling to me.
But, part of your argument didn’t sit right with me. “Talking about our rights before God is very different from talking about our rights before man. In our relationship with God, we have rights only as they are granted to us in Christ (for example, the right to enter boldly into the Holy of Holies to make our request known before God). Over our lives, our property, we have no rights before God. He has all rights.”
The first part makes sense (that rights in our relationship with God are very different than those in our relationships with other people). But, aren’t there some fixed truths about how God treats all people? He extends the offer of salvation to all. He does not override free will, he does not ultimately allow evil to triumph, and he does not break his word. Couldn’t we see these truths as rights that are rooted in God character?
He does judge sin, and he does allow cause and effect to operate in the world in ways that are sometimes very hard for us to understand. But he is not arbitrary! There are certain things a good God will not do to beings that bear his image. Thus, Abraham could say, “Shall not the judge of all the Earth do right?” and have God agree with him.
As you pointed out, abusive leaders like Gothard don’t give up their rights-their powerless followers do. They set themselves in the place of God, which to them means “others have no rights in their relationships with me.” See where I’m going with this?
Sorry if I’m rambling. This is difficult to articulate and I need to think about it more. But surely our horizontal human rights are a reflection of God’s character and the value human beings have to him-ie our “rights” before him. If we assume otherwise, what stops us from seeing God as arbitrary, thus inadvertently leaving a loophole for the very oppressive beliefs you’re arguing against?
Thank you for your thoughtful words, CMT. Because I have a “Recent Comments” sidebar, it could be that some will see this conversation about this seven-year-old post (almost exactly!).
I’m always willing to be challenged in any ways that my thinking isn’t aligned with truth, and you have given me something to think about. I do agree with you that there are fixed truths about the character of God, how He treats all people, the offer of salvation, free will, and His triumph over people. His “rights,” which are the ultimate in rightness, will always prevail. I agree that He is not arbitrary and will always do right.
When I wrote this, I’m sure I was thinking about, say, the death of a loved one. We don’t have the right to take a life, but God does, if we think about that death as “God taking” the person.
I’m open to hearing how you think these thoughts and words could be better framed. Thank you!
Hi! Thank you for your kind and thoughtful reply.
My reaction is from a personal place. I mentioned my mother, who used “giving up rights” to tell my siblings and I not to fight with one another, to explain why she was putting up with poor treatment from a fellow church member, and to suggest why women should acquiesce to complementarianism. So this post brings up many disparate ideas for me (I am not an abuse survivor, by the way, but I can imagine this idea being even more troubling to someone who is).
Really, I think it’s about trust. I can’t trust someone who truly believes I have no rights, since they will have no reason not to abuse me if they have the power to do so. Respect for one another’s personhood, and the rights that entails, is foundational to healthy horizontal relationships. As a last ditch defense, at least we have laws.
In the vertical relationship, where God clearly has all the power, the thought that I have no rights is terrifying. If that is true, maybe my feelings and desires really don’t matter. Maybe he really does expect me to be silent and be ruled over by my husband. Maybe it really is selfish to not want to burn out in the “service” of others. If I have no rights before God, that means my personhood fundamentally does not matter. Why then would he deign to let me act as if it does?
What law could protect me then? Of course, the law of God’s own character means I do not need any last ditch defense. He values my personhood because he made it in His own image. He will never trample my autonomy because it is against his nature. As CS Lewis put it in The Screwtape Letters, God can’t ravish, only woo.
Anyway, this is getting excessively long. You’ve given me a lot to think about on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and made me articulate some of the things I’ve been “untwisting” for myself recently, so thank you and God bless!
It is “the law of God’s own character,” yes. Ultimately, when we have done what we can and should do in relationships with those here on earth (and what those relationships should look like is a matter of constant discussion, and needs to be a matter of prayer), ultimately We trust Him because He is ultimate good.
God bless you.
By the way, this blog post was the preliminary study of what ultimately became the first part of my first “Untwisting Scriptures” book, which you can see by clicking here.
You can also see a talk I gave about this topic more recently, on this page here (scroll down to September 2019): https://heresthejoy.com/video-audio-of-interviews-and-talks/