On Dec. 20, 1993, the post for a United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was established.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the OHCHR continues its mission to “[represent] the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity.”
This Dec. 7-8, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) invites all Baptists to stand in solidarity at this significant milestone and observe a Human Rights Day in order to pray, faithfully live out the biblical mandate, raise awareness and share in the reality of brothers and sisters around the world.
Rooted first in Genesis 1 and the imago Dei, the biblical mandate to celebrate and further human rights receives a powerful extension in Matthew 1:18: “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about.”
Wrapped in swaddling cloth, the infant Jesus is the unequivocal declaration of God’s great valuation of humanity.
This expression is all the more powerful given Jesus’ vulnerability in the face of an infanticide that quickly propelled the holy family into political refugees.
There are many powerful titles for Jesus – the Christ, the Son of God, the Name above all names – but equally important is the acknowledgement of Jesus the Refugee.
Focusing on this often-underdeveloped reality, scholar Tokunboh Adeyemo writes in the Africa Bible Commentary, “God was not ashamed to let his son become a refugee. By sharing the plight of stateless refugees, Jesus honored all those who suffer homelessness on account of war, famine, persecution or some other disaster.”
Perhaps most surprising is that this chosen divine defenselessness was entrusted into the hands of an unwed teenager and her carpenter fiancé whose greatest asset belied human power and societal exclusion: faith expressed in obedience.
Baptists themselves have long recognized the life affirming and human rights nurturing call of faithful obedience found within the Scriptures.
As an example, alongside famed 19th century British missionary William Carey’s numerous evangelism efforts and Bible translations was his 30-year pioneering endeavor to protest against the Hindu practice of sati, the forcible burning of surviving widows on the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands.
Carey, oft recognized as the “father of modern missions,” sets a powerful precedent in combining evangelism with a pursuit of human rights and public square betterment.
Today, few Baptist organizations advocate for human rights and human development as staunchly and widely as the Baptist World Alliance. To name but a few, the BWA is currently:
â— Pressing for religious freedom for Christians in Azerbaijan
â— Assessing human rights conditions amid the violence of Columbia
â— Responding to the plight of typhoon victims in the Philippines
â— Standing alongside churches in the Congo to support orphan education and training.
Such work remains a vital necessity. The world today contains 2 billion undernourished people, 3 billion with unsafe water and poor sanitation, 1.4 billion without adequate daily clothing, 200 million exploited child laborers, 4 billion unprotected from human rights abuses, 4 billion not immunized and 2.2 billion denied freedom of religion.
To focus on one country, Eritrea is one of the most egregious contemporary violators of religious freedom.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) documented in its 2013 report that Eritrea currently holds 2,000 to 3,000 religious prisoners.
These religious prisoners are frequently beaten and tortured, prohibited from praying or singing aloud, and denied access to religious books.
They are imprisoned alongside numerous others in deplorable conditions, including overcrowded facilities with scarce food and potable water, underground bunkers and caves, and metal containers.
These realities remind us of the pressing need to follow the example set by Mary and Joseph as well as by Baptist forbearers such as William Carey by standing alongside human vulnerability in the face of oppression with radical obedient faith.
The BWA Human Rights Day this Dec. 7-8 affords a meaningful opportunity for Baptists today to practically follow this biblical injunction through prayer, raising awareness and corporately participating in the vibrancy of a Gospel that transforms oppression by joining Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Elijah Brown is an assistant professor of missions at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas, where he also serves as a faculty in residence. Since 2010, he has been a member of the Baptist World Alliance Commission on Religious Freedom.
Elijah M. Brown is the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.