The Biblical Basis for Civil Rights
by Pieter Crow


Great Commission

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…" (Matthew 28:19-20)

cultural hindrances to the Great Commission

  • biblical illiteracy
  • acceptance of paganism (non-biblical religions)
  • biblical viewpoints expelled from public institutions
  • move away from civil rights grounded in the Creator

end result

Less freedom for people to hear the Gospel and receive God’s gift of forgiveness. The God of the Bible is being pushed steadily out of the public square, which if continued will pave the way for tyranny and the loss of civil rights for all.

remedy in the public square

Show how religious liberty and civil rights are rooted in the Bible, and have no other source in history -- how the Bible provides the ethical basis for American freedoms.

foundational assumptions

The entire Bible is based on the doctrines of creation, sin and redemption introduced in Genesis 1-3. Because they are intrinsic to the biblical text on its own terms, these doctrines transcend denomination, creed, or labels like liberal and conservative. God created a good universe (creation). The human race fell into rebellion against God and corrupted creation (sin). God has provided the means to reconcile sinful people back to himself through faith in Messiah, who is Jesus Christ (redemption).

topics of creation

Four topics sum up the content of Genesis 1-2, also known as the order of creation: God > life > choice > sex. God existed prior to the space-time universe (Genesis 1:1). He created the cosmos and all life, especially human life wherein all people are made in the image of God to rule over the works of His hands (Genesis 1:27-28). The essential quality of the image of God is moral and aesthetic choice (Genesis 2:16-17). God gave marriage as the vehicle for sexual expression (Genesis 2:23-24). In the covenant of marriage, husband and wife pass on the gifts of life, choice, and sex to their children.

uniqueness of biblical creation

Comparison of world religions will show:

  • the biblical tradition starts with a good God who made a good creation
  • other religions and philosophies start with the assumption that creation is broken

Only Genesis 1-2, the origin text of the Bible, provides a positive foundation for understanding time and space.  Only Genesis of all religious origin texts has a positive view of God’s nature, communication, human nature, human freedom, hard questions, human sexuality, the scientific method, verifiable history, covenantal law, and the First Amendment. Consider for example human freedom and the First Amendment.

Only Genesis has a positive view of human freedom

In Genesis 2:16-17, God spoke words of freedom to Adam. Adam was free to eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden. God warned him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because that choice meant death. God gave Adam and Eve total freedom to choose good or to choose evil, but he did not force them to accept either. It was freedom for blessings and joyous choices if they chose to obey. It was freedom for death if they chose to disobey. Other religious origin texts, in their assumption of sin from the beginning, at best offer freedom from brokenness that already exists, at worst offer no escape from violation. Thus it is negative freedom. Only the Bible starts with positive freedom before violation.

Only Genesis has a positive view of the First Amendment

When God created Adam He gave freedom to accept or reject his standards. The order of creation established a foundational principle, namely, the freedom to reject God. People may create their own version of God. They may seek to become their own god. They may substitute an idol for God. Or they may disavow the existence of God.

The First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first freedom is freedom of religion. Without the security of religious liberty, no one may speak, print, assemble or seek redress for what he believes. They are all dependent on religious liberty, consistent with the freedom given by God in Genesis.

unalienable rights

Unalienable rights by definition are those that can not be created, removed or restricted by any human agency or government. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson appealed to the "Creator" as the source of rights higher than the King of England. This "Creator" is none other than the God of the Bible. God in Genesis 1-2 gave unalienable rights to all human beings as image bearers of God.

the Declaration of Independence

The foundation of American political philosophy set forth these famous words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

the U.S. Constitution

The 5th and 14th Amendments describe how law protects these unalienable rights. Citizens are not to be deprived of "life, liberty, or property" without due process of law.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, was not a believer in the Bible. He was a rationalist who rejected miracles, placing reason ahead of biblical revelation as the source of all knowledge. Nonetheless, he was influenced by the biblical worldview of those around him. When he defined rights that are unalienable he unconsciously but accurately identified their true nature, in spite of his unbelief.

parallels

Genesis 1-2 God life choice sex
Declaration of Independence Creator life liberty pursuit of happiness
U.S. Constitution   life liberty property

sex and the pursuit of happiness

"Pursuit of happiness" was a phrase coined by philosopher John Locke. Many people today believe sex outside of marriage equals the pursuit of happiness. But not the Bible. In the beginning it was understood all people would grow up and marry, start a household, raise children, and build communities. They would pursue happiness according to the first "great commission" given by God: "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it." (Genesis 1:28)

sex and property

How is sex (biblical marriage) parallel with property? Consider Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." It says husband and wife start a new household apart from their parents. A separate household means separate property. Hence, property rights are assumed as a gift of God in the order of creation; they flow out of and are part of the blessings of marriage.

American Civil Liberties Union

In their position papers, the ACLU looks back to Greece and Rome as sources for American political concepts. While these cultures had some good ideas (e.g., the rule of law), they had no concept of unalienable rights for all. Freedom was allowed only for an elite limited to men, and the majority of people were slaves. Moreover, Greece and Rome understood deity as warring pantheons of gods and goddesses, engaged in battles for power and sexual conquest. The opposite of the God of the Bible, who in his goodness created the universe and gave unalienable rights to all human beings.

theocracy

There are only two theocracies in history: ancient Israel and when Jesus returns. In the meantime there is no theocracy and no mandate to turn America into a theocratic state. We should celebrate the unalienable rights and gifts of creation, given by God to Adam and Eve, and meant for all people subsequently.

application in a pluralistic society

Religious liberty God gave freedom to human beings to believe what they want. Christians should affirm every person’s right to reject God and his standards as protected by the First Amendment.

Political process American citizens are free to participate in the political process according to personal beliefs, whether religious or otherwise. Any group, including Christians, that wins consensus may enact law, provided life, liberty and property are protected for all.

Equal rights Christians should honor the equal and unalienable rights of life, liberty and property for all people in the name of Jesus Christ. Since rights are given by the God of creation, their true definition should accord with biblical ethics. When cultures move apart from the ethical foundation of Genesis, they move toward brokenness, chaos, and tyranny.

Separation of church and state A church shall not nationalize the state, and the state shall not nationalize a church. Yet America has celebrated the biblical worldview since its founding to the present day. Why? Because freedom is a commandment from God (Genesis 2:16-17). Non-biblical religious traditions have a negative view of human freedom going back to their origins. They assume the existence of sin without a prior good creation. Anyone who celebrates freedom of conscience affirms biblical ethics, even atheists or others opposed to the Gospel.

Loss of rights America is not a Christian nation in any theocratic sense, but a nation founded upon the ethics in Genesis. Whenever rights are lost, we must know where to locate them in order to recover them. In truth some civil rights have already been compromised, especially concerning definitions of human life.

Abortion
Pro-choice reverses the order of creation: sex > choice > life > |God
Pro-life maintains the correct order of God > life > choice > sex

Life always preceeds choice:

 Topic How life preceeds choice  Source
 Biology no human choice apart from biological life Nature
 Political Philosophy life > liberty Declaration of Independence
 Law life > liberty  5th & 14th Amendments
 Theology life > choice Genesis 1-2

"Pro-choice" equals anti-informed choice, because it places sex and choice ahead of life and God, which often leads to death as an affront against God. Women and their unborn enjoy equal status in God’s sight, and abortion destroys the rights of nascent human beings in the womb. An unborn child bears the image of God, and thus abortion literally removes the presence of God. Thankfully, forgiveness is available in Jesus the Messiah for those who have participated in an abortion or counseled in favor of it.

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The Biblical Basis for Civil Rights
by Pieter Crow
last updated August 28, 2002