“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
I'm not sure if its an American thing, but as an American surrounded by Americans, we can be very consumed by "rights." Now, this is mostly a good thing, of course, because legally those rights are primarily to protect people. But what happens when two separate rights for protection collide with one another, like the freedom of speech as it collides with hateful, dangerous speech? The laws of the U.S. do make space for one right to override another in certain cases.
As believers, we are governed not just by a different law, but by a more comprehensive, more demanding Law. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Time and again God's word compares the generosity of love for others as a litmus for our comprehension of His expansive, unreasonably generous and merciful love for us.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
We gladly give up our "right" to use the word "retarded" when describing another human whose intellectual capacities have been limited by nature or nurture. We find out if our guests have any food allergies before planning the meal we will serve them, looking out for their health and well-being above perhaps our favorite dish to prepare or eat ourselves. We are decent enough to abstain from alcohol around someone is who struggling through recovery. When going on cross-cultural mission trips, we give up our right to dress as our cultural norms allow to accommodate the meaning and norms of the other culture. The concept of setting aside our rights (to say whatever we want to say, to eat and serve whatever food we want most in our own homes, to enjoy our social freedoms, etc.) is not beyond our grasp or heart's capacity to manage.
So why are we reluctant to go further and examine other places where my rights may in fact be at the expense of other people's social, emotional, or physical health? Am I willing to give up my right to speak so other voices from different experiences can have the floor instead? Am I willing to give up my right to control the "best way for things to be ordered" to allow another way to override my will? Am I willing to set aside my profit so that another might profit instead? Am I willing to set aside my desire for that title so that one who has been generationally passed over can hold that seat instead of me? Am I willing to vote against my own personal self-interest in favor of the interest of others who have for too long had their interests ignored, withheld, denied, and dismissed? Am I willing to give up my right to individualism and being judged on my own self-assessed good merits to carry the weight and burden of 400 years of U.S. history's treatment of people of color by people with "white" skin? Can I give up my need to be "the good white person" and "not racist" to carry the weight that has been on the backs of our brothers and sisters of color for generations? Am I willing to start believing people of color when they describe their experiences of living in black bodies in America rather than dismissing their experiences so that I can feel less blamed and burdened?
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45
White Christians have been complicit in maintaining the systems that cause harm to our brothers and sisters of color. This is not political, this is human reality. We reinforce our notions of "white is right" when we negatively critique attire, speech, musical genres, social customs and norms, names, educational institutions, and future aspirations that do not sound, smell, taste, feel or look like our cultural norms. Our negative critiques assume we are in a position to judge accurately and impartially. Our negative critiques reflect how deeply we have been shaped by the wicked beliefs of white supremacy no matter how we revile those who act under that banner.
Do we resist this self-examination, this exploration of motives and values behind our opinions and reactions? Do we ask why being asked to consider another's experience, where it may require we bear a cost to ease their burden, makes us angry or defensive or hurt or paralyzed?
Do we hear these words as condemnation and feel that they are hopeless new standards for righteousness that we can't possibly meet or be asked to add to our already heavy loads? OR do we hear our Gracious, Loving, Heavenly Father inviting us into more of His grace, more of His Kingdom, more of His freedom, more of His Joy as we identify more deeply with Jesus and our whole Family in Him?
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21