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By W. TERENCE ERBELE
The devastating tragedy in Connecticut last month renewed a long-simmering debate over the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The right to keep and bear arms is one of 10 amendments which are commonly known as the U.S. Bill of Rights. The Declaration of Independence begins by saying that all persons "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We have debated the Equal Rights Amendment, fought over states’ rights, instituted state, national and United Nations Human Rights Commissions. Groups campaign for animal rights, children’s rights, and gay rights. We appeal to the courts to sort out perceived violations of rights. Riots break out over infringements of rights. We get disgusted with athletes who do not honor the right to fair competition.
Soon we will be celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who has become the symbol of civil rights. While speaking out against injustice he insisted on following the teachings of Jesus, who taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
On Christmas 1957, he preached, "Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
The most important right is found in John 1:12. "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God."
We read signs that say, "Do not enter" or "Employees only." That means we have no right to that part of the building or property. In the name of security we have to endure searches for the right to get on an airplane. The average citizen has to be granted the right to talk to the President.
Our sin barricades us from the presence of God. There is no way to get past this separation on our own. The only way is for God to open the door and God did just that when God sent Jesus. The Almighty has graciously condescended to give us the right to approach.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit," (I Peter 3:18)
People earn the right to practice their professions by training and passing exams. A person earns the right to be heard because of expertise. Students earn the right attend a college. An employee earns the right to a promotion.
The grace of God is not earned. It is freely presented. Amazingly, we are offered the right to become children of God and joint heirs with Christ Jesus. Our part is to receive Christ and to believe in His name.
W. Terence Erbele is pastor of Ketchikan’s United Methodist Church.