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Why Human Rights are profoundly theological

On 10 December 1948, the freshly drafted

Universal Declaration of Human Rights was

adopted and proclaimed by the General

Assembly of the United Nations. It is a

document that is still undervalued and rarely

read, especially by its detractors. And here, I particularly include Christians living in the Global North, whose experience of privilege is almost never acknowledged. So, when a white, male, (presumably) straight bishop of the established Church claims that there is now ‘enough equality’, he does so entirely without irony. The argument that ‘Human Rights’ are secular values imposed on faith communities from outside is one often deployed to resist giving equal value to certain minorities. The British Human Rights framework allows, therefore, for open discrimination against women, LGBTQ+ people and others, as long as it is done on the grounds of faith and within faith communities.

December 10 is also the day, 51 years ago, when the great Christian writer, Thomas Merton, died. He wrote of the one who enters the monastery:

“[The monk] comes to live his Christian life, and thus to appreciate to the full his heritage as a son of God. He comes in order that he might see and understand that he already possesses everything.”

I am deeply thankful to live in a country that offers many protections to minorities, including me, and have never felt that my faith commitments clash with my responsibilities under the Universal Declaration. The idea that no law can be enacted that denies me status, dignity, freedom and protection from abuse is a declaration of the limitations of human reason and the need for higher standards. For me, this is the ‘glorious freedom of the children of God’:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

Romans 8:14-21, 31

Our struggle, as LGBTQ+ Christians, is not actually about inclusion - we are already included as children of God! What we need is for our siblings in Christ to get out of the way and stop trying to restrict or control God’s love and blessing. As children (already) of God, we are entitled to a full share of the inheritance of God’s grace, and it is that which is at the heart of the struggle.

Whilst I have often doubted my place in the Church, I don’t remember any time since my conversion when I have doubted my inclusion in God’s love. If the Protestant Reformation taught us anything, it is that the Church is always in danger of getting in the way of the relationship between God and the individual believer. Part of the task of the Christian is to make room, not make rules!

LGBTQ+ Christians and our allies need to make a conscious distinction between God’s blessing and the institutional Church’s acceptance - the conflation and confusion of the two has been a toxic blend for too long. A proper queer(ed) ecclesiology declares: ‘We ARE Church!’ and no longer waits for crumbs to fall from the institutional Church’s table. It is not for the institutional Church to decide whether to include the LGBTQ+ faithful; rather it must decide if it wants to be included in God’s extraordinary Beloved Community that already includes all those who have been excluded, abused and demeaned.

Human Rights Day reminds us all of how far we have come and how far there is to go before the creation is set free and glorious freedom is shared by all God’s precious children.

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