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Human Rights

Why defend free speech?

Why should Christians defend the freedom for others to say and write things we wouldn’t?


Some years ago, an American diplomat was having a drink with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, capital of the Soviet Union. He was trying to explain to the communist what free speech means.

“In America, any citizen can just stroll around downtown Washington with a sign that says ‘Down with President Reagan’ and not get arrested. That’s what it means to have freedom of speech.”

“So what?” his Russian friend replied. “I can do the very same thing and not get in any trouble – I could march right into the Kremlin, right into Secretary Gorbachev’s office and yell ‘Down with Reagan’ and I wouldn’t get arrested.”


This was one of many jokes President Reagan loved to tell to contrast Western freedom with Soviet repression. And the joke hints at an important litmus test for free speech, which is whether you are free to criticize your own government, laws, and society – in private or public.

The humble should want to be second-guessed (Prov. 18:17)

But why should a society, particularly a democratic one like Canada, allow its prevailing norms, beliefs, or behaviors to be questioned and criticized?

Because, we believe societies and governments – like any fallible person or group of persons – can be wrong. They often are. Truth exists. And truth trumps majority opinion, personal feelings, and political power. On that score, there are many examples of men speaking truth to those in positions of political power. They are recorded for us in the Bible and through Church history.

You might think of Nathan calling out David for his adultery with Bathsheba. Or you might think of how Samuel and Jonathan speak the truth to King Saul.

The proud make speech costly

Many other prophets dared to speak the truth to other kings of Israel and Judah. Jesus condemned Jewish authorities for killing these prophets. In Matthew 23, Jesus even points to a specific example recorded in Scripture, namely that of Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24:20:

"Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah, son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’” But they plotted against him, and by order of the king , they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple."

Or, consider the example of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 17 we read about how Paul went about his work. In the first part of Acts 17 he’s in Thessalonica. We read:

"And Paul, as was his custom, went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul."

Let’s contrast that with the conduct of those who don’t like what Paul is saying:

" formed a mob and started a riot in the city they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: 'These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.'”

These guys seem pretty politically savvy. Whip up a mob. Cause a riot. Blame your opponents’ message for your behavior. Get officials to silence them.

The wise will challenge speech

Then Paul goes on to Berea, where we read that the Jews were “noble” and that they “eagerly examined the Scriptures to see if Paul’s teachings were true.” Then we go on to read about Paul in Athens later in the chapter:

" reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. And a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. And they took Paul and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean” (Acts 17:17-20)."

The response to Paul by those interested in the truth is to investigate, discuss, and debate. The response of those interested in preserving their power rather than pursuing truth is to silence Paul by force. But the truth of Christ is more powerful than the force of rulers.

In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul uses a military metaphor to explain gospel ministry:

"Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, our weapons have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Demolishing strongholds and taking captives – not with the sword, but the truth of God’s Word. Now, of course, Paul and the Apostles spoke the truth, as we must, regardless of whether the law protects our freedom to do so. It is good to defend the freedom to share the truth. Paul defended himself using his rights as a citizen, for example, with the goal of bearing witness to Christ.

God hates compelled speech

Other early Christians advocated for freedom to preach and practice the gospel, arguing that religion is a matter of the heart and cannot be coerced.

In A.D. 197, Tertullian wrote his Apology as a defense of persecuted Christians. He addressed it to the Roman authorities. Tertullian says it is “a privilege inherent in human nature that every person should be able to worship according to his own convictions.” Coercion in religion, he argues, only fosters irreligion and hypocrisy. Tertullian contends that “heretics and philosophers study the same themes as believers: what is the origin of evil, and why? The origin of humans, and why?” He also appeals to the image of God in man, with an emphasis on man’s reasoning and decision-making capacity.

God has used speech

The ability to disseminate views increased dramatically with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in the mid-1400s. It made books and pamphlet printing far faster and cheaper, making written materials widely accessible. A few decades later, the Catholic Church did not like much of what it saw coming off the press, so in 1487 the Pope issued a papal bull calling for regulation of the press. That did not accomplish much. So, the next Pope – Leo X – issued a stronger papal bull in 1515 forbidding publishing without prior authorization from the Church.

