My faithful readers have seen some of my blog posts about rights before, and know that two chapters of Untwisting Scriptures are devoted to understanding rights.
I’m glad to say that author and speaker Leslie Vernick is giving an opportunity to interact on this important topic to a wider audience. Here is the first part of the article being published at www.leslievernick.com today.
The teaching that Christians should surrender their rights, sometimes taught as “Christians have no rights,” is one that can be absolutely devastating in cases of domestic cruelty.
How “surrendering rights” is often taught
I researched a number of books, blogs, and speakers to boil down the “surrender your rights” teaching to this:
Anger is sinful and is caused by insisting on personal “rights.” The solution to anger (which is always sinful) is to surrender or yield our “rights,” which means living as if we have no rights, like Jesus. When we surrender our “rights,” then God will bless us and bring us joy.
Notice that this teaching assumes that anger is always sinful, but the Scriptures show us there’s a place for righteous anger. In addition, grief can often look a whole lot like anger too. (These topics have been addressed in Untwisting Scriptures and in other blog posts.)
Also, notice the “scare quotes” that many of the no-rights teachers used, the quotation marks that imply that we have rights only in our imaginations, not in reality.
What does this “no-rights” teaching miss?
There are several things, but I’ll mention five here.
1. This teaching typically confuses vertical and horizontal relationships
The no-rights teaching usually says you should “surrender” all your rights to God (in what I call the vertical relationship), but then what it ends up looking like is so-called “surrendering your rights” to other people (in what I’m calling the horizontal relationship).
Instead, a better perspective is for us all to remember that God has ultimate authority over everything, but this doesn’t mean a Christian should necessarily passively acquiesce to someone else doing whatever they want to do.
Therefore, let’s separate how we relate to God from how we relate to other people when we talk about rights. Also, it’s important to keep this in mind when we think about the word “surrender.” When a defeated army surrenders their weapons, they don’t have them anymore—the victorious army now has them. When a person surrenders anything, it is no longer theirs—it now belongs to the other person. Christians who have tried to “surrender their rights” have invariably found that the ones oppressing them violate their rights more and more and more.
2. This teaching misses the definition of “rights.”
The concept of rights comes from the concept of “what is right.” Even the word justice is related because it means “setting things right.”
There are three kinds of rights, and as far as I know only three kinds.
* Human rights
An unborn baby has a right to life. This is also true for people after they’re born. It’s even true for married women. Human rights are God-given, like facial features, and can be “surrendered” about as easily as you can surrender your facial features.
Human rights are true across time and around the world. The advancement of every civilization has come in large measure because of an advancement in their understanding of human rights.
Here are a few human rights that the majority of citizens in Western countries would agree on:
- A right to life. This includes a right to safety and security.
- A right to be treated with the same respect with which other humans are treated. This would include equal and just treatment under the law and a right to protection against unjust attacks on one’s honor and reputation.
- A right to liberty, which would include a right to freedom of thought, including conscience, religion, and opinion.
- A right to property. This includes a right to be free of invasion of the home and personal effects.
The Bible strongly proclaims human rights. Here are two examples:
Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good; seek justice [setting things right], correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
Some examples in the Scripture of people who believed in human rights were David, when he ran from his authority Saul, who wanted to kill him; Paul, when he escaped over the wall in a basket from the Jewish leaders who wanted to kill him; and Moses’ mother, when she hid Moses in the basket on the river from the authority who wanted to kill him. In each case, each person was acknowledging and valuing the right to life as more important than obedience to an authority.
* Civil rights
Civil rights are bestowed by a government, ostensibly to reflect human rights. The closer the leaders of a nation are to the ways of God, the more the civil rights of their nation will accurately reflect human rights.
Someone in the Bible who stood on his civil rights was the apostle Paul when the Roman soldier was going to beat him in Acts 22. He told the soldier he was a citizen of Rome and shouldn’t be beaten. Clearly, Paul knew he had civil rights and had no problem claiming them.
* Spiritual rights
Recently someone told me she had heard another Christian say, “In Christ, we have no rights.” But the opposite is true. In Christ, we have amazing spiritual rights. For example, John 1:12 tells us we have the right to be called the sons and daughters of God. Hebrews 4:16 tells us who are in Christ that we have the right to go to the Father’s throne in prayer.
Notice the following about the three kinds of rights:
Human rights are yours by virtue of being a human. They are God-given to all who live.
Civil rights are yours by virtue of being a citizen of your country. They are bestowed by the government.
Spiritual rights are yours by virtue of being a Christian. They are given to you in Christ.
In the case of the second, civil rights, the government can take them away, or they can be rejected as a package by renouncing citizenship. In the case of the other two, human rights and spiritual rights, it is just as impossible to surrender them as it is to surrender your facial features. They are part of who you are.
So this still leaves us with some questions. Like . . . .
- What about Jesus “surrendering His right” not to be treated unjustly?
- What about Paul “surrendering his right” to have a wife?
- What about all the other “rights” that need to be “surrendered,” like my “right” to a certain parking spot at work?
That’s where the no-rights teaching fails in three more ways:
3. This teaching fails to acknowledge that genuine rights can be violated
Read the rest at www.leslievernick.com.
What about husbands surrendering their rights? Seriously. They go around talking about how they’re just like Jesus Christ so wives should worship them. But they are not meek and lowly of heart. They never wash the dishes let alone the feet of their wives and children.
If men really wanted their wives to honor and respect them they could easily get it by assuming the role of a servant. Most women would gladly give them the headship after that!
They need to reread the passage about King Rehoboam and how his arrogant attitude cost him the kingdom.
Well, as I observe in the article, genuine rights can’t be surrendered. What you’re describing would fall under a couple of different headings of “untwisting” I discuss in the article: distinguishing rights from desires, and the inevitable creation of double standards.
Please speak for yourself! All men are NOT like this.
Thank you, Rebecca. Sharing on GHW.
[…] First, to my shock I was asked to speak at the conference “Developing a Church-wide Response to Domestic Abuse,” hosted by Joy Forrest of Called to Peace Ministries—what a privilege that was. When I spoke, I told about my own journey and did some untwisting regarding Christians and rights (there’s so much confusion about that topic!), which Leslie Vernick again asked me to guest post about, which is here. […]
[…] — “You need to be willing to give up your rights.” […]