Dignity seems to be a difficult goal to achieve. Not necessarily because it unattainable, but because it seems that we often are not entirely sure what it means. Like “empowerment” the very mention of “human dignity” almost seems to trigger thoughts of political and ideological conspiracies designed to catch us in word traps and make us vote for things we’re not even sure if we believe in by the time the syntax gymnastics are all over. (Kind of like this sentence).

However, the concept of dignity should be near the heart of every believer. Whether we talk about it in terms of “sanctity of life,” “human rights,” or “basic dignity,” there is nearly universal consensus that human life is worth something. For those of us that believe that humanity is designed in the image of loving, just, Creator God, we should hold to this conviction even more seriously. However, these brief paragraphs are not intended to determine whether or not human life is valuable, instead it is to ask the question of “How do we value human life?”

Clearly we respect human life at its most basic level by preventing human death. This can be achieved through life-saving medical interventions, automotive safety technology, laws that prevent the taking of life, decisive action in dangerous situations, or, some would even argue, by even the taking of life itself as preventative or defensive measure in the cases of war, lethal self-defense (or defense of other) and capital punishment (however, we will not debate this point here). This most basic level of respect for life forms the foundation of the laws of many free nations and the personal ethics of the majority of our world’s citizens. Among believers, we extend this principle to our eternal lives. We believe that in addition to protecting this physical life here on earth, we must also engage in the prevention of eternal spiritual death. We believe that we have the responsibility to protect a person’s eternal life just as much as we have the obligation to protect a physical one (although it would appear that very few view these responsibilities with the same level of urgency). Beyond this, I would argue that the majority of us do not believe that respect for life ends at this most primitive stage.

Our nation’s (and many other nations’) laws also recognize that freedom of a life to make consequential decisions is a critical and undeniable form of respect for human life. Many a poet, artist, songwriter, filmmaker, legislator, and online forum commentator has declared passionately and repeatedly that he/she would rather die than forsake freedom. Few would argue that any person or group of people has the right to freely oppress another without due process of a law that reflects the decisions of the majority. Constitutions and laws are written with the very purpose of protecting this natural and nearly-unanimous consensus that we value human life by valuing its freedom to decision, always within the boundaries established by the majority.*

However, it seems that for the most part, that the shouting hallelujah stops at this level of respect for life among Christians. From my experience, it would appear that once we have protected life from death and that we have allowed a life to experience liberty and make choices, we have afforded it all of the value that we could possibly provide it. I would argue that this is not the point at which our respect for life ends. When we fail to treat one another with dignity and respect, we have failed to respect life.

I am not the first person to feel this way. I am certainly not even among the first million or ten million people to feel this way. This thought is not a unique thought to a twenty-something, Caucasian male. However, I do feel that even though many of us may feel this way, very few invest the time in thought about how this belief might translate into action. Even fewer bother with the actual work of translation.

Why am I spending time on this topic? Why am I all of sudden writing like some young, entitled, self-empowered blogger? I write this way because I am often deeply bothered by the lack of respect and dignity that I see expressed from my North American brothers to our Central American family of believers. For some reason, all of the condescending thoughts and comments that we have spent the past 50 years erasing, suppressing, and preventing from the racial conversation in the United States seem too often to find an outlet in the way we think and respond to our Central American brothers. The very same people that one minute rail against the US welfare system, racial injustice, or the importance of equality seem to have those feelings and convictions slip from their brains, out their ears, and into the dirt at their feet once they are in the context of material poverty. People that would never in a million years say or think that somebody could not achieve incredible things despite the incredible difficulty of their present circumstance are suddenly thinking things like….

“But it is just so extreme. I can’t imagine that they could ever get out of this situation without someone (like me) giving them a hand.”

When we find ourselves thinking in this way. Let us please stop and ask ourselves what is really going on. Let us really stop and ask ourselves if we are valuing that person’s life and their potential. Let us evaluate whether we believe that Christ and the hope in Him that we carry within us is enough to help us achieve unity, love, grace, and peace in this world. Let us be honest with ourselves and recognize that our pride has wormed us once again into the place of Savior, and then let us be honest with ourselves and humbly recognize that we are not that Savior.

I do not advocate for an end to love for the materially poor, down-and-out, and broken of heart and wallet (as some might feel). To the contrary, I would ask that we love them more than we do now. I would ask that we spend lavishly on them with our time and respect, not just our material resources. We have to learn to focus on not just raising walls, but raising self-esteem, dignity, and the value of each human life. Infrastructure projects, training, and example are all pieces of the puzzle, but they are not the whole picture. The whole picture is that of the healthy church. The body that grows and is edified. That reaches out a hand to the broken and sees that person with respect. Eyes that not only look upon with compassion and charity, but with hope and the belief of the capacity of that individual in Christ.

*(I would here add that we as believers must be incredibly careful with this particular philosophy, recognizing that the political ability to choose does not inherently mean that we have the right to expand our faith or moral boundaries to represent the common consensus. We must always submit ourselves first to the Word of God, then to our government. Just because a law allows for a certain behavior does not mean we automatically have the right or obligation to engage in or condone it).

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry to say that I do not understand the point of this post. It's writing style is so diffused that, unless I already know your mind, I cannot follow your points. Perhaps some EXAMPLES of what exactly you're criticizing would be in order. I can make no sense of this word salad. Sorry.