Leo X did so just in time for Luther. By 1521, the Pope’s envoy in Germany wrote to the Pope to bemoan the “daily downpour of Lutheran tracts in German and Latin. Nothing is sold here except the tracts of Luther.” Luther called the printing press “God’s highest and extremest act of grace whereby the gospel is driven forward.” The data backs Luther up. The Reformation spread faster in towns that had printing presses. And in turn literacy grew fastest in places where the Reformation took hold, as it did firmly in the Netherlands. Between 1600 and 1800 no one read or printed more than the Dutch. Their literacy and rate of literary consumption by the late 1600s quadrupled that of France or Italy.

Speech can be misused        

Now there’s also no denying that the printing press and the explosion of religious pamphlets allowed some strange flowers to bloom. Radical Anabaptists had very odd and heretical teachings and were early victims of persecution. Luther said of this persecution, “I am deeply troubled that the poor Anabaptists are pitifully put to death. Let everyone believe what he likes. If he is wrong he will have punishment enough in hell. Unless there is sedition, one should oppose the Anabaptists with God’s Word.”

Luther was not always consistent with this principle. He supported censorship of certain Anabaptist writings as well as Zwinglian pamphlets. Calvinists exercised censorship too – for example, when the Presbyterians controlled the Parliament of 17th century England and forbade publishing books or tracts without prior license from Parliament. But the Presbyterians were opposed by various Puritans including an important Reformed political thinker named John Milton. You may know him as the author of the epic poem Paradise Lost, but he was also a very important political thinker and advocate.

John Milton, on iron sharpening iron

In 1644, during the first English Civil War between Parliament and the Crown, John Milton published an unlicensed pamphlet attacking an Order of Parliament from the year before that prohibited publishing anything unless it had first received a license from the censors appointed by Parliament. Milton titled his great free speech pamphlet Areopagitica – in reference to the Areopagus in Athens and likely to Paul’s visit there recorded in Acts 17. Milton’s unlicensed pamphlet would prove very influential in later English and American and Canadian history. So let’s follow its argument.

Milton was concerned about how we, as human beings made in God’s image, promote the truth. Option number one is through reading widely, considering different opinions, and thinking critically. Iron sharpens iron, as the proverb goes. Option one has an optimistic view of the truth, that the Truth with a capital T will ultimately triumph. The only way this can happen, though, is if citizens have the freedom of expression needed to discover the truth by considering God’s revelation for themselves.

But Milton anticipated a common objection: won’t the freedom of expression allow bad ideas to spread? That leads us to option number two to promote the truth: through force. Underlying this second belief is the presumption that the Truth will lose out, unless we force others to adopt it. In their eyes, truth will ultimately lose in a fair fight. The only way to maintain the truth – if they even believe in objective truth – is to allow some people to decide what truth is and enforce it upon everyone else.

So those who wish to restrict the freedom of expression have little confidence in the power of the Truth. Or, alternatively, they might even think Truth is powerful, but they hate it and wish to supress it.

Milton uses the example of the Bible. If you want to stomp out heresy and inappropriate content, then you might consider banning the Bible too. We all know churches or people who have twisted the Bible to promote their own opinions. The Bible also has graphic descriptions of sin (ex. the final chapters of Judges) and even suggestive descriptions of goodness (ex. the Song of Solomon). That’s why the Roman Catholic Church did not allow the Bible to be printed in the common language: because they did not trust common people to interpret it.

But truth doesn’t come from the Pope or from the King. It is found in God’s revelation of Himself, a revelation that He has given to all mankind.

Some speech needs to be policed

Now, just because we believe in freedom of expression doesn’t mean that the government may never regulate any type speech. The Bible speaks of many sins of the tongue. The government does have a role in regulating some speech, such as outlawing perjury, which is bearing false witness in court. Some forms of speech constitute injustices against others in themselves, such as libel, threats, or fraud.

But it is not the responsibility of the government to police all the sins of the tongue. Some of these judgements are reserved for other spheres of authority: elders in the church combat heresy, parents in the home police unkind words, bosses in the workplace punish false advertising, and even individuals in their own minds need to guard against ungodly thoughts.

