God, as has often been noted in this election season, is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. From this obvious truth many people draw the conclusion that their choice in candidates and policies is therefore morally equivalent. It isn’t.
There are certain issues that transcend political parties and partisan politics and for Christians who believe in the Biblical ideal of justice, the protection of innocent human life, and defense of human dignity, are nonnegotiable.
What is the most essential principle of a liberal democracy? What concept is so foundational to Western culture that is must be protected at all cost? What, if anything, sets our civilization apart from all those that have come before?
I believe the answer can be found in two of the greatest political documents produced by the Western civilization: The United States Declaration of Independence and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” declared the founders of America, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The first declaration in the preamble to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights echoes this bold assertion, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
Both documents share the assumption that the concept of human dignity is the foundational principle of freedom and human flourishing. As inheritors of the liberal democratic tradition, it’s easy to overlook the radical nature of this claim. But over the course of history and continuing even now throughout much of the non-Western world, this ideal is considered politically and socially heretical. For many, this truth is not only not self-evident and inalienable but is also self-defeating and alienating of cherished notions of hierarchically imbued rights.
Admittedly, even Western societies have found it difficult to fully implement this ideal. Over the course of America’s history, various groups have been excluded because of sex, race, ethnicity, and religion. But while our history has been shameful, we must also acknowledge that our direction has, with many notable and regrettable exceptions, generally inclined toward a more inclusive recognition of human dignity.
But what does it mean to recognize human dignity?
It means that all human beings, at any and every stage of life and in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every class, ethnicity, race, religion, sex, of any physical or mental ability or genetic defect, are to be considered persons of immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity because they have been made in the image of God, and that they therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status. Human dignity, however, is not based on the criteria set by man, but by the standards set by God. We can’t truly treat people with dignity if the dignity is not rooted in the eternal commands of our Redeemer.
While we have some latitude to disagree on how this acknowledgement of human dignity shapes out moral obligations, I believe we can and should agree to accept this as a standard moral conviction and the starting point for dialogue. Whether the government should tax the rich more heavily or what exactly must be done to protect the environment are positions on which Bible-believing Christians can honestly differ. But the demands of social justice require that we recognize the that our fellow citizens are made in the image of God and must be treated not as we would prefer, but as God commands. If we are to continue to cherish our unalienable rights, we must take this as our inalienable responsibility.
Because the State plays such a significant role in meting justice, we have a duty to elect representatives who share this robust view of human dignity and the temerity to govern accordingly. That is why I am a single-issue voter — and my single issue is human dignity.
When I cast my vote I must do so not on the basis of the next four years, forty years, or even four hundred years. I don’t want to be on the ever-changing, culturally based “right side of history”; I want to be on the eternal, infinitely just side of God. I must therefore cast my vote from the perspective of eternity, knowing that I’ll someday have to stand before our Creator and answer if I used my political responsibility to truly love my neighbor.