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What “rights” do Christians have?

This entry is part 23 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

Do Christians have rights? Is it proper for them to assert their rights as Americans? If so, to what extent should they be asserted? The Bible teaches that Christians are not to claim their rights against each other, but rather to be defrauded if necessary (1 Corinthians 6:7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:6). It is part and parcel of being a Christian to prefer others and to esteem others better than themselves (Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3-4). They are even called upon to suffer abuse from unbelievers when they can bear testimony of Christ to them and promote peace (Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 12:17-21). The Christian life is, in reality, one of cross-bearing and suffering (Mark 8:34; Philippians 1:29). Therefore, in a sense, Christians have no rights—or at least they are commanded to not exercise them in most circumstances—for the sake of God’s glory, the love of God’s people, or for the purpose of bearing testimony to God’s grace in them.

Nevertheless, if Christians are called to live in civil society and participate in its trade and institutions, then they must adhere to social customs. The Bible gives every indication that Christians are to work, buy, sell, give of their earnings, hold property, pass on an inheritance, and enter into commercial agreements with others. Thus, Christians need to both assert and comply with social customs for economic cooperation. Those customs include establishing and maintaining political and personal rights and liberties, assigning duties to government to protect rights and obligations on each other to respect them.

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