Modern Christians are obsessed with the concept of “human dignity.”1 This is a major topic of discussion and emphasis on platforms like The Gospel Coalition and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Christians of all theological persuasions are stressing human dignity rooted in all people being created in the image and likeness of God as revealed in Genesis 1:26-27. That all people are created in God’s image is beyond dispute; the problem is that this fact is stretched well beyond its biblical application and intentions. The concept of human dignity is used as a pretext to baptize and sanctify humanist ethics on a host of topics.
A recent review of The Dignity Revolution by Daniel Darling published by The Gospel Coalition demonstrates the problem with the way that the concept of human dignity is being applied. Tina Boesch, the author of the review, states that the book addresses “political minefields” where she lumps “racism and white supremacy…eugenics, immigration…and religious liberty” in with other issues such as abortion, physician-assisted suicide, gender, and sexuality. The first group of issues is interpreted through a left-wing lens. This is obvious to anyone who has ever spent literally any amount of time reading The Gospel Coalition, but just in case you might misunderstand, Tina Boesch clarifies what Daniel Darling and other champions of “human dignity” are thinking. Boesch states,
The dignity of unborn babies is championed by the right while the dignity of the poor and refugees is championed by the left. But Darling asks why Christians should have to choose between recognizing the dignity of one group of people over another—politics shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. He invites us to suspend our uncritical alignment with one party or another and instead look at these issues through the lens of dignity.
Are we actually to believe that the Left is tacitly applying Christian anthropology to the issues of poverty and immigration? Are we also to believe that immigration restriction and infanticide are both violations of “human dignity,” the only difference being a matter of degree? What’s truly sad is that these questions even have to be asked! The proper understanding of anthropology and how the image of God in man is to be applied must come from what God has revealed about ethics and social responsibility. Instead of looking to the Bible, modern Christians simply accept leftist platitudes and bromides as though they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Modern Christians make judgments about what is right or wrong in light of “human dignity” based on how it makes them feel. Let’s examine two test cases of how modern sentiments differ what the Bible actually teaches.
Immigration and “Refugees”
Evangelical activism typified by the Acts 17 Initiative encourages refugee resettlement in the United States and throughout the Western world. We find this representative statement on their homepage:
Regardless of your stance on immigration policy or what you think about refugee resettlement, scripture clearly tells us that God’s sovereign hand is the one behind the movements of humanity and we need to realize that He is at work (Acts 17:24-27). God is placing the nations at our doorstep. Jesus instructs us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) and with immigrants, refugees, and international students that reside and continue to come to the U.S., we can easily get involved in His mission to the nations at home.
The Bible references give the impression that this statement has biblical support, but in reality opinions such as the one expressed above depend on facile interpretations that latch onto buzzwords without delving into the actual meaning of the passages being cited, or any other Scripture that might be relevant. It is extremely ironic that Acts 17 should be cited in support of an initiative to transport hordes of people across the globe when the Apostle Paul explicitly states that God has appointed national boundaries, and that this was done in part for the purpose of the evangelization and conversion of the nations to the Gospel (vv. 26-27).2 should live.”] Evangelicals infer that mass migration of non-whites into the West is a means used by God to bring about their evangelization and conversion.
I discuss this problem in my evaluation of David Platt, but stated briefly, this passage does not address all movements of people throughout history, but rather the formation of distinct nations and national boundaries in particular. The mass migration of unbelievers into formerly Christian countries is a manifestation of the judgment promised for apostasy in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. The Bible never suggests that “human dignity” establishes a right to live in any particular country. Deuteronomy 23 lists various exclusions and restrictions for entering the congregation of the Lord, which seems to indicate being incorporated into Israel’s body politic. These regulations differentiate between different groups of people, and everyone mentioned was created in the image of God. The implication is that Israelite citizenship (or any country for that matter) is not a universal right that is derived from bearing God’s image.3
The Death Penalty
The death penalty is another instance in which an appeal to “human dignity” is used to argue for its abolition. Recently Pope Francis has edited the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that the death penalty is “inadmissible…in the light of the Gospel” because of the “increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.” Support for the death penalty among evangelical Protestants has been gradually declining, with more and more evangelicals agreeing with the Pope’s reasoning. The irony is that the death penalty, at least in regards to premeditated murder is explicitly required because of the image of God in man, not in spite of it (Gen. 9:6). The severity of murder is grounded in the willful killing of a person made in God’s image. To withhold the death penalty disrespects the life of the innocent victim and pollutes the land (Num. 35:30-34). Jesus and the Apostle Paul explicitly affirm the legitimacy of the death penalty (Matt. 15:3-6; cf. Mk. 7:6-13; Rom. 13:1-4). Those who reject the death penalty on the basis of “human dignity” are ignoring what the Bible explicitly teaches about the nature of murder as a crime against the image of God in man, because capital punishment hurts their feelings.
Christians have embraced leftist politics and humanist ethics under the auspices of “human dignity,” which is supposedly grounded in mankind being created in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). This is based upon a superficial understanding of the legitimate truth of mankind being created in God’s image, which is then pressed beyond actual biblical applications. Being created in the image of God does not exempt anyone from the consequences of their actions, nor does it give anyone the right to immigrate, permanently remain in, or become a citizen of just any country. The Bible clearly teaches the opposite. The result of this false understanding of human dignity hasn’t elevated mankind, but rather given legitimacy to globalist manufactured crises aimed at undermining the once Christian West. A false understanding of human identity is truly inhumane.
- The title of this article is somewhat tongue-in-cheek – the point being that the Canaanites, whom God commanded the Israelites to completely purge out of the land, were also made in God’s image and thereby possessors of supposedly inviolable “human dignity.” ↩
- The citation of the relevant passage from Acts 17 on the homepage of the Acts 17 Initiative omits any reference to boundaries and instead states that God determined the “exact places where they [the nations ↩
- The books of Ezra and Nehemiah also make this quite clear. Nehemiah was the “man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (2:10) who told Israel’s foreign enemies that they had “no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem” (2:20). Ezra insists that foreign wives and their children be separated from Israel (10:1-3), with the result being the separation of the mixed multitude from Israel (Neh. 13:1-3). We can disagree on how exactly these precedents can and should be applied today, but it is clear that neither Ezra nor Nehemiah considered Israelite citizenship or residence to be something available to everyone on the grounds of being created in God’s image and likeness. ↩