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Human dignity addressed by ERLC in Capitol Hill event
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's Travis Wussow (from left), Russell Moore and Daniel Darling discuss human dignity during the ERLC Academy event Oct. 2 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Anne Kim

Human dignity addressed by ERLC in Capitol Hill event

Oct 8, 2018

WASHINGTON (BP) – Human dignity, as a biblical doctrine, should shape how Christians view the unborn, elderly and refugees as well as religious liberty, sexual assault and civil discourse, Southern Baptist ethics leaders told a gathering on Capitol Hill.

The expansiveness of human dignity was set forth Oct. 2 by staff members of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in the final of three sessions this year of its annual ERLC Academy. Russell Moore, the ERLC's president, and Daniel Darling, the commission's vice president for communications, addressed questions for an audience consisting primarily of congressional staffers and non-governmental organization workers.

The biblical view that all human beings are made in God's image demonstrates the purposefulness of their existence, Moore said.

"Humanity is not an accident," Moore told the gathering in the Cannon House of Representatives Office Building. "Humanity is not just a sum of biological processes. Humanity is a picture that God has embedded in the world of Himself and points us ultimately to the true and perfect humanity in the Lord Jesus Christ."

If the biblical view of human dignity is lost, "we start to think of people simply in terms of either their cognitive functioning or in terms of their sexual vitality or in terms of their power" in ways that are ultimately degrading, Moore told the mostly millennial generation audience.

In "dehumanizing other people, we end up dehumanizing ourselves," Moore said, adding the result is "a kind of social Darwinism."

Moore and Darling – authors of the new book "The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God's Rich Vision for Humanity" – addressed the following topics as part of a format that consisted of questions from Travis Wussow, the ERLC's vice president for public policy, and the audience:

The #MeToo movement

The "baseline issue" on sexual mistreatment of women, Moore said, is "whether or not power itself means right." The pattern often has been "men using power in order to see women only in terms of their sexual availability or attractiveness, and often in ways that are abusive and violent and deadening to the soul."

When it happens in the church, it can create "a crisis of credibility," Moore said. "[S]ometimes what tends to happen in churches is when something awful happens, there's a sense of: 'Well, let's treat this as a public relations matter because we don't want people on the outside to think this is what Jesus is about.' That is what actually takes away the credibility of the church. Jesus never deals with sin within the church by covering it up but by exposing it."

The Kavanaugh confirmation controversy

Two biblical principles exist, Moore said, in the debate over Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee who was accused of sexual assault en route to his confirmation Oct. 6. Proverbs [17:5] says, "The one who justifies the wicked and the one who condemns the righteous are alike an abomination to the Lord," he told the audience.

The Kavanaugh situation is "fraught with ambiguity" because people don't know everything that happened, Moore said. "I don't worry about the people who would say, 'I think she's telling the truth. Let's believe her.' I don't worry about the people who are saying, 'I think he has been unjustly accused because of the sort of track record we've seen elsewhere in his life.' Those are legitimate disagreements we can try to work on.

"What I'm worried about are the people who would say, 'Well, boys will be boys. This doesn't matter. It was a long time ago.' Or the people who will say, 'Well regardless of whether it's true or not, somebody with that kind of track record shouldn't be on the court.'"

Public discourse

Darling said, "[W]e've stopped seeing people as ideological opponents, and we now see them as mortal enemies."

Some of this results from arguments being "mediated through digital forms," Darling told the audience. "It's easy to get what I call 'keyboard courage' where we just hammer away at people because we don't see that person on the other side of Twitter as an actual human being. We see them as sort of an avatar to be crushed or the sum total of their arguments.

"And I think for Christians it doesn't just matter that we speak out on an issue, but it matters how we speak,” Darling said. "[C]ivility and courage actually can go together."

The elderly, immigrants and refugees

Fear often is a controlling factor, Moore noted, in issues involving the elderly, immigrants and refugees.

With regard to physician-assisted suicide, he said, "[T]here is a discounting of the elderly in our culture that I think is rooted fundamentally in fear of death." The roots of a "sort of euthanasia mentality" can be heard when people say, "I don't ever want to be a burden to my children," he said.

"In reality, God has created us to be completely dependent at the front end of our lives and to be completely dependent at the back end of our lives. We need other people to care for us."

Regarding immigrants and refugees, Moore said one of the matters "often at the heart" of the debates "is an appeal to fear." Christians can debate what are the best policies, he said, but "what we can't do, though, is to surrender to this idea that people are themselves a problem to be dealt with."

Religious freedom

Among the things "that religious liberty recognizes," Darling said, "is the humanity of people." The ability to think, reason and believe is part of being human, he told the audience. "A government that takes that away is essentially denying you part of your humanity."

The ERLC Academy, which completed its fourth consecutive year, seeks to equip the next generation of leaders to apply the Gospel of Jesus to the moral and ethical issues facing the church in society. It was held previously in Nashville in 2015 and 2017 and in Washington in 2016.

This year's first two ERLC Academy events also were held on Capitol Hill. Moore spoke on how to think about ethics and moral problems in the May session and on the conscience and temptation in July.

The Good Book Co. – which published Darling's book – sponsored the Oct. 2 session.

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