rights and responsibilities

Three recent events, a complaint about a sermon, a movie about Margaret Thatcher and a FB conversation about gun laws, have me reflecting on the tendencies of ‘left-wingers’ and ‘right-wingers’.  Both left and right folk will express concern for both ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, but at different times.

On the topic of social welfare:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the poor/unemployed
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the poor/unemployed

On the topic of gun laws:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of gun owners
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of gun ownership/use

On the topic of war:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of all humans to have peace
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of defending peace

On the topic of abortion:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the woman
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the man and woman

On the topic of ‘the environment’:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of individuals and businesses
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of individuals and businesses

In all of these scenarios, I am interested in embracing the tension between BOTH rights AND responsibilities.  I’m interested in BOTH short-term practicalities, AND long-term wisdom.

I’m interested in social policy that is both generous and sustainable – that avoids the extremes of too much or too little assistance, which (ironically) both end up cementing the poor in their poverty.

I’m interested in gun laws that are both practical and wise – that avoid the foolish extremes of taking guns away or assuming that no regulation is needed at all – both of which will end up causing harm.

I’m interested in a military policy that is both prepared to use force, and seeks to be accountable to human rights – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic and passive pacifism on one hand, and a short-sighted/arrogant agression on the other.

I’m interested in an abortion policy that is committed to the quality and quantity of life for both the pre-born human and the mother (and father, family…) – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic, legislate-heaven-to-earth, fantasy on one hand, and a careless, inhumane, abortion-as-contraception nightmare on the other.

I’m interested in environmental policy that uses both legislation and education to motivate people and businesses to care for creation – avoiding the extremes of avoidance and assumptions that all is OK on one hand, and aggressive, undemocratic pushing through of eco-laws on the other.


I’ve had recent ponderings about the increasing violence, recklessness, selfishness, and hedonism of many young NZers represented in the news.   Oh sure, there are some sterling exceptions, but not enough.  I’m a pastor for youth, and I am for youth, not against them… but the reality of how things are saddens me.

I’ve said it in person, though probably not here: though humans have always been and will always be a mixed bag and swinging pendulum of both wretchedness and radiance, mod-western teens are an historical/geographical rarity.  The difference: the very recent and unwise concept of ‘teenager’ (being [be]t[w]een the age of child and adult).  It’s post WWII stuff – that recent.  These human beings have almost certainly the highest options-to-responsibilities ratio in the history of humanity.

We expect almost nothing from them, and that’s what we get.  We expect them to consume resources & time and many do just that and no more.  Meanwhile, the rest of the 13-19 yr olds around the world and throughout human history were a) viewed as an adult (usually entering adulthood through rites of passage – such as a Bar Mitzvah), and b) had the responsibilities of an adult.

At home, at school, and in towns/cities, these kids need jobs to do.  They have intellect, energy and creativity and it so often gets wasted.  Here’s to them getting the support and guidance (starting with a few parents who need a rather massive wake-up call) they need to be all they can be!