The Image of God and Human Rights

Ethics in Christian Discipling

The Biblical concept of humans being created in the image of God and that this fact should be governing our relationships has significant practical overlap with what we today call human rights. The UN universal declaration of human rights and the standards of ethics in caring professions can often stand in stark contrast to behaviours and cultures found in many churches. This dissonance should give Christians and their churches great pause.

It seems that in many ways, the world is actually way ahead on this and doing a better job of teaching us to treat one another according to God’s design and nature, at least in the formulation of ideas and policies around human rights (if not always in practice – we live in a fallen world after all).

Anybody entering a counselling profession for example will be trained in what is ethical, what proper boundaries look like, what the client’s rights are etc. This training covers confidentiality, cultural sensitivity, emotional safety issues and so on. Compare this to a church situation. Many Christians in churches find themselves in counselling type situations in discipleship settings for example. Yet what training is ever given in these matters?

There is an unfortunate arrogance that can emerge from being the deployer of the sword of the Spirit that gives an unspoken licence to unethical practices in discipleship counselling. Someone might say: “I don’t need to worry about all this namby-pamby and worldly “human rights” stuff. This brother just needs to repent or I am telling my discipler about it!”

Human Rights and Evangelism

Secondly, could this be a locus for evangelism? The teaching of the Bible affirms the dignity of the individual as the image of God. This is a significant contact point with a world that is actually quite interested in the progress of human rights, fair treatment and healthy therapeutic boundaries.

The creative Christian could point out the connection between the contemporary cultural interest in human rights and what God teaches us about His design for inter-personal relationships based on the concept of humans being his image-bearers. (Gen. 1:26-27, 9:6, Col 3:10).