In promoting God’s kingdom on earth another justice issue is the need to assure equal rights to all persons regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and other distinguishing characteristics. In spite of progress this remains a significant challenge in many countries around the world, most notably where a dominant group discriminates against minority groups.
The concern for equal rights arises from recognition that all persons are children of God who “makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45b). It follows the example of Jesus who accepted everybody as persons of value, Jew and Gentile, men and women alike.
Role of Government
In political history the idea of equal rights gained expression in the American Declaration of Independence (1776) which proclaimed that “all men [the generic] 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 Declaration further states “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This means that an appropriate task of our governments is to protect and enhance equal rights. It can and should also be a concern of other institutions of society including ecclesial and charitable organizations, voluntary associations, business endeavors.
Therefore, we can turn to government to enact measures that require fair treatment under the law, full voting rights and the right for everyone to hold public office, equal access to employment opportunities, public accommodations, quality education, and housing.
Enacting laws isn’t enough. Fair treatment must be achieved in practice. Of particular concern in the United States these days is the relationship between the police and minority communities: African Americans, Latinos, and others.
The challenge is to change from an adversarial relationship to an approach of viewing public safety and crime prevention as a cooperative endeavor between the police and the community. This is possible because both sides have a common interest in public safety. Local churches have important roles to play as instruments of reconciliation.
Nowadays a specific challenge in the United States and many European countries is to provide full acceptance and equal rights for Muslims, who are a growing population
We can learn from Peter who accepted the invitation to visit Cornelius, a pious Gentile. “I really am learning,” Peter reported, “that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
In our day 138 Muslim scholars affirmed this spirit in a 2007 statement “A Common Word between Us and You” addressed to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders. They wrote, “The common word is ‘love of the One God, and love of the neighbor.’ ” They cited the Two Great Commandments that Jesus taught, derived from the Hebrew Scriptures. For Islam they indicated:
Of God’s Unity, God says in the Holy Qur’an: Say, He is God, the One! / God, the Self-Sufficient Besought of all! (Al-Ikhlas, 121:1-2). Of the necessity of love for God, God says in the Holy Qur’an: So invoke the Name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him with a complete devotion (Al-Muzzammil, 73:8).
Of the necessity of love for the neighbor, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself (http://www.acommonword.com/the-acw-document).
Although theological expressions and practices differ, persons of the three monotheistic faiths all love and worship the same God. In the highest expression of each faith adherents are taught to respect and love one another as neighbors, not as enemies.
All three faiths believe in hospitality to strangers, following the example of Abraham whom they all revere. For the Christian West this should include welcoming Muslin immigrants.
Some would say, though, that Islam teaches violence, as displayed by Muslim terrorists. However, this is an aberration just as the violence of Crusaders and Inquisitors was an aberration of Christianity.
As a measure of justice full rights should be granted to all who consider themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. This includes allowing homosexuals full and equal rights to marry, raise children, belong to churches, and become ordained ministers when they feel God’s call. “Straight” people should recognize them as neighbors in the fullest sense, as persons to whom we offer full acceptance following the example of Jesus.
There is a lesson for us from the apostles who considered whether to accept uncircumcised Gentiles into the early church. As we reviewed on the page on accepting others, Peter had a vision and heard a voice saying, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure” (Acts 10:9-16). The gathering in Jerusalem affirmed that Gentiles didn’t have to accept all the strictures of Mosaic law. Likewise we should put aside the few passages in the Bible, written in earlier times, related to homosexuality and offer full acceptance without reservation.