Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

General Secretary’s Report: God’s Mission and Human Rights

Thomas Kemper Spring Board Meeting 2014With a focus on human rights in mission, Thomas Kemper’s semiannual report to the Global Ministries’ directors highlighted one of the mission goals of the agency, to “seek justice, freedom and peace.”

Noting the frequency with which he is asked to issue statements on human rights violations as well his involvement in the Task Force on Human Rights and Investment Ethics, Kemper discussed the importance of promoting human rights as a mission responsibility. While the United Methodist Social Principles and General Conference resolutions offer guidance, he explained that complexities “take us into a maze of often competing historical interpretation, theological perspectives and practical implications involving Christian promotion of full and equal rights among all people.”

Kemper shared three lessons he has learned from exploring the philosophy and application of the assertion that “every human being has the right to justice, freedom and peace.” 

  1. While the importance of human rights has a Biblical basis, the concept and consciousness have evolved over time. For John Wesley, Kemper said, “rights were not based solely in theological perspective on the image of God in the human creature; he went another step: dignity and rights are inherent because of the creative and creating love of God.”
  2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not entirely secular but was written in large part by theologians and lay statesmen with strong ecumenical connections.  Observing how the declaration connects human rights with religious conviction, Kemper challenged directors to question, “just how do we treat one another when we believe that we all belong together through divine creation and God’s affection?”
  3. The global church strives to be faithful in God’s mission, however human rights are not universally observed. Kemper said that “culture often dictates what is considered a ‘right’ and what is considered unacceptable behavior.” Emphasizing concern for religious liberty for people of all faiths, he indicated a special solidarity with Christians who face barriers and persecution in many parts of the world. Noting the situation in Pakistan, including its blasphemy laws, Kemper said, “I have learned that the denial of rights, the failure to realize that we belong together, kills people, ends the dreams of children, and disrupts families.”

At the heart of his third point was the story of a couple, who lost their two children and the husband's mother when a suicide bomber killed 80 people at All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, this past September. Global Ministries is sponsoring the couple for a time of spiritual refreshment in the United States. Introducing them to directors, Kemper said, “We are honored to have them with us today to stand as witnesses to agony and to reliance on God when human rights are violated.”

Read the full text of Thomas Kemper’s report to the board.