Sermon on Persecuted Christians and Human Rights

Human rights

I reached the age of 62 few weeks ago. I have to say that life gets more and more exciting year by year as God opens my eyes to new challenges. Through Hope two years ago I learned about Fair Trade and then about human trafficking. At the beginning of this summer I was invited to participate in a cruise organized by Operation Mobilisation dealing with human rights abuses in the Muslim world. Then we had Kamal and Christina here speaking on that subject. Just a few days later mail came through the post that the theme for the Responsibility Week organized by the Finnish Ecumenical Council was the issue of people being persecuted for their faith. Then Hannu Vuorinen told he wanted to change his sermon subject to preach about Christians under pressure. I think it was a prophetic message to us. Listen to it from the internet if you missed it last week. I feel I must continue this theme by speaking about human rights this week instead of the original subject of Why the Bible?

What are human rights? There is a trend these days to equate human rights with anything anyone wants. People say that it is their right to have a better salary or pension. The problem is that this devalues the concept of human rights. Some countries may not have the resources to give better salaries or pensions as we see today in Greece. Human rights are what people have because they are created in the image of God.

For many people in the West these days human rights are becoming a difficult concept. Western humanists do not believe we are made in the image of God but just evolved from animals. If that is true where do we draw the line? Does an ape or a dog have the same rights as a human? Does a fetus have rights? This is the root of the abortion question. In many cases the comfort and lifestyle of the woman is considered more important that the rights of the fetus.

For Christians who follow the Bible there is a clear distinction between humans and all other created beings. This does not mean we treat our dog or cat badly but it means we give first place to humans.Psalm 8v4-8 is a good basis.

4. Kun minä katselen sinun taivastasi, sinun sormiesi tekoa, kuuta ja tähtiä, jotka sinä olet luonut,
5. niin mikä on ihminen, että sinä häntä muistat, tai ihmislapsi, että pidät hänestä huolen?
6. Ja kuitenkin sinä teit hänestä lähes jumal'olennon, sinä seppelöitsit hänet kunnialla ja kirkkaudella;
7. panit hänet hallitsemaan kättesi tekoja, asetit kaikki hänen jalkainsa alle:
8. lampaat ja karjan, ne kaikki, niin myös metsän eläimet,
9. taivaan linnut ja meren kalat ja kaiken, mikä meren polkuja kulkee.

So what are the rights that humans have? Here are some:
The right is to be treated as a person irrespective of race, gender, religion, political conviction
The right to liberty,
The right to life
The right to live securely
The right to equal standing in front of the law
The right to move freely
The right to a freely chosen marriage
The right to choose and practice a religion
The right to freedom of expression

These all come from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which most members of the United Nations have signed up to. This declaration was made in 1948 by the founder members of the United Nations and most nations except communist states and Saudi Arabia signed the declaration. Most Muslim nations now support the Cairo declaration of 2000 which sounds like the 1948 declaration but requires it be interpreted by Sharia law which effectively cancels many of the rights. For example under Sharia a woman has a value equal to one half of that of a man. There is no right for a Muslim to change their religion etc.

Even if the people who made the original declaration were not all Christians, it is clear that this declaration reflects Christian values developed over the centuries since the time of Christ. Christian values did not become fully visible in the early church. They have required a process of thinking about the implications of the Bible teaching.

For hundreds of years Christians thought slavery was OK until they really studied the Bible and thought about it. Then they understood that even though slavery was the normal practice in the New Testament times and not condemned in the Bible, the implications of the gospel require the ending of slavery. Similarly the equal role of women was not recognized, and even now is not recognized by some Christians, but now most understand that the equality of women is implied in the gospel even though in New Testament times it was not yet practiced.

Christian values have gradually changed the way we think, especially in the Western world. Unfortunately, we now live in a post-Christian world. Even though we still enjoy the benefit of Christian values we are losing the basis for these values. This is leading to a gradual weakening of these values, for example in the case of free abortion or the right to have differing opinions about sexual orientation.

However the major human rights abuses are happening in countries run by dictators and in many Islamic countries, often the same countries! Great numbers of people are suffering especially Christians. About 165000 Christians die for their faith each year. That’s like the whole of Turku being wiped out each year!