…but the bigger problem is truth being restricted

However, the problem today isn’t so much that governments in Canada are trying to combat sins of the tongue that are outside of its responsibility. Instead, the main problem today is that they are more and more punishing speech that proclaims the truth and is glorifying to God or, relatedly, speech that challenges the prevailing ideologies and idols of our day.

We can think of Canada’s conversion therapy ban, which makes it illegal to promote a biblical view of gender and sexuality in some settings. We have bubble zone laws that prevent pro-lifers from talking about abortion in any way around hospitals and abortion clinics in some provinces. One Ontario MPP proposed another type of bubble zone that outlaws the proclamation of God’s design for human gender and sexuality in certain areas. A growing number of municipalities and, again, another Ontario MPP are proposing to ban pro-life literature.

This onslaught against free speech is what Christians need to stand up to. We may very well disagree with the manner that it is presented in. Perhaps such speech was spoken in anger or with inappropriate exaggeration. We might even disagree with the truth of the speech itself. We might think that what our neighbor is saying runs contrary to some biblical principles. But if we neglect to defend free speech, we are essentially saying that we don’t think that the Truth will triumph but that lies will always overcome the Truth unless put down by the force of law.

But we have every confidence that the Truth will prevail. So let us defend the right of our neighbors to speak what they think is true so that every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel may be removed for us as well.

Economics, Human Rights, Satire

On achieving equality...

I was recently confronted with the disturbing statistic that evidences the ultimate case of gender inequality: the life expectancy of males is 6.1 years lower than that of females. This phenomenon must be properly discussed. What is a more valuable commodity than life? Nothing, I would say. And yet females habitually possess over 8 percent more of it than men. It is clear that when it comes to life, there is no level playing field in our society between males and females. I, therefore, call upon the government to take measures to empower men to overcome this glaring inequality. What we need is legislation, programs, and lots of funding. First of all the government should enact human rights legislation which will unequivocally state that males have the right to the same life expectancy as females. This legislation will empower the government to make proactive adjustments in Health, Social, and Education programs. I would like to share with you the following suggestions for such adjustments. An immediate transfer of medical research dollars from female diseases to male diseases. The inclusion of a mandatory life expectancy rights component to be taught in all our schools starting at the kindergarten level. The appointment of kommissars (also call commissioners) for each federal and provincial ministry who are to scrutinize all proposed legislation for life expectancy bias. Mandatory sensitivity training for all our judges to ensure that crimes against women are not more discouraged than crimes against men. Mandatory affirmative low-stress jobs action for all businesses employing more than 10 people to ensure that men will be employed in at least 50 percent of such jobs. The creation of Men's Issues Department at both the federal and provincial levels. Thus far my suggestions. If we do not want to lose the image of Canada as a caring and nurturing society we had better implement these suggestions regardless of costs. Of course, some naive people may suggest that it would help if men changed their lifestyle by smoking, drinking, fighting, and fornicating less, and by being more spiritual and less macho. However, though in the past this might have been a solution, we now know that we can only lead fulfilling lives if we are true to ourselves. Since institutions of education and our public media zealously indoctrinate the populace with this new gospel, it would be futile to appeal to "the man kind" itself to heal the wound of life expectancy; the government is our only hope. This post first appeared way back in the May 1999 issue, but doesn't it seems like it was written for today? As Christians we believe God calls us not to be partial to rich or poor, black or white, young or old – He calls us to equality. But what kind of equality does God call us to? Is it an equality – as is called for in this article – of outcomes? Or is the equality meant to be in how we treat people? The world says the former, but God is calling us to the latter (Leviticus 19:15, James 2:1-9, Acts 10:34)....

Human Rights

What is Freedom of Conscience?

