With the initial phrase of the Secular Creed, Black Lives Matter, we addressed the biblical truth behind such a statement, while also warning of the organization and the associations that it has unquestionably tied onto the slogan. We come now to the statement, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights. Again, let us first consider what we can affirm and then address what we must deny.
WHAT CAN WE AFFIRM?
Like Blacks Lives Matter, the easiest place to begin is with the simple declaration that women’s rights are, in fact, human rights. Women are human; therefore, women’s rights are also human rights. Nevertheless, before observing how our society guts this statement of its godliness, we must address why it is biblically correct.
Genesis 1:27 is a focal text yet again: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Here we read that from the beginning of humanity’s creation the LORD designed both male and female. Coupled with Adam’s declaration upon seeing Eve for the first time, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), the Bible clearly presents that both men and women, male and female, together form humanity.
Of course, the Bible is rarely accused of denying women’s humanity altogether but that it presents women as being inferior to men. This is not, however, the case. A basic presentation of complementarity particularly and of the layout of the Bible generally will help us to understand why.
First, according to the Scriptures, men and women are not the same. True, we are more alike than we are different, since we are each fundamentally human after all. This, however, does not negate the distinctions between men and women. The Scriptures unapologetically place Adam’s creation first, being taken from the ground, with Eve then being created from Adam’s rib. They then make it clear that Adam and Eve each fulfilled different tasks. In God’s judgment following their fall into sin, God cursed Eve’s task of bearing children and Adam’s task of working the ground for food. Yet these tasks were not segregated from one another; instead, both were necessary for accomplishing the fourfold commission that God decreed to them: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Humanity could not multiply nor could the earth by filled without the woman giving birth; neither would the land be subdued without the man to work it. Thus, the biblical pattern for humanity is a complementary relationship between men and women. Both are equally human in worth and value, while maintaining distinct God-designed functions.
Second, we rightly ground our understanding of humanity in Genesis 1-2 because they display God’s design for humanity without the corruptions of sin factoring into the equation. From Genesis 3 until Revelation 20 comes to pass, perfect complementarianism is marred by sin. God foretold this in Genesis 3:16 where he warned Eve that “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” We then receive a glimpse of how things would trend downward in Genesis 4:19 when a man named Lamech takes two wives for himself.
I make this point because many objections to the Bible’s teaching of marriage and gender roles inevitably comes to the accounts of men like Abraham, Jacob, or David who had multiple wives. While the Old Testament does seem to somewhat tolerate the practice, it is never encouraged and, in fact, is very much warned against. Indeed, no one can read the birthing feuds between Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29-30 and conclude that such is the path to domestic bliss. Rather, the Bible includes such details because it does not shy away from sin’s corruption upon humanity and even upon God’s own people. We, therefore, must place a greater emphasis upon the original design of Genesis 1-2 and remember that all lesser treatment of women in the stories of the Bible is a product of the Fall and that the Bible is relaying to us the facts of the fallen world.
Indeed, Jesus Himself pointed back to those chapters as a super-precedent of sorts (i.e., Mark 10:6). Thus, as the gospel of Jesus Christ continues to reconcile us to both God and to one another, it is not redefining what it means to be a man or woman; instead, it reclaims and restores the creation design that sin has marred. So, while the New Testament clearly preserves the distinctive roles of men and women (see Ephesians 5:22-33), it is also able to declare, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Just as the gospel does not erase ethnic distinctions but unites them, so the good news does not erase but unite men and women. In Christ, no preferential treatment is given to men over women nor to women over men, for all are equally sinners saved by His marvelous grace.
Finally, we must also address the notion of rights. While not explicitly stated in Scripture, the very concept of human rights comes from the Bible. For instance, the right to life is a clear implication of the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Murder must be sinful and unlawful because humans, as imager-bearers of God, have the right to live. Likewise, the right to own property is implied in the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). Of course, because the language of human rights is not found in Scripture, we may have much debate on exactly what constitutes a fundamental right. Even still, we must remind ourselves that our modern view of human rights is grounded upon a decided Christian ethic.
Consider one example. As I have mentioned in writing about Ephesians 6:5-9 (which is where Paul addresses how bondservants and masters are to live with one another as Christians), Christianity’s transformation of how society viewed slavery is astounding. In the days of ancient Rome, slaves were certainly acknowledged as human and yet treated as property without any hesitancy of the conscience. By teaching the worth and dignity of all image-bearers, Christianity undercut the backbone of slavery, and it could not survive. In fact, as horrendous as slavery in the United States was, the fact that slave-owners needed to argue against the humanity of their slaves indicated just how deeply Scripture’s teachings had penetrated (not to mention how sinful the human heart can be).
Historian Tom Holland made a similar observation of Christianity’s hidden impact on his own life:
[Sparta and Rome] continued to stalk my imaginings as they had always done: like a great white shark, like a tiger, like a tyrannosaur. Yet giant carnivores, however wondrous, are by their nature terrifying. The more years I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, so the more alien I increasingly found it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practiced a peculiarly murderous from of eugenics… were nothing that I recognized as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls, and enslaved a million more. It was not the extreme callousness that unsettled me, but the complete lack of any sense that the poor or the weak might have the slightest intrinsic value. Why did I find this disturbing? Because, in my morals and ethics, I was not a Spartan or a Roman at all. That my belief in God had faded over the course of my teenage years did not mean that I had ceased to be a Christian. For a millennium and more, the civilization into which I had been born was Christendom… So profound has been the impact of Christianity upon the development of Western civilization that is has come to be hidden from view. It is the incomplete revolutions which are remembered; the fate of those which triumph is to be taken for granted.
