Daniel Darling, Vice President for Communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, discusses his new book, The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for joining us for Family Policy Matters. We’ve just come through a significant mid-term election and I think it’s safe to say that the level of mudslinging, vitriol and just downright disrespect is at an all time high. This is so frustrating because most of the people that I have met who were running for office are genuinely nice people who have good intentions and are truly seeking to serve their fellow citizens. Too often though, what comes through during the campaign season is far from respectful, dignified, and sometimes even truthful. Unfortunately, I think the result of this has pushed many Christians—and other citizens for that matter—into two distinctly different directions. The first is getting disgusted and completely disengaged from anything political whatsoever, and the second is feeling angry and frustrated, kind of digging in their heels and considering anyone who opposes them “the enemy.” But what if we embrace the fact that every one of us is created in the image and likeness of God?
Our guest today is Daniel Darling, who is the author of a new book, The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity. In this book, Dan seeks to challenge Christians to lead a new revolution of sorts, founded on the simple premise that every human being possesses dignity and that we should act toward ourselves and each other with that in mind. Dan, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you with us on the show.
DANIEL DARLING: I’m honored to be on with you, and I’m grateful for all the great work that you do and your team there, and I’m glad to talk about this.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dan, let’s start out our discussion by defining human dignity. Where does the notion of human dignity originate and what does it really mean?
DANIEL DARLING: It really, I believe, originates from the Christian story. There are traces of the idea of human dignity in other religions and philosophies, but really, I think they borrow from the Christian story. And it originates from the opening pages of Scripture, where Moses describes the way that God created the world and he speaks into existence the natural world. But then Moses slows down his narration. It talks about, and uses really rich language to say that God reaches with his hand and sculpts humans from the dust of the ground and breathes into them the breath of life. And of course, a couple of times says that humans are created in the image of God. King David later says that every human being is knit by the hand of God carefully in the mother’s womb. So there’s this exalted language about what it means to be human. And what it means, essentially, is that humans are not God, but were created by God. But we’re also not animals either. We’re distinct from the rest of the creation.
JOHN RUSTIN: So Dan, how have we lost this perspective regarding fundamental human dignity in our current culture? It seems like some of the notions that you speak of about creation and God crafting us with his own hands, of human beings, is really kind of lost in our society—to many people these days, at least. I think these were acknowledgements that, in prior centuries, many folks kind of assumed was the case. Not that there was perfection back then, but there was a sense of dignity because people generally had this understanding that yes, we were creations of the mighty Creator.
DANIEL DARLING: I think there are a couple of answers. I think in one sense, this has been an issue since the Garden of Eden, right? Since sin entered the world and corrupted the human experience. It not only corrupted the cosmos, but it corrupted humans, and humans, instead of turning upward and worshiping toward God, they turn inward. And when we turn inward and selfish, then we lash out at other image bearers. We stop seeing fellow humans as image bears. We see them as obstacles to our own flourishing and we find increasingly innovative ways to assault other humans, to assault their dignity. And so in a sense, it’s happened since the Garden of Eden. But in another sense, every generation of the Church… Well, first of all, every generation of humans find some kind of assault on dignity, right? So in our generation, it’s abortion; it’s racism; it’s the way we talk about immigrants and refugees; euthanasia. Previous generations, it was that whole [idea of] classes of people were considered less than human. You think about the slave trade in America and Britain. You think about 1940’s Germany, where a whole race was almost extinguished because those people were considered less than human. So, it’s something that humans have always battled everywhere. The Church, when she’s at her best, is the one voice standing up for those who the rest of society says is less than human, and the rest of the society says are disposable, and saying: “No wait. There’s a human here. They have dignity. They have worth. The church, at her best has done this. But at times, the church has listened to, has been influenced by, certain cultures and has actually been on the side of oppression, and has at times made tortured arguments to say there may be certain groups who are less than human. You think of the Lutheran Church in Germany, siding with Hitler, not seeing the humanity of the Jewish people. You think of many, many churches in the United States and the antebellum South, kind of, either silently acquiescing to the slave trade, or even saying that indeed this was something that God ordained. So I think at her best, the Church recovers this idea of human dignity and is the one saying what the Bible says it means to be human.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dan, let’s talk about your book entitled, The Dignity Revolution. In most revolutions, people are rising up together against something that they see as evil or unjust. What is the revolution revolting against—or that you’re calling folks to essentially revolt against—in your book? And who are you calling to lead this revolution?
DANIEL DARLING: First of all, I would say that once you fully understand what the Bible says about being human, about human dignity, it really disrupts your worldview, it disrupts your politics in a sense because you understand…. For me, as a prolife conservative that I consider myself as, I’ve had this moral vocabulary of human life that has been given to me by the prolife movement. But it also causes me to think: Okay, I think this about the unborn. What would it look like if I had this ethic for other kinds of vulnerable people groups? And it kind of disrupts your politics a little bit. Or, if you’re someone who comes in with a real strong sense of justice […] or things for the poor, but then you read what the Bible says about human dignity, you also have to come away saying, I have to be prolife for the unborn. I can’t not do that. In other ways, it’s a revolution because it disrupts our tribes and causes us to speak about human dignity, wherever it’s being assaulted, regardless of what that does to our politics. But secondly, I think in terms of who leads it. I think it would be wonderful if we had leaders who would embrace that human dignity. I think you see people on both sides embrace some aspects of human dignity for certain vulnerable people groups. But it’d be great if we had leaders who said: I’m going to be both prolife and projustice. I’m going to care about the unborn and about the immigrant, and so on and so forth. But I think the revolution will be led quietly by ordinary people who live out the ethic of the Gospel in their local communities. I think too often we look to our national leaders to solve our problems. And there are some problems that only they can fix, and we do want to be involved and engaged, but more importantly, I think those of us who have influenced can use our voice to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.