Whether they’re happening inside the Church or out in the public square, debates about how far freedom of conscience extends can be confusing. Should Christians be compelled to take a vaccine that’s been tested on the fetal remains of an aborted child? Should Christian business owners have a right to refuse a service that would violate their conscience, like baking a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony? How do Christians respond to government mandates or policies that they cannot follow in good conscience? And how do we deal with conscientious disagreement within the Church? The specifics of freedom of conscience can be complex and nuanced and are often misunderstood. Abraham Kuyper called the conscience: “the shield of the human person, the root of civil liberties, the source of a nation’s happiness.” Why is it so important? To answer that question, let’s begin by looking at what the conscience is and is not. What is “conscience”? Definitions of conscience vary, but they center around the idea of what someone believes to be right and wrong. The conscience is a moral compass that helps direct people’s actions. In that sense, conscience is personal and subjective because it condemns or excuses one’s own conduct, not that of another person – after all, you don’t get a guilty conscience because of someone else’s behavior. However, conscience is also based on an objective and general standard. The Bible explains that the conscience is given by God to both Christians and non-Christians and it helps people apply their knowledge of right and wrong to their behavior, both past actions and decisions about future actions. The New Testament also speaks of the importance of having a good conscience by following its direction and doing what is right (see Rom. 2:15, 1 Tim. 1:5). Christian political scientist David Koyzis, in his book We Answer to Another, tells a story about the Milgram Experiment which relates well to conscience. The experiment was a study designed to look at how people respond to authority. The experimenter would select two participants and assign one the role of teacher, while another volunteer would be given the role of student. The person selected as the teacher was instructed to apply an electrical shock of increasing voltage to the other person – the student – who was in a different room. Now, unbeknownst to the teacher, the other person was actually an actor being paid to play the part. Although the teacher could hear the apparent pain experienced by the person in the next room, most individuals would continue applying electric shocks – despite increasing screams and pleas to stop – when instructed to do so by the experimenter. However, two participants were unwilling to keep going along with the instructions. Both were Christians. They followed the experiment instructor’s commands for a time but stopped sooner than most other participants, knowing that they were responsible for their actions and stating that they were answerable to a higher authority. When asked to do something wrong, we too are responsible for our actions and answerable to a higher authority. Ultimately, the foundation for freedom of conscience is found in the sovereignty of God. Every human being has various authorities in their lives, such as parents, employers, church leadership, or civil government. Each of these has legitimate authority over us, but that authority is also limited. The only One who is sovereign over the conscience is God, and if another authority commands us to do what we believe is sin – what we believe violates how God wants us to act – then we can appeal to freedom of conscience. The conscience is a shield that protects against the abuse of authority and points instead to the one Higher Authority. Conscience and the public square Debates around conscience are becoming increasingly relevant in our society and are most noticeable within certain vocations. Can medical professionals refuse to help a patient access abortion, assisted suicide, or sex-change surgery? Can marriage officiants refuse to marry a same-sex couple? Can a photographer decline a request to take photos at a same-sex ceremony? Can a publisher decline to print pro-abortion pamphlets? Increasingly, our society answers “no.” To allow people to conscientiously object is seen as simply discriminatory and bigoted. Our society needs to understand that a conscientious objection in these cases is not a rejection of an individual person, but a refusal to commit what the objector believes to be a sin or to participate in sinful activity. Today it’s often Christians who are being pressured to violate their conscience. However, there are others who seek the same protections for their conscience. It’s this freedom that an atheist doctor appeals to when he determines he cannot participate in euthanasia, based on his oath to do no harm. And what of the fashion designers, back in 2016, who had principled objections to designing an inauguration dress for First Lady Melania Trump? When these designers announced they would not make the dress because they didn’t want to be associated with newly elected President Donald Trump’s administration, many celebrated their decision as taking a principled stand. Likewise, some in our society want abortion-supporting publishers to be allowed to decline print orders for pro-life material, or for a gay business owner to be allowed to refuse to rent a hall for an event that promotes biblical marriage. Yet increasingly, the same people want to see Christians reprimanded for acting according to their beliefs. For Christians, the answer to the questions above might be easy. But we have our own disputes about conscience within the Church as well, such as what kind of entertainment is permissible or what it looks like to honor the Sabbath Day outside of corporate worship. When conscience pricks Of note, the strongest commands of conscience are often negative, in terms of what you are not permitted to do, rather than what you may or must do. For example, if you use foul language, your conscience will likely bother you more than if you fail to correct someone else using such language. Or, if a publisher prints pro-abortion pamphlets that he objects to, his conscience will make him feel guilty more than if he fails to promote life as he believes he ought. When the conscience commands a person not to do