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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326




As I continue to explore the issue of the Christian (and Christian institution) vs the State, I come to the matter of human rights. I want to look at this issue of human rights from what I believe the Bible has to say.

I begin with 7 basic propositions:

(1) If Darwin was correct, and we merely evolved from some primordial sludge, human rights do not exist. We would be just another animal in the jungle. The gazelle has no "right to complain" about "fair treatment" when eaten by the lion. And we would have no right to complain when someone with a bigger gun kills us. "Survival of the fittest" means there are no such things as human rights.

(2) Thus, human rights exist only if there is a Supreme Creator.

(3) Likewise, human rights must be derived from our relationship with the Creator, and the responsibilities He places upon us relative to (a) Himself, (b) His created world, and (c) our fellow created human beings.

(4) Because of the fall and sin entering into the world, God gave law. This says to me that human rights require an "environment of rule of law" within which to be worked out or else they are meaningless; i.e., items for theoretical discussion, but of no practical value to the human! This was the former Soviet Union.

(5) If a society erects an environment ("government" and/or other power centers) and these environments treat people differently -- or place some "above the law" or not subject to the law at all -- then to that extent human rights will be diminished and even threatened with extinction. These power centers include business and religious organizations.

(6) All power centers, and the individuals holding positions of power within them, also have responsibilities placed upon them by God, and will be held accountable to God to exercise their authority under His authority.

(7) Thus the legitimacy of any power center, or individual holding power, is determined by how it (or they) use their God-delegated authority relative to the matter of human rights.

But a question remains: "Where does one who desires not to violate the human rights of another (and to not have their own rights violated) find the legal basis for their behavior? That is, where do we find the rules of the ball game?"

There are only two possible places: the mind of man -- even if in study of other civilizations, conflict resolution mechanisms, or nature -- or from disclosure by the Creator. It goes without saying that if the Creator has not disclosed the rules, then there are no rules.

To participate in a discussion, therefore, of what are or are not the rules of the game, the debater must bring to the table the following:

(1) Disclosures which are declared to be binding upon all man, at all times, under all circumstances;

(2) Disclosures written -- and declared to be written -- by the Creator.

(3) Disclosures which have been around for a long period of time and thus can be checked for how they have worked out when practiced -- for man is very transitory;

(4) Disclosures which have not changed over time; and,

(5) Disclosures which are considered binding upon all people, at all times, in all places.

I am not a religious scholar -- and it is not only to the religious that I speak. I am aware that the Christian, Jew, and member of Islam may all meet my criteria in the first 5 books of what is known as the Bible. Therefore they get a seat at the table. Maybe some other religions or groups offer disclosures which meet the test -- if so, welcome. Let us declare and discuss from our written sources, and see what we have.

Until then, and as a starting point for discussion, I offer what "human rights" I have discovered from the laws and responsibilities set forth in the Bible. As I do so, I recognize that my list may be incomplete, and my comments on each will be limited to a broad overview.

Adam and Eve -- the first created human beings -- had a right to total freedomin their lives. Thus, rights and freedom are interchangeable words for our purposes today.

Their right/freedom was conditioned upon continuing as loving inferiors under the authority of a loving Superior, and properly exercising, under His leadership, their delegated responsibilities to:

(1) The planet and all it contained (an issue of stewardship);

(2) One another (loving as parts of each other, incomplete without each

other); and,

(3) Obedience to God's law (don't touch the tree).

In the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not murder", we find a re-iteration of the human right to free life. However, we also find, in the law, a death penalty for those who: (1) deny the very existence of God and openly blaspheme against Him; or (2) massively violate the image of God in which they or another have been made; or (3) massively violate the two central building blocks of civilization -- family and community. [IN DEFENSE OF THE DEATH PENALTY]

And the Bible speaks of the wages of sin being death. Since we all sin, we all experience death -- spiritually first, physically second. In Jesus Christ we have redemption available for the first, but we will still suffer the second. Thus, even the right to life has its limits -- but they are God-imposed limits rather than man-imposed.

What other basic rights of the individual are reflected in the Bible? Let's go to Exodus Chapter 20 -- the 10 Commandments -- and look further.

