We like rights in our culture. Just recently, there has been a hue and cry about the rights of disabled people to sit in designated wheelchair users spaces on buses in England. This kind of thing beggars’ belief as far as I’m concerned – as a wheelchair user and a user of buses, I have my own views. In the end, there seems to be a sense of the competition between the rights of disabled people, set against the rights of other passengers, bus drivers, bus companies and carers of children, etc.
I have to confess I’m no legal expert, nor do I claim to have studied the nooks and crannies of nuance in this case. However, the solution seems pretty obvious: if there are wheelchair spaces on buses, people in wheelchairs should use them. Otherwise what’s the point of having them? How are we to decide the point at which the rights of one entity are more or less important than those of another? It’s interesting that disabled people often end up at the bottom of any given list of such rights, but that’s a sour-grapes post for another time.
This past weekend I’ve returned from America. Not that I was keeping count, but I had seven conversations about the right of gay people to be married and three on the right to carry and/or conceal firearms in under two weeks. I didn’t start any of them.
Whenever these conversations, or others on rights, begin, my heart sinks. Whatever my view might be, I will never “win”. It barely seems to me that these conversations achieve more than the ability of all participants to state their views in an increasingly-heated manner, while showing the entrenched nature of their view.
Often, it comes down to rights. I can’t tell you you’re not allowed to do something, it’s your right to do it. Sometimes this spills over in to how I think as a Christian. It’s my right to convince you that the only way to live as a Christian is my way. I have a hotline to God. He has told me so. My hermeneutics and exegesis are closer to foolproof than anyone else’s. And anyway, I like living the way I like living, so how dare you try and stop me? I am being facetious – phew, you thought I was serious for a second there, admit it – but a lot of us think or live like this quite often, if we are honest.
The language of rights does not, in any way, fully represent or explain the wonder of the good news of Jesus Christ. The sole and most important right any of us have is the right to be called children of God. This is what John 1:12 tells us we have as a result of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. That’s quite a statement. We aren’t children of God because of what we’ve done, or even because of any other familial influence, we are children of God because we have been adopted in to his family, says Romans 8:15.
We don’t have the rights so that we can assert ourselves, think ourselves superior, live as we want to, or trample others down. We are given the right to be children of God as a hard-won gift of grace, which we are to share with the world. I might wish to use the bus, but to say it is my right is not enough. What would be more satisfying, even exciting, would be to live in a culture that viewed each and every person with the respect that being a beloved creation, image-carrier of God and purveyor of the light of Christ deserves. Then we wouldn’t need to assert our rights so vociferously, we would be working for love, peace, justice, humility and living as if we loved our God, ourselves and one another. We can live, love and fight, that all people accept this gift as their right too. Whether we do this by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, telling the good news, or sharing basic human decency, let’s make sure that we know our right, and tell others it is theirs too.