something, the command is about a very specific action. Alternatively, if the command is instead to act on something good, there are often various ways of pursuing that good. Conscience and the Church Because of sin, no person’s conscience is perfectly aligned with what God commands in His Word. The chart below is based on one from a helpful book titled Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ, by Andrew Naselli and J.D. Crowley. The authors used it to explain the difference between two people’s consciences, and how they compare to God’s will. The letters within the chart refer to different rules or principles of right and wrong. Both Arnold and Zoey have added rules to their conscience that are not commanded in Scripture. For example, perhaps Arnold has a history of alcohol abuse in his family, so he adds letter ‘C’ which commands him not to drink alcohol to avoid temptation. Maybe letters ‘D’ and ‘E’ are Arnold’s belief that he must not play cards or any games involving dice. Arnold and Zoey have also both failed to include letter ‘B’ in their conscience. Perhaps this is a failure to consistently honor the Sabbath Day, and their consciences no longer accuse them for it. However, Arnold and Zoey’s consciences are both aligned with God’s will in letters ‘J’ through ‘M,’ where they have rightly applied biblical principles and commands to their lives and consciences. The natural tendency is to think that if another person has more rules than us, they are legalistic. Alternatively, if they have fewer rules, they are failing to live as Christians. However, Scripture remains the standard to which we must seek to align our conscience. The conscience can easily become oversensitive by including rules that are not matters of right and wrong. We see examples of the Pharisees in the New Testament who created additional rules for the Sabbath and wanted everyone to abide by them. We might feel unnecessarily guilty if we do not abide by similar rules on the Sabbath. Alternatively, conscience can become desensitized. Perhaps you use or tolerate foul language that would have shocked you a decade ago, or you consume entertainment that you would have been ashamed of years earlier. Our conscience does not always accurately tell us what is sin and what is not. While it might not always make sense to follow conscience in relation to other authorities, we have a duty to obey it because we cannot commit what we believe is sin. At the same time, we should be careful when dealing with the consciences of other people. In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul talks about whether believers can eat meat offered to idols and refers to consideration for brothers and sisters with a weaker conscience. So, if we believe a brother or sister has a weaker conscience, we must not be a stumbling block to them and cause them to disobey their conscience. On disputable issues, we may realize that someone has a weaker conscience, and we can discuss the biblical principles that apply. Or perhaps they have a stronger conscience, and they can help us understand where our conscience is not aligned to Scripture. Again, conscience is not meant to be some wishy-washy idea where everyone can believe what they want, like in the time of the judges of Israel, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” There are direct, objective commands and principles that can be taken from Scripture. There are many issues which should not be disputable for Christians and are clear in the Bible. However, there are also issues where serious Christians can come to different conclusions about what God commands. For example, what activities are not permitted on the Sabbath? Or perhaps more current, how do we navigate government restrictions and the call to honor our authorities versus our callings to obey what God demands of us? What about masking, vaccines, etc., both within the public square and the Church? Christian conscience differs on these issues, and believers can have biblical arguments for why they think God commands or prohibits different actions. What isn’t conscience? Some of us might react to the idea that conscience is a kind of subjective belief that is not accountable to other people. We can’t simply say, “well, what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me.” Conscience is not merely a personal preference like your favorite food or music. It is also not license to do whatever you please and ignore other authorities. Rather, freedom of conscience refers to moral beliefs that respect a limited sphere of individual authority while still recognizing other legitimate authorities that can impose obligations on us. As such, the conscience is not unlimited. Some people might abuse the ability to claim conscientious objection out of self-interest or to simply justify their actions. Authorities such as the civil government, church government, employers, or parents do have power to compel or deny certain actions. However, if the civil government (or other authorities) limits conscience, they must provide good justification for doing so and seek to accommodate conscientious objectors as much as they are able, such as through exemptions for freedom of conscience. Abraham Kuyper again shows the importance of conscience, stating that: “Ten times better is a state in which a few eccentrics can make themselves a laughingstock for a time by abusing freedom of conscience, than a state in which these eccentricities are prevented by violating conscience itself.” Conclusion Ultimately, conscience belongs to an individual and is accountable to God. However, it should also be rooted in Biblical commands and principles. Increasingly, we encounter disagreements in the Church about various issues, while in the public square some Christians’ jobs are threatened because the State fails to recognize conscience. On many matters, Christians will refuse to do something they believe is evil even if others do not believe the action is wrong. The Church has an opportunity to continue to show our society what it means to live according to moral standards based on the will and Sovereignty of God. Wherever we find ourselves, let’s seek to say, “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16). Daniel Zekveld is a policy analyst with ARPA Canada and the principal drafter of ARPA’s latest policy report on Conscience in Healthcare....