The commandments begin with a prefatory remark: "I am the Lord thy God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

From this, it seems to me, all humans have a right of access to the mercy of God -- to have God refrain from giving me what I deserve. If the law says I must die, and the Lawgiver allows me to live, He refrains from giving me what I deserve. That is mercy.

Here I also see all the humans have a right to access to God's grace -- to have God give me what I do not deserve. If the law says no one owes me anything, and then the Lawgiver gives me something of value, He gives me what I do not deserve, cannot earn by work, and cannot repay. That is grace.

But God's grace and mercy are contingent on our repentance and acceptance of His grace and mercy. We have equal access, but not a guarantee. And what we receive may not look like what we expect!

The first commandment says:

"You shall have no other gods before Me."

From this statement, I deduce that we have the right to have a personal relationship with God. Adam and Eve had that, and walked with God in the Garden; the fall into sin ruptured that; yet God still offers it. The Christian today has it in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In this command I also see direct access to God, direct responsibility to God, and direct accountability to God. This right of access is not created or supplemented by man or man-created structures. I have these rights regardless of the actions of man which may deprive me of liberty (liberty being something different than freedom).

Notice that this right to pursue a relationship with God should not be motivated by a duty to obey, but by a joy of obeying He who granted the grace and mercy we saw in the prefatory remark.

The second commandment says:

"You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing loving kindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments."

From this statement, I see mankind released from what Jacquess Ellul called the "tyranny of necessity". Our daily bread, our personal dignity, our shelter, our clothing, our sense of value -- all these are curses when we strive to fulfill them on our own strength. And they may turn into idols. Here God offers us the right to be free of that tyranny. "You cannot serve God and mammon" is a statement of truth -- and in our obedience to the essence of what is being said, we find freedom and rights.

But here I also believe God warns us about creating people or institutions as replacements for God -- in the process granting us the right to be free of the debilitating effects of such created things. How many people are enslaved to an ideology, theology, legal or political mind-set, religious institution -- rather than to the God who created them? He says we have a right to be free from such entanglements. When Christ said -- "The scribes and the pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them." -- He reiterated this right of freedom from the institutional power structures which we create in our failing efforts to meet our needs.

The third commandment says:

"You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain."

Here I see a right to be free from any sense of blaming God for what we face in life. A simple, "damn it", is a statement that God ought to do (or ought to have done) something so that this thing which just happened would not have happened. We want to make God into our slave, instead of the other way around. He grants to us, in short, the human right of being within the fallen universe while, in the first 3 commandments, granting us the freedom and right to overcome it emotionally, spiritually and sometimes, physically.

The fourth commandment says:

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."

It says more, but the opening stanza is sufficient for our purpose today. Man needs rest. Thus he is given a right to rest in the form of a command. Why must we be commanded? Because of the tyranny of necessity mentioned earlier. And in the process of resting, man learns to trust God more -- thus reinforcing the first three commandments.

The fifth commandment says:

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you."

How many of us are captive to our image of ourselves which we see our father or mother having formed within us? How often do we blame our parents for something we just chose to do? Here God offers us the freedom from the paralysis of parental blame in the same manner in which He offers us, in the third commandment, freedom from blaming Him. We have, in short, through faith in God and Godly actions towards our parents, the human right to be free of the pains of childhood.

The sixth commandment, "You shall not murder", we have already looked at.

The seventh commandment says:

"You shall not commit adultery."

Adultery by one member of the marital bond is an effort to find something deemed necessary at the moment from one who has no power, according to God's rules, to grant it. In this way, it is like the second and fifth commandments. The right granted through obedience is to find all meaning in God rather than another human.

It is also the right to find in your spouse that missing part of yourself -- as Adam was missing a rib of himself and could only find it within Eve.

And there is the right here not to have your marriage invaded by another.

The eighth commandment says:

"You shall not steal."

Here we find a right to private ownership of property and of the means of production. If no one can own anything, then nothing may be stolen.

