Today is Susan B. Anthony Day, so it’s a perfect time for Christians to learn from the life and activism of Susan B. Anthony. Although she had a diverse and at times unorthodox Christian background, she believed that all of humankind was equal under God. This inspired her activism. Anthony’s life reflects a belief that our culture desperately needs to hear from Christians that the value and natural rights of every human being comes from God and deserves to be protected.
It’s imperative that Christians understand that the idea of God-given rights and equal value are not merely human inventions. While both Anthony and the Founding Fathers claimed that all of mankind was created equal by God, this idea was not unique to them. Instead, it derives from biblical principles of justice.
Anthony claimed that mankind received their rights from God rather than the government. In her speech “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?” she says, “Before governments were organized, no one denies that each individual possessed the right to protect his own life, liberty and property.” Anthony believed that mankind had these rights long before there was a government.
But if the government didn’t give us our most basic rights, where did they come from? Anthony believed that these rights are natural, meaning they are given by God. Thus, a just government should protect them, not create them. She asserts, “The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the constitutions of the several states and the organic laws of the territories, all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights.” Anthony further quoted from the Declaration of Independence to prove her point in her speech: “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
If Anthony is right that mankind was endowed with rights by God, we should see something in Scripture about it. While the language of “natural rights” is not explicitly stated in scripture, we can see that the principles of rights are supported in the commands given by Jesus and Moses.
In Mark 12:31, Jesus instructs his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This confirms what is expressly stated in Matthew 7:12, that we should treat others as we would want to be treated. This means that if you love your life, liberty, or property and desire for those things to be respected, you should love and respect your neighbor’s life, liberty, and property as well.
While Mark 12 does not contain the language of rights, the Ten Commandments show that God expects His creation to respect the life, liberty, and property of others. In Exodus 20, the second table of the Ten Commandments directly command us not to end another person’s life or to steal their property. While the specific language of “rights” is not present here, violating someone’s life or property was considered a serious moral failing under the law and subject to governmental punishment. By putting these commands in the moral and legal law for the Israelites, God set an example for just government that the Founders reaffirmed through the protection of these natural rights in the Constitution.
Not only is there biblical support for the idea of natural rights, but there is also a case for equality in how we respect other’s rights. In Leviticus 24, the Mosaic law requires that the laws of restitution and penalties for murder and stealing are to be the “same rule for the sojourner and for the native.” God is perfectly just, and justice requires that the protection of natural rights be unbiased towards external factors like one’s nationality.
While there is strong biblical support for the principles behind natural rights and equal respect of other’s rights, there are times when our natural rights are not adequately protected in the U.S. When this happens, Christians need to go a step further. It happened in Anthony’s day with the unequal protection of women and African Americans. But she refused to sit by apathetically and watch injustice occur around her. Instead, she took action to advocate for their rights. Whether or not she realized it, Anthony acted out the command in Micah 6:8 to “do justice.” Every Christian should do the same today.
In America, Christians can advocate for the rights to life, liberty, and property of their neighbors. Every day in America, preborn children are killed because of “choice,” women and children are enslaved in sex-trafficking because of other’s “pleasure,” and Christians lose their jobs or are forced to close their businesses because their consciences aren’t “tolerant.” We have the opportunity and duty to love these neighbors around us and advocate for the protection of their rights, just as Susan B. Anthony did.