From Where Does Human Dignity Come?

Modern society seems to take ideas such as freedom and human dignity for granted, without realizing where those ideas come from in the first place.  That is illustrated in the experience Dr. David Mackereth.  For 26 years, Mackereth worked for Britain’s National Health Service, primarily in Emergency rooms where he received much praise for his work. Last year, Dr. Mackereth was assigned the job of “disability assessor” for Britain’s Department for Work and Pensions.  During a training session, he and others were told they should always follow department policy and address transgender people by their preferred pronouns.  Mackereth responded that he could not, as a Christian, use pronouns that way “in good conscience.”  At that point, the doctor was told by the trainer that he would be at risk of losing his job if he refused to abide by the policy. He was fired a few days later when he again insisted his conscience did not allow him to follow the department directive.
 
Mackereth then appealed his dismissal. He claimed his rights of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion had been violated. For religious reasons, he said, he could not refer to “any six-foot tall bearded man” as a “she.” Mackereth cited Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”  The employment panel rejected Mackereth’s appeal. That was certainly not a surprise since much of British society has embraced the idea that gender can be determined by each individual and it is inappropriate for anyone to question someone’s self-designation.
 
What I find puzzling is the logic the panel employed.  It said, “Belief in Genesis 1:27, a lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism is our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”  As commentator John Stonestreet notes, “This is like finding milk in the supermarket and rejecting that any part at all was played by dairy farmers or cows.”  Why?  Because Genesis 1:27, the Bible’s teaching that human beings are made in the image of God, is the foundation of Western society’s belief in human dignity and any “fundamental rights.”   If we do not recognize that inalienable rights are something granted by God (our Creator), then the only dignity anyone possesses is what other people are willing to give to them.
 
The essential role the Bible has played forming our understanding and commitment to human dignity is recognized even by Christianity’s opponents.  Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century atheist, acknowledged that Christianity was the only religion or philosophy in the ancient world to even imagine that every individual possessed dignity and worth.   Another atheist philosopher, Luc Ferry, wrote this: “It was Christianity that introduced the notion that men are equal in dignity; an unprecedented idea at the time and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”
 
Unfortunately, those of us who call ourselves Christians have not always treated others as the Bible says we should.  A case can even be made (though I would disagree) that following the Biblical command to love one’s neighbor should lead Dr. Mackereth to refer to individuals by their preferred pronoun.  It is a huge mistake, however, to suggest that he or anyone else should not follow Genesis 1:27, the Bible, or Christian convictions in determining how to treat other people.   Belief that human beings are created in the image of God is the historical basis for respecting individual dignity.  It also provides the only foundation for building a society where everyone, even the weakest, can hope to be treated with compassion and justice.
 
Rev. Dan Erickson, Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church
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