There are, however, limitations upon this right of ownership elsewhere in the Bible. These limitations include:

The fact that God is the actual owner and we are mere stewards to use all

as He would use it;

That we not turn property into an idol or mammon;

That we use our property in a manner which helps provide for the poor,

widow, orphan and stranger in the land. This is one of the ways in which we

fulfill our Biblical responsibility to "deliver the oppressed from injustice";

That we tithe from the natural and earned increase of our property; and

That our acquired property is to some extent redistributed during the

sabbatical and jubilee years, lest we think it is forever ours, of our own hand, as

opposed to a gracious gift of God. It is also so that a great divide not arise

between the "haves" and "have nots" which leads to arrogance on the part of the

one, and hopeless rage on the part of the other.

The ninth commandment says:

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

In the third commandment we had the right to be free of the sense that God was to blame; in the fifth, that our parents were to blame; in the seventh that our spouse is responsible for our total satisfaction. Now, in the ninth, we find freedom from making our neighbor responsible for our condition in life beyond their portion. Note it is a "false witness" which is at issue, for if our neighbor harms us, the Bible does give us a process for dealing with such a matter.

The tenth commandment says:

"You shall not covet."

Again, more is said, but this will suffice. To covet is not a great deal different than to blame God, parent, wife, or neighbor. It is an effort to meet our needs outside of God's orderliness -- this time, in things. Again, we have a right to be free from such a drain upon our emotions and energies. It is as Christ said: "Don't worry about what you shall eat, wear, or where you shall live. Your Heavenly Father knows your needs, as He knows the hairs on your head. Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other needs will be added unto you."

But, I think more is involved here -- particularly when we connect this to the cases of conflict resolution in the Old Testament, and Christ's words in the New.

Covetous thoughts almost always lead to actions of sin in an effort to acquire what we covet. The 10th Commandment suggests that we will be called to an account for our acts which harm others. In calling us to account, in confronting us with our sin, we are granted the dignity of being God's highest creation. I see this as a great "right", for to allow me to continue in sin without speaking truth to me does me no good at all. We see Jesus reaffirming this right to be spoken to in love in chapters 5 and 18 of Matthew, in a process in which victim and offender meet in the presence of a loving, confronting, restoring community -- and even to be expelled from the community for repeated acts which harm others or for remaining in unrepentance. In Hebrews 12, we see this given in the form of a right to be disciplined by a loving Father/God.

Elsewhere in the Bible, we discover that we have the right to be judged by man based upon our actions, not the state of our heart, mind, or motive. That is, I am judged for doing an act which causes harm to another rather than because I am evil of mind or have violated some community standard of conduct. Being judged for my acts, I am not "criminalized" into something different than all others; we are all sinners who constantly hurt others. [See Reconsidering and Redefining Justice]

Still elsewhere, we discover the right to be judged by God as to our salvation, based upon our heart. This is truly marvelous; man judges upon acts and is to leave the heart alone while God judges more perfectly and that being the heart only. [See CONCERNING FRUIT INSPECTION]

The 10th Commandment also holds a sense of a right to freedom so long as I do not interfere with the similar rights of others. This is the foundation for the second great commandment: "Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself."

Finally this commandment seems to me to create a reciprocal set of rights in the community. My exercise of my rights can only be within relationship to others -- that being individuals, family, a community, and an entire society. I am commanded to give up extreme individualism, self-interest, and self-centeredness. It also requires me, in the conflict resolution process, to be a part of the process of restoring the fractures to community which actions of covetousness have caused.

Parenthetically, I must say that I believe, on the whole, God places a higher emphasis on our being a part of community (just think of the Body of Christ concept) than our being rugged individuals. However, I also believe the community can never "trump" the dignity of the individual -- something which did happen as a result of the collectivization principles of Marx in the former Soviet Union.

It is not just within the 10 commandments, however, that we will find matters related to human rights. I will briefly mention three more:

Ephesians 2:10 says: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand that we should walk in them." Here the curse of work is changed into joy when we seek His purpose and plan for our lives. What true joy it is to be doing that which He who knows us best selected and prepared us for.

Proverbs 29:26 says: "Many may seek the favor of a ruler, but justice for man comes only from the Lord". This justice is the peace which passes all understanding, the light yoke and load, which comes from my choice of obedience to God when in conflict. We see it in Daniel's three friends as they faced the fiery furnace. Thus I need not look to man or man's systems or man's environments for justice -- I may look to God in the assurance of the words of Solomon at the end of the Book of Ecclesiastes: "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil."