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

Do we have a “right” to life?

If you’ve ever attended a pro-life rally or an abortion protest you’ve heard fellow Christians talking about the unborn’s “right to life.” But is this a phrase that Christians should use? Does it have a biblical basis? Can Christians claim a right to life, or for that matter, any rights at all? Rights vs. wishes It all depends on what you mean by the term “rights.” We'll sometimes hear special interest groups claim a "right" to healthcare or a "right" to a free college education but that's a trivialization of the term. They are using it in a way that is really no different than claiming a "right" to pepperoni pizza, or a "right" to free parking. These are items some might want at taxpayer expense, but describing your wishlist as rights does not make them so. Rights are better understood as that which it is wicked to deny. So, for example, if a government doesn't provide free college tuition, we aren't going to hold tribunals to investigate their human rights abuses – it is not a monstrous evil to deny citizens a tax-funded post-secondary experience. But if governments violate their citizens' right to property, then there should be an outcry because we recognize that the right to property is one that governments would be wicked to deny – this is a fundamental right. Rights before God? When it comes to the pro-life movement's "right to life" slogan, I've run across some Christians who object to the term. Since we are sinful creatures, wholly dependent on God’s grace, they argue that God doesn’t owe us anything. Are we in any position to make demands of our Maker, to make any claims of “rights” before Him? Clearly not. But as Stephen Pidgeon explains in this article, just because we have no rights before God doesn’t mean we don’t have rights given by God. In the Ten Commandments God spells out a number of prohibitions, and it is from these prohibitions that our rights spring. God has said, “Thou shall not murder” so from that we all have a God-given right to life. No man, no group, no government has the right to murder us because God has forbidden it. Since this right comes from a God-given prohibition, no authority on Earth may take this right from us. Individuals and governments can violate the right to life – they can and regularly do murder, ending the lives of one-quarter of all citizens here in the United States and Canada before they are even born. But even as they violate the right to life, and deny the unborn's claim to it, the right remains nonetheless. Governments and individuals did not award this right, so they cannot take it away. Of course, God can rightfully take our life – we are his, and He can do with us as He pleases. We have no rights before God. But we do have God-given rights that we can hold to before Man. And, made in His Image (Genesis 1:26-27, 9:6), the unborn, too, can claim a God-given right to life. And we can pray for the day when our governments start to recognize, honor, and protect that right....

