If Communists brush their teeth regularly, should evangelicals knock theirs out?

Certain plants, such as the marigold, are heliotropic: they naturally turn toward the sun. Certain evangelicals could well be termed isolatropic: they naturally turn away from society’s problems toward a narrow separationism. Whatever good is advocated outside the limited confines of the evangelical community is suspect per se; if it does not square, in content and vocabulary, with the model of nineteenth-century revival preaching, its demonic origin is considered self-evident.

That this mentality is still very much with us can hardly be better illustrated than in the field of human rights. When Jimmy Carter makes universal respect for human dignity at least a theoretical cornerstone of his presidential policy, certain evangelicals take this as an illustration of a less than thoroughly conservative theology (“the Bible talks about human responsibilities, not human rights”). When the International Year of the Child is proclaimed, an undercurrent of evangelical criticism is heard everywhere: the IYC is a Communist plot, typically promoted through the United Nations, to take children from the tutelage of their parents so that they can be indoctrinated by the socialist state. The Council of Europe, with its European Court of Human Rights—the most sophisticated juridical human rights machinery in the world—is turned into an apocalyptic agent of Antichrist by the evangelical prophetomaniacs (the members of the council, we are told, are the toes of the eschatological image in Daniel 2).

One hesitates to dignify the silliness of such attitudes by formal criticism. To take an obvious example: the European states in the Council of Europe presently number 18, not 10 as the apocalyptic image requires. And it will not help to take the number of states who are current members of the European Economic Community (the Common Market), for their number likewise does not now conform to the eschatologically required figure.

But the separationist mentality we have been describing is not merely silly; it is tragic. While many non-Christians are desperately concerned about the maltreatment of children and the disregard of their rights as human persons, certain evangelicals give the impression that they are on the side not of children but of their oppressors! Even if Communists do attempt to use the International Year of the Child to their ideological advantage, should evangelicals therefore quit the field, leaving the Marxists to play the role of defenders of childhood? If Communists brush their teeth regularly, should evangelicals knock theirs out?

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Think what it could mean in world public opinion if the evangelical community throughout the globe stood at the forefront in the IYC, proclaiming, in our Lord’s words: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Imagine what a positive effect it could have in global evangelism if American evangelicals were outspoken in favor of U.S. ratification of such human rights treaties as the American Convention on Human Rights, instead of supporting an existing nationalistic indifference that makes our country look hypocritical in the eyes of uncommitted Third World nations.

Here is one example of what can be done along such lines; it is offered only as a model of what Charles Williams termed the “way of affirmation” as contrasted with the “way of negation” (i.e., separation).

Ten years ago René Cassin, the architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, used the proceeds of his Nobel Peace Prize to found the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, the city that would later become the seat of the Parliament of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. Every summer since that time, the institute has conducted the foremost study program in human rights in the world, inviting to it the leading scholars in the human rights field from every corner of the gobe. Over a thousand students of all ideological stripes and from both “developed” and “developing” countries have participated in the courses offered, and have returned home to commence human rights instruction in their own law schools and universities, and to influence their governments to respect the dignity of the human person.

This past summer two hundred students came to us and sat under more than 20 eminent professors and specialists, who were invited to conduct courses in English or French. Included were Thomas Buergenthal of the University of Austin, Texas (author of the most comprehensive legal casebook on human rights law); A. H. Robertson (author of such standard works as Human Rights in Europe); T. C. Van Boven, director of the Division of Human Rights of the United Nations; Z. Resich, dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Warsaw, Poland; and so on. (Resich, not so incidentally, dealt with “The International Protection of the Rights of the Child,” and stated, inter alia: “The most general need, aside from the organization of the school system, is that the state reinforce, protect, and sustain the family, which still remains the primary and indispensable milieu for the education of children.… The protection of the child requires that he be juridically guaranteed all the facilities and possibilities for his physical, moral, spiritual, and social development with liberty and dignity.”)

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Alongside the general institute program, as director of studies I organized, under the joint sponsorship of the Christian Research Institute and the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, a parallel and coordinated first annual International Seminar in Theology and Law, in which some 30 students were enrolled. Here we endeavored to show (1) that, as Marc Agi has argued in his French biography of René Cassin (1979), the “human rights and fundamental freedoms” set forth in the Universal Declaration (and those in the European Convention and American Declaration on Human Rights also, for that matter) ultimately derive from Holy Scripture; and (2) that human rights law and principle, like all positive jurisprudence, requires a revelational basis for its ultimate justification—and a Savior to pick up the fallen race whose sin manifests itself particularly in the inhumane treatment we have accorded to and continue to accord to each other, despite the fact that his light “lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

John Warwick Montgomery is professor at large, Anaheim Christian Theological Center, Anaheim, California.

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