I find Holland’s account fascinating because he comes to the honest conclusion that the modern concept of human dignity is profoundly Christian. Our society’s default belief that “the poor or the weak” do have intrinsic value derives from God’s Son who was crucified and identified with the “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Simply put, we must not forget that any conversation about human rights is necessarily beginning with Christian ethics.
WHAT MUST WE DENY?
Now that we have concluded biblically that women’s right are human rights, what makes the statement’s placement in the Secular Creed only appear to be godly? Let us address two common ideas in circulation today that should be denied.
First, we should reject the feminist notion of society as a patriarchal power structure designed to oppress women. Do not misunderstand me. Women have certainly received their fair share of oppression throughout history, which we should strive to learn from and resolve not to repeat. Furthermore, one of the most common forms of slavery still in existence today is forced prostitution. Therefore, I am absolutely not suggesting that women have not experienced oppression of any kind.
We should, however, push back against the increasingly common notion that the biblical concept of complementarianism is a form of patriarchal oppression. Homemaking and childrearing are not oppressive; they are the very backbone of a well-functioning society. After all, society can only continue so long as it creates a next generation for itself. Giving birth, though it certainly comes now with difficulties, is both a privilege and a necessity rather than a yoke of slavery. Indeed, much of what is now called “patriarchy” is for the provision and protection of women as they fulfilled these roles. Although women certainly can hunt, plow a field, or fight a battle, doing so while pregnant or nursing would likely not end well. The reality is that complementarianism is not merely biblical; it is also practical.
Second, when speaking of women’s rights, the topic of abortion is usually not far behind. One of the best strategies today for the progressive march into the secular morality is to change unsavory terms for more pleasant-sounding euphemisms. Abortion is often seen as too tethered to the idea of killing a baby; therefore, it is frequently spoken of as women’s health, a woman’s right to choose, or simply reproductive health. Yet behind the euphemisms stands the pressure to consider the choice to abort a pregnancy to be a fundamental right of every woman.
To be honest, if one presumes the secular value system, abortion makes sense. A foundational component of secularism is self-autonomy, absolute choice for the individual. However, in order to achieve true autonomy, limitations must be dismantled. Requiring a woman to complete her pregnancy until birth runs contrary to such autonomy. How can women ever hope to compete on an equal footing with men, so the thought goes, if they may be limited by something as life-altering as pregnancy while a man never will? And this is why the abortion debate is so charged. It represents the ability to break from the patriarchal society for good and for men and women to finally be equals.
While we can certainly understand the appeal of self-autonomy, three things should keep Christians back from supporting abortion. First, because we believe in God the Creator, we affirm that we are contingent beings and that pure autonomy is impossible. Since God alone is the only necessary being, we (and all of creation) are contingent upon Him. Therefore, the pursuit of autonomy cannot ultimately succeed. We cannot outrun the Author of life. Neither can abortion overturn the created order. True life and fulfillment are found in submitting to God’s design through His strength; only death comes from rejecting His ways.
Second, women do not need to become like men in order to succeed. Modern feminism has increasingly lost sight of pursuing women’s rights at all and, instead, seems to be all about doing everything that men can do. Yet as we have seen, this is not the design of the created order. Women’s rights will not be satisfied when the distinctions between men and women have been erased (if that were even possible) because there would be nothing left to truly set them apart as women’s rights. The battle for ensuring women’s rights should be to protect and preserve the rights of women, not to stop being feminine altogether.
Third, and this is the big one, the termination of a baby in the womb is not a matter of choice. Behind society’s desperate cry for abortion to be classified as a right seems to be much fear, and, again, that makes sense. With marriage rates plummeting and fewer people in church than ever before in recent history, more and more women are facing pregnancy’s challenges alone. Without a committed husband and a community of support, I understand the growing temptation for such women to simply want to call the whole pregnancy off. Such fears, however, are not sufficient to justify the killing of a definitively human life. An infant in its mother’s womb is humanity at its weakest, yet life must always prevail over choice. The rights of a mother NEVER include her ability to terminate her children, neither inside nor outside the womb.
When associated with both abortion as a right and “freedom” from the patriarchal oppression of society, the declaration that Women’s Rights Are Human Rights quickly fits the description of “having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). After all, they rebel against the very creational structures of femininity. They presume to help women, but only do so by first stripping women of their womanly distinctions. True feminism (if there is such a thing) ought to celebrate the unique joys and trials of women, rather than simply trying to be one of the boys. Women’s rights are human rights, for God made humanity both male and female. Should we lose that distinction, women’s rights will be sacrificed in the very pursuit after them.
 Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, 16-17.
 I must, by necessity, speak in generalizations. Even many who have a supportive marriage and community may still fear the loss of autonomy that comes from childbearing and childrearing.
One thought on “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights”
Thank you for the well thought out and well-presented argument.