Evangelicals and Human Rights: The Continuing Ambivalence of Evangelical Christians' Support for Human Rights

34 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2009 Last revised: 25 Aug 2009

See all articles by Joel A. Nichols

Joel A. Nichols

University of St. Thomas School of Law (MN)

Date Written: 2009


The language and ideas of "international human rights" have become seemingly ubiquitous in modern times. Indeed, within the United States, many prominent evangelical Christian churches and leaders have begun to use the language of human rights despite earlier misgivings. While there have been academic discussions about the foundational role of Christian theology in the development of the modern human rights regime, there remains relatively little investigation into the relationship between human rights norms, language, and culture within evangelical Christian theology.

This Article explores the relationship between evangelical theology and human rights - and concludes that the relationship is one of continuing ambivalence. On the one hand, there is clear evidence of increased recent involvement by evangelicals in human rights issues (especially regarding religious rights). But on the other hand, there has not at all been a wholesale adoption of human rights language among evangelicals, there has not been a clear shift toward support for legal human rights accountability regimes, nor have there been theological shifts among the larger evangelical population that seem necessary for a robust support of broader human rights goals.

In the final analysis, it ultimately appears doubtful whether modern evangelical theology is amenable to a whole-hearted and deep understanding of human rights and whether it is even desirable for evangelical theology to move in that direction. Nonetheless, the recent rise in the number of evangelical non-governmental organizations and the attendant rise in awareness of human rights within evangelical discourse (especially among younger evangelicals) may serve as signposts that the uncomfortable dance between evangelicals and the human rights movement may become slightly less awkward over the coming years.

Keywords: human rights, international law, law and religion, Christian legal thought, religious rights, freedom of religion, evangelical Christians

Suggested Citation

Nichols, Joel A., Evangelicals and Human Rights: The Continuing Ambivalence of Evangelical Christians' Support for Human Rights (2009). Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 7, 2009 (pages 629-662), U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1334338

Joel A. Nichols (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (MN) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4827 (Phone)

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