Social injustice

Human Rights

10 December 1948 – the United Nations drew up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations set out the basic rights which all human beings should be allowed. These include:

These rights should belong to everyone, irrespective of colour, race, sex, religion, social class or place of birth, simply because they are a member of the human race. In return, every one must respect the rights, freedom and needs of others. All Christian Churches support The UN Declaration of Human Rights.

In many countries, basic human rights are not recognised.

People who disagree with the government often “disappear” - taken away by police and put in prison, tortured or killed. Families are never told where they are, and the Government denies everything. People with power and money can carry on with criminal activities, while the poor and uneducated are not given fair trials at all. Some people are “prisoners of conscience”; they are locked up because of their religious or political beliefs, and sometimes just because of the colour of their skin.

How should Christians respond to the abuse of human rights?

Christians believe that all people have human rights because they are all created by God in his image and loved by God as individuals. It is the duty of Christians to show God’s love by caring for the poor and weak, and speaking out against injustice.


Christians must ACT to defend those whose human rights are threatened / taken away, and help prisoners of conscience
Individual Christians should make sure they do not threaten the human rights of others.

Local churches should make sure that they work for human rights, e.g. by having equality; taking responsibility for each other; safeguarding the rights of others; not allowing discrimination; defending the poor and the weak; working hard so that all people can live free as God intended them to be.

If local churches can do this, it should help lead to global change.

Bible teaching used to support pacifism

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are maltreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

St Paul, Hebrews 13:3

Human rights are the responsibility of Christians. Christians must fight for human rights because:

Jesus' taught:

“Faith without action is dead.” James 2:17

James (Jesus’ brother) says that true faith must lead to genuine action for those in need.

Church teaching on Human Rights

The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England support the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

Roman Catholic Church

"Each individual man is truly a person. He has a nature that is endowed with intelligence and free will. As such he has rights and duties ... these rights and duties are universal and inviolate"

Pope John XXIII, 1963

Church of England

"Rights can be established on the basis of the doctrine of the image of God when we consider those human characteristics which are both distinctively human and shared with God"

Church of England report, 1977

Amnesty International

Started 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson. He read in a newspaper about 2 Portuguese students sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom in a Lisbon bar. He believed that injustice should not be allowed to happen – if people got together and protested, corrupt governments would not be able to get away with it.

AI's main aims

AI exposes abuses of human rights throughout the world. AI:

Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.


Al is not a Christian organisation, but many Christians support it because it is a way of putting Christian beliefs into practice.
Christians and AI want to achieve the same aim, so joining together gives Christians the power to do something about human rights abuses.

Christians feel it is a good way of demonstrating their beliefs about the value of human life, and putting agape love into practise.
Very importantly, AI uses non-violent protest.

Liberation Theology

Liberation theology says that Christians should unite with the poor and oppressed, and speak out against injustice and abuses of human rights. Being kind to the poor or oppressed is not enough: the whole system should be challenged and changed so that there is no more poverty or oppression.

Liberation theologians are inspired by the words of Jesus:

"He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and to set the oppressed free"

Luke 4:18-19

Many Roman Catholic priests have put themselves in great danger. Many had been imprisoned, tortured and murdered because of their beliefs, because they have stood up for the poor and oppressed. Some have used Non-Violent Protest. Others have used weapons.

Some Liberation Theology priests have said that if the poor can not be defended peacefully, then it has to involve weapons. Fr. Camilo Torres was a Roman Catholic priest in Colombia who was so appalled at the corrupt government that he joined Colombia’s National Liberation Army and became a guerrilla fighter. He called on all Christians to join in the fight against oppression. He was killed in 1966.

Oscar Romero

Fr. Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic Archbishop in El Salvador.

He believed that Christians have a duty to defend the weak and fight injustice, but without using violence. Instead, he used his sermons to preach about the rights of the poor and to criticise the government. In 1980, while he was celebrating mass, he was shot dead. Other people were killed for having listened to him.