Right or Rights? The Difference An “s” Can Make

Charter-of-Rights-and-FreedomHave you noticed how acceptable it is these days to speak of rights and how unacceptable it is to speak of what IS right (as opposed to what is wrong)? We are a society – it seems – that delights in exploring and defining the soft spaces between diverse interest groups where rights are always exploring their limits.

We celebrate the right for everyone to live and do as they wish and of course this leads to battles of various kinds when one person’s wishes or actions result in offence, loss or injury to another person. The courts are kept busy handling cases where a person or group feels that their rights have been violated by another person or group. The 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the rule book, the lawyers are the referees and the judges and jury are the final arbiters of interpretation.

In an intentionally multicultural society, the wisdom of our various religious traditions is often considered irrelevant. Individual rights trump any claim on what is right on the grounds that right is not only an illusive and shifting target, but a dangerous illusion.  We are free to believe whatever we like, but those beliefs are best kept to ourselves. And if our beliefs affect our actions – which of course they do! – then we must be very careful that we neither judge nor offer help to someone with whom we might disagree.

How can we – and how can our churches – infuse culture in such a society? Do you see the inherent conflict? Democracy (governance of the people, by the people and for the people) and multiculturalism (with its colourful ethnic and faith mosaics) make for interesting contradictions that affect all of us.

In a democracy, the majority rules and yet there is no common or fixed moral standard. It reminds me of the passage that says “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6). Or Proverbs 16:25 which says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” We’re on dangerous and shifting ground!

But these are also exciting times. I believe that God is calling us – once again – to be a truly incarnational presence in our world, with all its quirks and even with its reckless attitude toward SIN. We certainly can’t do it by our own efforts. I’m reminded of the word of the Lord (through the angel) to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6 – Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit. There’s no magic bullet, no simple formula, no program – it’s just us, leaning on God and being led by His Spirit, trusting not in ourselves but in a God whose ways are not our ways. We don’t have to figure it all out. In fact, we’re dangerous if we think we can. God can only lead us if we are willing to be led!