Passover and Human Rights: A Meditation from a Christian Perspective

Haggadah Section: Commentary / Readings

by Professor David Gushee

The Passover story communicates the fearsome commitment of God to the human rights of suffering people. Because Pharaoh would not let God’s people go, God finally inflicted that grievous last recompense on Pharaoh’s people, while passing over the households of the Jews whose liberation had been so long in coming.

This story reveals God as one who not only hears the cries of the oppressed, but delivers them from bondage into freedom. It shows a God who confronts injustice, including leaders who believe themselves to be so powerful as to be beyond critique or correction. It suggests that a nation that commits injustice and violates human rights (or passively allows its leaders to do so) ultimately will pay a price for it, even if for a long time it seems that such wickedness will last forever. That is true even if its injustices are inflicted in the name of national security, as were Pharaoh’s evil deeds; as are so many of our world’s greatest human rights violations.

In the Passover story, Egypt’s firstborn end up paying the price for Pharaoh’s sins. In the New Testament narrative, God takes the accumulated weight of injustice and human sin onto his own shoulders at the Cross. The community formed in response is then responsible for serving as a force for justice and healing so that there need be no more victims either of injustice or as collateral damage of the confrontation with injustice.

Together we await the healing of the world. Together we do our part to contribute to such a world.

As a Christian, Gushee understands Passover as a form of imitatio dei, imitating God’s demand for freedom from oppression. He connects Pharaoh’s actions, done in the name of protecting Egyptian security, to similar justifications for human rights violations in our own country.

Whom do we allow to be enslaved to protect our own interest and safety as Americans or as Jews?

Gushee writes: “a nation that commits injustice and violates human rights (or passively allows its leaders to do so) ultimately will pay a price for it, even if for a long time it seems that such wickedness will last forever.” In what ways is this true in our own country? In the world?

David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, and President of Evangelicals for Human Rights. He is the author or editor of 11 books on Christian ethics.

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