Rights or gifts?
I pulled up to the Burger King drive-thru window, paid my tab, thanked the woman for her work, and pulled the small bag of food into my car. Once I began to unwrap the chicken sandwich, I noticed the brand marketing printed on the thin, grease-resistant paper. “You have the right to have things your way,” it read. “The right to a sandwich just how you want it. The right to eat it fast. The right to eat it slow. The right to start your own sandwich etiquette school. The right to have a one-man sandwich eating contest.”
Only in America is one reminded of one’s right to eat a chicken sandwich. We love the language of rights. This is the land of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, after all, where nobody is going to tell us what we can and cannot do. The Constitution protects our self-determination. Individual rights, when pressed to their extreme, allow us to be accountable only to ourselves.
When I write about gun violence, it seems I hear first from critics. Even personal friends within my congregation appear convinced that I am out to abolish “their” Second Amendment rights. “Pastor, why don’t you leave the gun debate to politicians?” one friend wrote recently. “You need to spend your intellect and energy promoting defense of our Christian beliefs and our God-given rights.” I didn’t have the gumption to send this friend the New Yorker cartoon with God interviewing individuals lined up at the check-in podium outside the pearly gates. When a man steps up with a gun strapped to his hip, God leans over to say, “Trust me. It’s not a God-given right.”