Ask another question

"What are our rights?" That seems to be a pretty hot question now-a-days. And unlike almost every other issue in our country, this one seems to cut across political lines.

For example, just in the last couple of weeks, I've read about a pro-choice rally in Texas and an anti-mask protest in North Carolina. And even though I'm not sure the politics of the two groups could be more different, underlying both is the exact same question: What are our rights?

Of course, with these two groups, this is actually a rhetorical question, because for them the answer is obvious and unassailable as it is for those who consider themselves pro-life and who support masking mandates.

But when you think about it, why shouldn't the determination of civic, political and moral rights be important? That would sure seem to be one of the foundations on which our society is built.

I mean, in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson called "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" rights, not good things we should have if we find ourselves living in a utopia.

And the first 10 amendments to The Constitution are called the Bill of Rights, not a Collection of Possibilities.

No, the idea of personal and individual rights is part and parcel of who and what we are as Americans. And to know where the lines are, we really need to be clear about the nature of those rights.

And even though that has served us well for almost 250 years, unfortunately there's a downside.

You see, the more we focus on our rights, the more we separate ourselves from others. And the more we focus on what we should and shouldn't be allowed to do, the more we isolate ourselves from anyone who might disagree.

And the more we exalt our own thoughts, opinions and assumptions, the more we're able to tune out and turn off every idea that doesn't fit into what we already believe.

In other words, when we focus on the question, what are our rights? We make worse a society that may be irreconcilably divided.

And for that reason, I would challenge Christians to consider another question first.

While still recognizing that individual rights are important, maybe we should lead with this: What are our responsibilities?

You see, that may be the better question for followers of Jesus Christ to ask first, because that would sure seem to reflect what Jesus taught.

I mean, remember, he told his disciples, "But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35, CEV)

And he taught them this: "If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be the slave of the rest. The Son of man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people." (Matthew 20:26b-28, CEV)

I think you can say that, for Jesus Christ, our responsibility to others is more important that any rights that we believe we should possess.

And if Christians would take the lead in modeling this belief within our communities, I believe we just might see change. Of course, living this priority isn't easy to do.

It means intentionally putting the other guy and his needs before ourselves and our wants; therefore, becoming the servant of all isn't painless.

But if we're willing to try and if we're able to pull it off, I believe isolation will no longer be a possibility - and the decision to listen will precede the determination

to talk.

And the responsibility we have to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger and clothe the naked, to care for the sick and visit the prisoner will be more important than any personal and individual rights we believe that we have.

Of course, I recognize that most people will probably continue focusing on the question: What are our rights? And as a result, our society will continue to be fractured as irreconcilable groups shout at each other rather than listen to one another.

But as believers, let's make the choice to take a different approach. Let's decide to move the question of rights to the second tier so that we can

obey the words of Christ and consider the responsibilities we have to those around us.

And I'll tell you, doing that starts when we make the conscious decision to ask another question.n

Rev. Ed Rudiger is pastor at Sligo Presbyterian Church.