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

ABILITY ≠ WORTH ....but the world thinks so, and sometimes we do too

While we were at the library one of my daughters grabbed Nice Wheels, a book featuring a boy zipping across the cover in a wheelchair. I thought it was a great choice; my children don’t know anyone in a wheelchair so this seemed like it would a good way to teach them that whether we’re standing or sitting, we’re all people. But that wasn’t the moral of this story. The author wanted to teach my daughters that our value comes from what we can do. The book begins with a wheelchair-bound boy rolling into class and a second boy wanting to know, “Can he do what we can do?” By day’s end we’ve learned that the boy in the wheelchair can sing just like everyone else, and can paint, and listen, and laugh, and eat lunch, and share like everyone else too. And as the book draws to a close the second boy decides that, shucks, if this boy in his wheelchair can do everything we can do, why not be his friend? While the author’s heart was in the right place, her thinking couldn’t be more wrong. If we’re worth befriending because we can do things, what if we can’t do things? If our value is tied to what we can do, then what of a boy who can’t sing, or paint, or eat lunch with the other kids? Comedy and tragedy The world believes that our worth is tied to our ability. That’s why we have feminists arguing that women can do anything men can do, even including all that brawny stuff. No matter that men have way more muscle, feminists won’t admit men make better firefighters, soldiers or alligator wrestlers. They can’t concede that men can do more in these areas because in their worldview that means men are more valuable than women. Feminist confusion is comical, but equating ability with worth can also be deadly. It’s this same thinking behind abortion: we can kill the unborn at 10 weeks because they can’t do this yet, or at 20 weeks because they can’t do that yet. It’s also the impetus behind legalized euthanasia: if a strong healthy young man wants to commit suicide we’ll try to stop him, but if an old man requests euthanasia because his physical and mental abilities are diminishing, well, that’s supposed to be understandable. Dripping in the church In our churches we oppose abortion and euthanasia. We know our lives are valuable even when we can’t do anything at all. We know it, but daily we manage to forget it. We tie our sense of worth to how much we make, or have donated, or to the position we hold. Or we base it on how well our kids behave, how many books we’ve read, how many invitations we do or don’t get, or how many Facebook likes we’ve collected. We know better, but we still fall for the lie that our worth is somehow tied into what we can accomplish, or earn, or achieve. There can be something appealing about this lie in the short-term, particularly just after we’ve lost 20 pounds, or scored a game-winning goal. But in the long term it all fades; relying on our own strength is a dead-end. Unearned What a blessing it is to know, then, that our value doesn’t come from our abilities. Ours is a derived worth that comes from the God in whose image we are made (Gen. 1:27, 5:1 9:6, Psalm 8:5-6). Our status also comes from God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). But it doesn’t come from what we can do. We’re valuable because of how God made us, and because of what God commanded. So it’s all gift. Understanding that frees us from the impossible burden of trying to earn it. When we know for a fact that nothing we can give could ever be good enough for God, that frees us from worrying whether or not it will be. It frees us to simply respond in thankfulness, giving freely of ourselves and our gifts without being self-conscience about how little it is we have to offer. And understanding where our worth comes from should stop us from expecting others to earn their status. The newcomer to our church shouldn’t have to smile first before we welcome them. The lonely girl shouldn’t have to accept one of our first ten invitations before we offer her an eleventh. The awkward guy shouldn’t have to play hockey to be a part of our group. And that kid in the wheelchair doesn’t have to show he can do everything that the other boys can do before he’s worth befriending. They shouldn’t have to earn it. They can’t earn it. We can’t earn it. It’s all a gift from God....

Human Rights

The world doesn't dare ask why we have human rights

As Christians we understand that our rights come from God. For example, our right to life comes from God’s prohibition against murder – no one has a right to kill me. Our right to equality – to fair treatment – comes from our understanding that we are all made in God’s image (in what other sense are we equal?) and also from God’s call not show favoritism to the rich or poor (Leviticus 19:15, Ex. 23:3, Deut. 16:19, James 2:9) or partiality to any (Deut. 1:16-17, Proverbs 28:21, and etc.). But the secular world also speaks of rights. So on what basis do they make their claims to there being universal human rights? According to unbelievers, why do we have human rights? What reasons can they give? R. Albert Mohler, in a 2014 address at BYU, explained that the secular case for human rights can only stand so long as no one asks those questions. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, fresh after the horrors of World War II. It was adopted in a spirit of hope and desperation. The French intellectual Jacques Maritain, one of the leading Roman Catholic philosophers of the century, was one of the drafters of the statement. That Declaration is now cited as the definitive statement of the modern affirmation of human rights. The Declaration affirms that all humans possess “inherent dignity” and states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” That is an eloquent statement indeed, but upon what does it rest? Maritain saw the problem. In his words, “We agree upon these rights, providing we are not asked why. With the ‘why’ the dispute begins.” And the dispute has never ended…. If we are biological accidents – just another primate – why should any individual human life matter? And why should we respect an abstraction called human rights? ….There is no secular ground that can support and defend human rights. The full 26 minutes speech can be viewed below