One of the human rights intimately associated with the right to life is the right to dignity. Dignity is the basis of the famous right of habeas corpus. From the Latin meaning “having your own body,” this right protects a person from being possessed by another, from being forced to do things against his/her own will, from being harmed even by the same judicial system.
Jesus never discriminated against people or took away their dignity. Jesus didn’t even treat his eternal enemies, the Pharisees, without dignity. Jesus dignified women. He dignified slaves. He dignified strangers—not making any distinction between them and his own Jewish people. Jesus dignified children, taking them in his arms and praying for them. He dignified widows. He dignified the sick, the lepers, the demon-possessed, the incarcerated, the oppressed, the Romans, Greeks and Jews. For Jesus and his disciples, there was no favoritism. Paraphrasing the words of Martin Luther King, Jesus never considered people “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
People may lose their dignity for many reasons, including having to emigrate from one country to another. In times as ours—when nation-states have fixed for themselves the right to accept or reject people coming from other parts of the planet—to remember another person’s dignity is not gratuitous. The dignity of migrants, for example, needs to be respected because they and their families are children of God. When we treat other people as if their right to dignity has been lost because they were born in a different part of the world, we disserve life itself.
Human dignity is made evident in the debate over migrations, one of the most complex problems of our globalized world. It is very sad to see international migrants as a new kind of slave, as people who have lost their worth because they had to leave their own land. It is even sadder when the migrant becomes the scapegoat for all the social and economic problems of a country. Beyond all particularities of race, origin, gender and the like, all of us are members of the human family, and none of us should be denied our dignity whatsoever, under any circumstance.
When problems are global, solutions have to be global, too. Maintaining the dignity of migrants is not only a job for ecclesial sectors, but also for social, civil and political ones. We must get to know the cultures that for whatever reason are taking root among us. We must understand their ways of life and thought, and we must welcome the stranger even as we remember that we are all “aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11).
The world’s hope resides in respecting the dignity of all people. The stubbornness and intolerance that we see lately come from idolizing ourselves and our ways of life and being. Effective globalization envisions the person as Christ did and recognizes essential dignity. The kingdom of God, which we advance, is a kingdom that humanizes without distinctions. It is more than just a dream; it is a reality that takes Jesus as a model, incarnated, made one of us, assuming each of our realities and infirmities, and transforming them “to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:14).
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). Confronting all of the indignities of the moment, we children of God defend human dignity, as it was taught to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Daniel Carro, originally from Argentina, is professor of divinity at The John Leland Center for Theological Studies, in Arlington, Va. He is also Latino Kingdom Advance Ambassador with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.