Finally -- and certainly the greatest of all rights:

We have the right to receive the forgiveness of God through confession to Him and to those whom we hurt -- I John 1:9 -- to boldly walk into the future free of condemnation -- Rom. 8:1 -- and to know that God will work our failures of the past to His glory as we choose to love Him and walk through a conflict according to His principles -- Rom. 8:28.

And, so, what is the message for this day, and for this life?

Do not look to man or his environments for your rights. But exercise the responsibilities He has placed upon you, thus receiving His rights. Or, as the prophet Micah said: "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God."

The following might form the basis for a philosophical discussion among those who desire to come to the table:


(A Discussion Draft -- June 30, 2000)


We hold these truths as foundational to individual understanding and to the government, laws and legal system of this Nation:

That all mankind are created, individually, and as unique persons, by God;

That God has revealed to all mankind His existence and many of His divine attributes through the universe which He created;

That God has also written His laws for the ordering of our lives -- individually and corporately -- upon each individual heart so that we are all without excuse as to Him;

That God has further revealed Himself to mankind through His written word -- the Bible.

That God has further revealed Himself to mankind through the person, life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as found in the Bible;

That God is Holy, Perfect, Righteous, and Just while humans are sinners living in a sinful world. Thus mankind is in need of individual salvation from God, which salvation cannot be earned by mankind but must be accepted in faith by mankind as a free gift (grace) from God;

That God has provided for such salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth -- God in the flesh, fully God yet fully man -- for those who will believe in faith and submit to the Kingship of God as administered through the Lordship of His Son Jesus Christ, and the indwelling Holy Spirit;

That as created beings, mankind is inferior to, and subject to, the directions of God. Thus mankind has no direct rights, only responsibilities from the exercise of which the appearance of certain rights arises;

That mankind's responsibilities are towards: (1) God; (2) all others of mankind as directed by God in His laws; and (3) the physical universe created by God; and,

That the rights which derive from these responsibilities include, but may not be limited to, the following:


The right to life itself except when taken by God or by man acting under the law of God or as agent for God;

The right to private ownership of real and personal property and to the ownership of the means of production -- provided that: (1) such ownership is exercised in conformity to our responsibilities to mankind and the created universe; (2) that there is a periodic redistribution of property and remission of debt; and (3) that there is the recognition that any property which we may hold, we hold only as steward for God;

The right to freedom of speech, freedom of publication, freedom of assembly and organization, freedom to peacefully petition any government for change, freedom to vote for elected representatives as a part of an overall governmental process, and freedom of movement -- provided that such freedoms are exercised in accordance with the responsibilities placed upon mankind by the Creator and in recognition that the community of mankind as a community also has rights which flow from the responsibilities of individuals;

The right to freedom of belief, freedom to practice such beliefs as do not interfere with the responsibilities placed upon mankind by God, and freedom from being coerced to follow the beliefs of another;

The right to a reasonable education, including the right to learn of God and of His laws;

The right to work for a fair wage in a reasonable employment environment in return for giving a fair effort towards the employer;

The right of reasonable protection of one's honor, dignity, and reputation;

The right to not less than one day of rest in every seven days;

The right to be treated equally before the law which mankind creates;

The right to be offered the option of restoration to God, victims, and community when called before the law for acts which harm others rather than to be faced with only punishment;

The right to be judged at law for our actions alone, without any judgment of our heart, mind, or condition of our relationship with God;

The right to have an advocate of one's choice at any legal or other proceedings effecting life and livelihood, to not be put to risk before the law twice for the same offense, to face one's accusers, to know the nature of the charges, to an open, speedy and public trial before an impartial tribunal, to not be called before the law for actions of others, and to bond while awaiting trial;

The right, as one harmed by the acts of another, to have the law provide for my direct representation and participation rather than to have the government treated as the victim of an offense;

The right to restitution for harms done by individuals or government;

The right to have those in authority subjected to and judged by the same laws as all others;

The right to be free from cruel, inhumane, or torturous punishment, provided that execution shall not be considered cruel, inhumane or torturous punishment when done for the offenses under the standards set forth in the laws of God as found in the Bible;

The right to have all laws, legal processes, and actions of government judged for their faithfulness to the principles found in the Bible;

The next in this series is Some Thoughts on Religious Liberties.