Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Responsibilities and Rights

We have become so accustomed to the language of rights in our society that we're beginning to miss the trap that lies beneath that bait.
Governments move to establish and preserve the rights of certain parties only because those who have particular responsibilities are failing to fulfill them. Take the civil rights movement. Why did the government have to draft civil rights legislation? Because so many people were failing in their responsibility to love their neighbors as themselves - in many cases, even with the approval of their churches. We are our brother's keeper; we have a responsibility to defer to others, care for their needs, acknowledge their instrinsic humanity and dignity, and treat them justly and in love. When many people in our society failed in that responsibility, African-American leaders appealed to government to redress the situation. Government should have struck down unjust laws and admonished churches to do their duty in teaching people to act responsibly as Christians and citizens. Instead, they created a raft of legislation, and have added to it since, along with various court rulings, so that now "rights" are secure and responsibilities are more tightly circumscribed than previously.
The worst part of this process, however, is that the government managed to position itself as the definer and guarantor of rights. Now it makes up rights to suit its own purposes - such as the right to universal health care. Where is that right guaranteed, either in Scripture or the Constitution? Nowhere, but by defining and now legislating that right, government makes itself the arbiter of what the right consists of and how it is to be enjoyed. This is done not so much for the sake of any real rights, but so that government can flex and extend its power over the electorate (together, of course, will all the perks that come with having such power).
Soon enought the electorate, at least, significant numbers of them, will begin to enjoy this right. Then, when government wants more reach and grasp, it will invent another right - the right, let's say, for every American to have free Internet access. Then it can require every American to purchase a computer and subscribe to a service, every small business to go WiFi, and every person with an income over $250K to pay for it through taxation. It may even step in to "oversee" Internet access and traffic, just, you know, to ensure that this "right" is protects. Those who are the beneficiaries of that "right" won't soon want to give it up. Neither will those who get the taste of federally-underwritten health care.
At some point we need to begin stressing responsibility again, beginning with children and young people. But they're not likely to listen too closely if those who teach them aren't acting responsibly in every area of life. It may be too late to make that "old fashioned" argument, but teaching responsibility comports better with Scripture and the Christian worldview than does the language of rights. Rights are dangerous, because they can be extended and withheld by whoever grants them. Responsibility must never be set aside - especially given that one day we will all be held accountable before the Judge of all men for the stewardship we have exercised over our responsibilities, and not for the extent to which we have secured all our "rights."
T. M. Moore
T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore

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