Washington (BWA)--The Baptist World Alliance calls on Baptist churches around the world to make time during this season of celebration to reaffirm our commitment to human rights through the observance of Human Rights Day.
Human Rights Day is celebrated annually across the world on December 10 in honor of the United Nations General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of that kind, on December 10, 1948.
For more than three decades, the BWA has encouraged Baptist churches to highlight this emphasis by promoting Human Rights Day. We urge all Baptist churches around the world to reaffirm this historical commitment by observing Human Rights Day on their days of worship on December 11 or 12.
2010 is the 62nd anniversary of the UDHR. The declaration has served as an ideal to be pursued by every nation, and has inspired the implementation of laws at national and international levels to protect the basic rights of individuals and peoples. A global movement for human rights has sprung from it, and has generated greater awareness not only of the intrinsic rights of every human being, but also of the existing violation of those rights in various places around the world.
Today, the principle of the sovereignty of the national state is understood vis-à-vis the respect for the basic rights of the individual. When those rights are not respected, the international community is urged to act through the mechanisms of international law and popular mobilization in favor of those whose rights have been violated irrespective of their nationality.
Human rights advocacy, however, is a continuous process and struggle. It is a constant battle against the evil of dehumanization and of disrespect for God's image in each person.
Theologically speaking, human rights spring from the theological understanding of human dignity, which is a gift from God to all human beings. Human rights are the socially constructed instruments through which human dignity is protected and promoted.
Human rights are reflected in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which includes the idea of the dignity of human beings created in God's image; the promotion in the Decalogue of respect for God and for the neighbor; the claim of the Hebrew prophets in defense of the poor, the widow, and the foreigner; and the incarnation of Jesus Christ and his call for the reconciliation of the world.
Furthermore, although we value the symbolism of the International Declaration of Human Rights, as Christians, we understand that declarations of human rights need to be fleshed out by men and women continuously committed to stand up for the oppressed.
Baptist theologian Thorwald Lorenzen stated, "The concern for human rights is intimately interwoven with the history and theology of Baptists." The origins of the Baptist vision were closely linked with the claim for religious liberty, for freedom of conscience, for freedom of opinion, and with freedom of assembly.
Already in 1612, Baptist pioneer Thomas Helwys had written down the first document in the English language that argues for freedom of religion for all people. His brave and bold words echo in the corridors of history to this day: "Men's religion to God is between God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it; neither may the King be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure."
By observing Human Rights Day, Baptists join together in a strong voice to remind the world of our love for freedom for everyone and our commitment to justice everywhere.
Resources are available on the BWA website, www.bwanet.org.