Following Christ, Relinquishing Rights
Last fall, around the time when Donald Trump first made his infamous call to ban all Muslim immigration to the United States out of fear that it may be a “Trojan Horse” of terrorist infiltration, I wrote a blog post calling for Christians to welcome immigrants and refugees, even if it is costly to us. I wrote:
The way of Jesus Christ is not closing doors to asylum-seeking refugees or building walls to keep out foreigners. The way of Jesus Christ is not about forsaking the well-being of others in order to protect one’s own livelihood. The way of Jesus Christ is the cross. It is the way of sacrificing one’s own well-being in the name of love for others, however uncomfortable or risky or countercultural that may be.
Seven months later, after the tragedy in Orlando and after Donald Trump has reiterated his “ban” and after his support has broadened (even among Christians) beyond what any of us could have imagined, I think the point needs to be made again.
Christians: Being like Christ does not mean looking out for your self-interest and safety and comfort and rights above all else. Being like Christ means thinking of others before you think of yourself; prioritizing the safety of others above your own safety; willingly ceding your power and privilege and guns and freedom out of love for the powerless, the underprivileged, the weak and the vulnerable.
Fear-driven self interest is everywhere in America today, with everyone prioritizing their well-being and liberty above that of others. Inflammatory media, social media polemics and identity politics-fueled outrage have led us to a nihilistic, no-shared-anything place where individuals are left to simply fight for their sacrosanct rights: to say offensive things publicly because #FirstAmendment, to own automatic weapons because #SecondAmendment, to abort unwanted babies, to demand access to jobs that immigrants might take for cheaper pay, to demand free healthcare or lower taxes, to demand gender-specific or gender-neutral bathrooms, to marry whomever we want to marry, to serve wedding cake to whomever we please, etc.
But this is not the Christian way. The Christian way is to set our rights aside when they are an an impediment to the love and grace of the gospel, let alone when they endanger the safety of others. Does this mean we never appeal to our rights? No. Paul himself appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen when he was about to be flogged (Acts 22:25). Does this mean we fully surrender our freedom to believe certain beliefs and to live our lives consistently with those beliefs? No. But it may mean we exercise our freedoms more quietly or that we cede some of our freedoms for the sake of others’ flourishing. It may mean we open ourselves up to inconvenience and discomfort and pain.
This is a hard truth for Christians, but it is a foundational truth in our faith. The New Testament is full of calls to follow Christ’s model of humble, self-effacing and status-relinquishing love (Phil. 2:5-8); to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21), to consider others more important than yourself (Phil. 2:3), to see freedom in Christ not as a weapon but as an opportunity to serve others in love (Gal. 5:13-15), to serve our neighbors before we serve ourselves (Rom. 15:1-3), and so on.
This is the upside-down, countercultural nature of the kingdom of God, and Christians in today’s world have an opportunity to reclaim our witness as emissaries of this “others before myself” kingdom.
We can reclaim it by:
- Giving up our right to voice our opinions loudly and immediately on social media or blogs, even if it means we don’t get to take part in juicy debates and even if the void of our silence is filled by less informed, less civil voices.
- Giving up our pulpits and platforms from time to time, inviting underrepresented voices to speak in our place, even if it means we don’t control the narrative or the theology as perfectly as we might prefer.
- Giving up our right to access military-style assault rifles like the AR-15, the common killing denominator in most of America’s recent mass shootings, even if the Second Amendment protects that right and even if we’re forced to stock our self-defense arsenal with less efficient weaponry.
- Giving up our Washington D.C. access cards and “insider” political influence and opting for a more consistent moral witness as exiles on the margins of power, even if it means we’re no longer a coveted voting bloc and even if religious rights are further eroded because of it.
- Giving up our comfort and security by opening our national and state borders, as well as our homes and our churches, to refugees and immigrants, even if it costs us tax dollars, jobs, safety, etc.
- Giving up our rights to choose to do whatever we want to do with our bodies (sexually, reproductively) because we defer to God’s design and ownership of our embodiment, even if that undermines real desires we feel and even if such self-denial is widely viewed as repressive.
- Giving up our rights to plan parenthood and plan baby genetics and plan our time of death and plan our bodily functions and rhythms, even if it’s inconvenient to us and even if it goes against mainstream society’s supreme value of personal autonomy.
- Giving up our right to display the Confederate flag, even if it means undermining Southern cultural pride and apologizing for things we didn’t ourselves do.
- Giving up our right to attend a homogenous or culturally comfortable church, even if it means we subject ourselves to cross-cultural stress and discomfort in worship.
- Giving up our rights as Christian institutions to function entirely free from government intrusion, even if it means we cede some of our religious freedom and even if it means we make accommodations we might prefer not to make.
- Giving up our right to ignore the degradation of God’s created world and deny a human role in climate change, even if it means we inconvenience ourselves by using less water, crowding into public transit more often and paying more for eco-friendly things.
The list could go on. There are thousands of ways, large and small, that Christ-followers can be like Christ in their day-to-day lives, humbling themselves and forsaking their freedom, power, privilege, status, convenience, comfort and/or safety for the sake of the other. If we humble ourselves in this way, the name of Christ will be high and lifted up (descent followed by ascent, as in Phil. 2:5-11). He will increase as we decrease (John 3:30). His name will be magnified when his followers live in the manner Paul describes in Philippians 3:8: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”