JOHN RUSTIN: So, how does the dignity revolution address and deal with differences among Christians on social issues, political issues, and even theological issues. Sometimes, we can have general understandings and come together on broader things, but then, when we get down into the details, it can start to reveal disagreements or differences of opinion and things like that. And sometimes those can be, quite frankly, difficult to overcome.
DANIEL DARLING: Yeah, I think you’re right. It depends what the issues are. There are some issues about which, to be a follower of Christ, the Bible is pretty clear, right? The Bible’s pretty clear about the sanctity of human life, for instance, about abortion and that the unborn life is a life and it’s not a clump of tissues or cells, and deserves protection. I think the Bible is pretty clear on a biblical sexual ethic. The Bible is also clear on our attitudes toward the stranger, toward the immigrant, toward the poor, the way that we think about poverty. But there are ways in which good Christians can disagree on the mechanism for which we solve these problems, right?What’s prudent to solve these problems? So, you take an issue like poverty. Good Christians will disagree on the exact finer points of how we solve these things. What level should the government help? At what level should be private enterprise? You know, there’s good disagreement in good things on most things. Or, specific political ideas that two good people may disagree or agree on the prudence of. But then, there are things that we should agree on when it comes to theological issues, that same thing. I think there are core matters of orthodoxy that define you as a Christian, but then there are things that are secondary and third tertiary issue […]. The nature of the end times, or some discussion about the gifts that good people disagree on, but also can have fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ. And so, I think we need to learn to have robust disagreements on these issues and robust arguments, but also understand that the person making that argument on the other side is a person worthy of respect and dignity.
JOHN RUSTIN: So is The Dignity Revolution a call that’s directed primarily to Christians or to people of all faiths and beliefs.
DANIEL DARLING: I actually have two motivations here. My first motivation, obviously, is to speak to the Church. To say, if the Church is to live out the values of the Kingdom of God, if we are to embody the Kingdom, if the Church is to be an outpost of the Kingdom of God, that we must come alongside the vulnerable, we must stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. We need to recover this idea of human dignity in the way that we think about public policy, and the way that we think about our civic debates, in the way that we think about others, the way that we think about work and sexuality and all these things. When the church does that, it becomes a great signpost to the Kingdom of God. It becomes an evangelist tool. People say there’s another King in another Kingdom and a better way and a better story than they’ve been telling themselves, and I think it does welcome people to ask questions about the Gospel.
Then my second motivation is to speak to those who may not be Christians, to say you have instinctively some of these notions about what it means to be human. You have these ideas in your mind that there are certain injustices you see in the world. This is where it comes from, this is where it stems from, and to present the Christian story to people to say the Christian Gospel offers the most robust vision for what it means to be human. And even if you don’t believe it—I like to say to people—you wish it were true. You know, human dignity is one of the best gifts I think that Christianity gives to the world.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dan, what are some simple steps that our listeners can take to become a part of the dignity revolution?
DANIEL DARLING: First of all, for all of us to look around in our world, in our sphere of influence, and ask ourselves the question, who is it that we are most likely to pass by? Who is it that we’re most likely to not consider the humanity, that our eyes have trained us not to see? Those are the people that God wants us to most care about, to reach out to.So when Jesus is telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, when he was asked: Who is my neighbor? He’s saying: Your neighbor is that person you’re most likely not to see, that you’re most likely to pass by on the road to Jericho. So number one, who are those people? Number two, in what way can I use my time, my resources, my influence to help those who are less fortunate. Is it partnering with existing organizations? Is it working through my church, some of the programs that they have? What can I do to help those people? Thirdly, just thinking in terms of our worldview and our politics. In this age of social media, all of us have a voice and so how am I using that voice? Even in the way I engage politics, the way I engage these things. Am I using my voice in such a way that recognizes the dignity of those with whom I really strongly disagree with? Those who I think are really wrong about certain things? Am I using a distinctly Christian way of speaking about that issue and about those people?
JOHN RUSTIN: Dan, I know this has been very encouraging and inspiring for many of our listeners. Before we go, I want to give you an opportunity to let them know where they can get a copy of your new book.
DANIEL DARLING: It’s available everywhere books are sold. So if you prefer to order your books online, through Amazon, or through other places. You can also go to my website, DanielDarling.com, there are links to all your favorite retailers there. You could also go to Lifeway Christian stores and it’s available at your local Lifeway store for purchase there. And I believe Lifeway might even have the best price on it, but wherever you get books, it’s available. It’s also available on audio book and on Kindle, so I’d love for you to pick up a copy.
JOHN RUSTIN: And with that Daniel Darling, I want to thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
DANIEL DARLING: Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate it, and I’m grateful for all the great work that you are doing.
– END –