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Culture Q&A

Daniel Darling

What price dignity?

Steps toward reclaiming an important word and concept

What price dignity?

Daniel Darling (Photo courtesy of Patrick Henry College)

Daniel Darling is vice president for communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public affairs wing of the Southern Baptist Convention. He’s been a pastor in Chicago and Nashville and is the author of The Dignity Revolution. Here are edited segments of our Q&A.

Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy used the word dignity nine times in his decision that overturned the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. How do you use the word, and how are you perhaps trying to reclaim it? Human dignity is not self-determined. We have dignity as human beings because a Creator made us in His own image. We don’t find our meaning and purpose within, but without, from God—and the One who created us knows what’s best for us.

Say you’re discussing same-sex marriage with a “woke” LGBTQ person who says, “We must be on the same side, because you’ve written The Dignity Revolution.” Where would you go in that conversation? I would say to people who are LGBTQ that your dignity is not defined by the way people think of you nor how they affirm you. Your dignity is given to you by your Creator, whether you acknowledge that or not. I would say, secondly, we are not defined by our sexual desires and activities. Lots of non-Christians are questioning the ethic of doing anything you want with whoever you want as long as there’s consent. To those who buy that I’d ask, “How’s that working out for you?”

A lot of LGBTQ folks would say, I’m doing fine. How’s that working out on a larger societal scale? As Christians, we’re always countercultural. We’re always pointing the world to a better story, a bigger plan, something much higher and much grander than what we can design for ourselves. But I wouldn’t get into a long, protracted argument. We should show by the way we treat people that we’re willing to live in a civil society among people who disagree with us.

‘Your dignity is not defined by the way people think of you nor how they affirm you. Your dignity is given to you by your Creator, whether you acknowledge that or not.’

And what do we say? What we should have always been saying: “I hear where you’re coming from, but let me just tell you what the Bible says about the world—that it was created good and something happened that has corrupted the world.” Even people who are not believers get that. They know the world is somehow messed up. We all know there are dark parts of our hearts that we wouldn’t want to be public. 

We are all sinners. Everyone acknowledges that the world is messed up. Part of the answer to the sexual revolution, whether it’s LGBTQ or other deviations from the Biblical idea, is to say that what God has for us is always better than we can envision for ourselves.

If we are here merely because of random mutations and survival of the fittest, how do we have dignity? When we explain that it’s not just random, but there’s a God who created you in His image, and He wants to reconcile with you through Christ—that’s a powerful message. And it is as relevant today as it ever has been. Darwinism is dangerous, because as we saw in 1930s and 1940s Germany, as we saw in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, when we see people as weak in a struggle for survival we can justify doing anything against them. 

In The Dignity Revolution you say a gospel proclamation divorced from acts of mercy becomes an impoverished witness. Could you unpack that? Christians sometimes feel pressure to choose between salvation and social action, acts of mercy. Jesus does not let us make that choice. In Mark 6 the message is “Repent!”—but Jesus also says He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words: When the Messiah comes, that’s good news for the poor. Whenever the church both proclaims the gospel of individual salvation and lives that out by works of mercy, we’re showing the world a glimpse of what the kingdom will look like in full when Jesus returns.

Have you seen examples of that? A lot of the people you profile in your Hope Awards. Look around the world and think of all the most difficult areas in the world: war, famine, natural disaster. Inevitably you will find Christians there, serving people. Not because they’re making a name for themselves, not because they found a hashtag that they like, but because the gospel compels them to be there.

You have a chapter about racial reconciliation and the importance of conversations. I’ve seen reconciliation on sports teams, where if one person succeeds, the whole team succeeds. Athletes don’t sit around the locker room talking about race: They work together for a common objective. Yes, people serving together side by side, having that cohesion. I do think it’s incumbent, particularly for people in the white majority, to have some humility and listen to our minority brothers and sisters talk about their plight and what they have gone through, experiences that we have not had to go through.

How does “dignity” affect our national debate about abortion, which is much more prevalent per capita in African American communities? Justice Anthony Kennedy kept Roe v. Wade alive, even though he emphasized “dignity” and wrote in 2000, “The fetus in many cases dies just as a human adult or child would. It bleeds to death as it is torn from limb to limb.” The pro-choice movement, the abortion industry, has moved from saying, “This is a hard and tragic choice that nevertheless needs to be available and legal,” to almost celebrating death in a really grotesque way. This is a natural progression when you, for so long, have catechized yourself into believing that the person is not human, or when you’ve justified what you’re doing. But pro-life people have introduced into the culture this moral vocabulary that the most vulnerable among us are human beings with dignity and worth. 

But since that understanding is not general, in what way do we have a dignity revolution? I talk about a quiet revolution of ordinary people seeing what our eyes don’t want us to see, seeing the humanity of people we are tempted to walk past on our roads to Jericho. One reason you see this hardening of abortion positions is that we just don’t want to see what is there. 

The word dignity has also been used a lot regarding euthanasia, euphemistically called “death with dignity.” How should we fight the idea that killing old people is a way to accord them dignity? The “death with dignity” movement preys on the vulnerable. We need to show the world that elderly populations have dignity by the way that we treat them. For instance, do we have churches that are only marketed to the young and the hip? Do we treat well our own elderly relatives?

NOTE: Daniel Darling mentioned WORLD’s Hope Awards. One of the five ministries we profiled in our last issue will receive the $10,000 first-place award, plus publicity that brings in more volunteers and donations. If you have not already done so, please go to wng.org/compassion and vote for whichever ministry moves you the most. WORLD reporters have researched and eyeballed all five, so they all help needy people and glorify God.