Human dignity is unassailable, inalienable and indivisible

The Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) is responding to the statement by the Russian Orthodox Church on "human dignity, freedom and rights". The CPCE sees the position of the ROC as a misunderstanding of human rights and invites it to continue the dialogue to implement human rights.

In summer 2008 the Russian Orthodox Church published a statement on human rights. The other Christian churches were invited to discuss the document “on human dignity, freedom and rights”. The Presidium of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) has given its response to the ROC today.

For the Russian Orthodox Church human “sinfulness” can put human dignity in question. Its human rights doctrine develops a confrontational relationship between human rights and Christian morality, which culminates in the thesis that observing human rights would compel Christians to think and act against God’s commandments.

The response of the CPCE sees this as a misunderstanding of human rights. Human rights are rights of protection and participation which put the sphere in which human beings act under the law and guarantee a framework for human life together. In this sense the Protestant churches regard the contribution of human rights as a positive one.

The statement of the Russian Orthodox Church mentions “abortion, suicide, lechery, perversion, destruction of the family, the worship of cruelty and violence” as examples in which the “weakness of the institution of human rights” endangers the morality of Russian society. The Protestant perspective finds it impossible to follow these examples. In fact human rights emphasize the protection of life and the inviolability of the person, the protection of private life and of the family.

The Russian Orthodox Church subordinates human rights to the values and interests of the homeland, the community and the family. In the Protestant Church this leads to the question of the critical attitude of the church to state order. In view of the restriction of civil and political rights in Russia, and also in many other countries, the CPCE finds lacking in the statement by the Russian Orthodox Church anything about the protection of the individual from attacks by the state such as political persecution, political murder, discrimination against minorities or the undermining of democratic proceedings and structures. From a Protestant perspective precisely in these questions the churches have an important task, namely to combat the misuse of state power.

According to the Protestant view “human rights” are such rights as accrue to all human beings by virtue of their God-given dignity. Just as they cannot be bestowed by any this-worldly authority, so they cannot be denied by any authority. They are unassailable. The CPCE invites the Russian Orthodox Church to continue their joint dialogue on the importance of human rights. In this connection the CPCE attaches importance to the joint statements of all churches such as the Charta Oecumenica and the closing declarations of the three European Ecumenical Assemblies.

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