This week, the United Nations marks Human Rights Day. But it won’t be much of a celebration, as a pandemic of persecution impacts billions of people around the world. In response, Christians should stand up and meet this challenge, speaking out for those experiencing human rights abuses and assaults on their dignity.
Violent persecution abounds. People face daily repression for what they believe or who they are. The Pew Research Center reported that religious restrictions impact almost two-thirds of the global community. Christians of all denominations suffer from repression. But persecuted Christians are rarely alone — oppressors also target persons of different faiths and no faith. And sometimes it is the others who suffer more. For instance, Uyghur Muslims in China or Rohingya Muslims in Burma face genocide-like persecution.
Other evils persist. The scourge of modern-day slavery condemns millions — men, women and children — to lives of bondage. Sex trafficking is rife in the dark corners of the world. People fighting for freedom and democracy face the threat of disappearances, torture and worse. Close to 80 million people have fled their homes, either displaced or refugees, trying to escape conflict and repression.
And despite this darkness, the Bible overflows with calls to help our fellow man. Micah 6:8 declares, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To seek justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” The call to “seek justice” is universal, not time-bound or limited by geography. And we cannot be silent in our efforts. Proverbs 31:8 declares, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”
Jesus built on this foundation in his parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. As we remember, a lawyer tested Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the story of a traveler beset upon by robbers and left for dead. The next two who traveled the same road “passed by on the other side” and did not help.
The hero is the third person who came along, the Samaritan, who rescued the traveler. Jesus naming a Samaritan as the hero was an astonishing twist for the listeners of the day. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Samaritans were the ultimate “other,” considered religiously and ethnically different. The hero ignored these barriers to help another suffering human being.
Jesus concluded by stating, “Go and do likewise.”
We must follow the Samaritan’s heroic example and take action. “Go and do likewise” is a call for heroic love of neighbor. It is a call on Christians to fight for human rights and assist the suffering.
The global church should speak out for the persecuted, fighting for their human rights. It’s easy to love neighbors who think, look and believe like us. But heroic love of neighbor demands more. It means serving alongside the oppressed to demonstrate God’s unconditional love for all people, regardless of their beliefs or nationality.
“Our belief in human dignity — the Imago Dei — means we cannot be silent.”
Our belief in human dignity — the Imago Dei — means we cannot be silent. Because of human dignity, we should advocate for persecuted Christians, as well as Muslims, Hindus, atheists or whoever suffers for their beliefs. Because of human dignity, we should advocate for the unborn and those on death row. We should speak out for converts or members of the LGBTQ community persecuted for who they are because of human dignity. Our belief in dignity should have us advocate for prisoners and lead in racial reconciliation.
There are ways to be involved, either directly or by supporting advocacy groups operating out of this call. The International Justice Mission confronts slavery and sex trafficking. The Institute for Global Engagement (where I’m a senior fellow) advances religious freedom for all. Redeem International protects widows and orphans from violence. World Relief ministers to and aids refugees. The list goes on.
Christians should be at the forefront of human rights efforts. Why? Because the persecuted are our neighbors, and we believe in all peoples’ inherent dignity, regardless of creed or nationality or beliefs. Fighting for our neighbors, including individuals different from ourselves overseas, is the most tangible testimony of God’s love we can show. Hopefully, if the church gets fully engaged, next year’s Human Rights Day will be something to celebrate.
Knox Thames served as special advisor on religious minorities at the U.S. State Department during the Obama and Trump administrations. He is now a senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, made possible through a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust. The views expressed are his own. He hails from a Baptist family in Kentucky and is a graduate of Georgetown College, as well earning a law degree from American University’s Washington College of Law and a master’s degree in international affairs from the School of International Service at American University.