These numbers are so overwhelming, what can we do about the situation?

Let’s look at three examples from the life of the apostle Paul.

Acts 16 tells us the story of how Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten and put in prison. The Lord released them by an earthquake and the jailor became a believer. Next morning the local authorities sent a message telling that Paul and Silas could be released. Paul refused to go until the authorities came and apologized for breaking the law. It was illegal to beat a Roman citizen. Paul was a citizen, and they had broken their own law by beating him.

The same thing happened in Acts 22 when Paul had been arrested and the soldiers were going to beat him. They were very frightened when he told he was a Roman citizen and immediately released him from being beaten.

Finally in Acts 25 we find Paul using his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar to be judged by him and not by the Jews.

In each case Paul gives us a model of using the laws agreed on by the government to get the government to act properly. As a Roman citizen Paul had rights and he demanded that those rights be respected. Since most nations today have signed up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we can demand that they give people those rights. We can also demand that our own government and others put pressure on nations that are failing to keep to the human rights declaration they have signed up to. When Western governments keep silent about the persecution of people for their faith, for example Christians in the Middle East, it means they are denying the universal rights they have claimed to agree with. We don’t have to persuade them to adopt Christian values but just obey their own rules, just as Paul did with the Romans.

By pressurizing our leaders to follow the human rights declaration we can help our suffering brothers and sisters throughout the world. We also hope that if one day we are persecuted, other Christians will speak to their governments on our behalf.

When I first heard about these things, I was asking God what can I do, these are such big issues. He clearly answered me “Just keep doing the small things”. Last week when we were at the Workers days in Kiponniemi Mike Pilavacchi was speaking to us about the story of Elisha and the widow described in 2 Kings 4. The widow had no money to pay her debts and people were coming to take her son to be a slave. She only had a small bottle of oil left. Elisha told her to get lots of pots from her neighbors and pour oil into them. When she did this they kept getting filled from the small bottle she had. Then she sold the full pots of oil. The Holy Spirit said to me “The small things I told you to do are like these empty pots. You feel you have little to give, just like a small bottle of oil, but pour what you have into each of these pots. When you do it they will be filled and many will be blessed.”

This sermon is one of those small things. God is going to use this message to touch the lives of some of you and you will do greater things for human rights than I can do.

There is another small thing he showed me to do. When I heard about the Responsibility Week I thought it a great idea. Normally I have not taken interest in ecumenical things. We don’t need to agree with everything the ecumenical movement does. On this issue of raising awareness and prayer concerning the abuse of human rights of people being persecuted for their religious beliefs, we should be in agreement. The more people who take notice of this issue the better. At the end of this service I am going to give each of you personally a brochure produced by the Ecumenical Council on this subject. I am going to ask you to read it and pray about it this week. That’s all. Just a small thing but for some of you God will change your lives.

Another small thing. Next Thursday will be the Turku Rukoilee meeting in the Methodist Church in Hämeenkatu at 18.30. Prayer for suffering Christians will be included in the program. Even if you have not been to Turku Rukoilee before why not come along and join in just because you care about this issue?

Vote in the coming elections for good people who will stand up for human rights.

The last small thing is that I would like to start a working group to think and pray what we could do about this issue of human rights and especially people persecuted for their faith. I don’t know where this will lead but we have seen already the VALO association being started in this church to help those suffering from human trafficking. Why not something similar to raise awareness of the human rights abuse being committed when people are persecuted for their faith. If you feel a calling to this, contact me after this meeting or email me later.

Remember what Tolstoy wrote: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”. We Christians have been silent too long. It is time we opened our mouths and spoke out about the suffering of our brothers and sisters in other countries before we ourselves get drowned in a flood of atheistic humanism or Islamic fundamentalism. We must not be passive Christians who just wait for Jesus to come back and take us to heaven. We have been given the task to proclaim his kingdom to the world as long as we still can. There may come a time when it is no longer possible but now we have the chance. Let’s use it.

Graham Turner, Turku Free Church, Armontalo