The Christian concept of human dignity can be looked at that all humans were created in the image and likeness of God. How individuals think or feel about each other, every person has an intrinsic and incalculable worth and dignity. What that means is that every human life is considered sacred. However, we live in a society where more and more it seems like the exact opposite is true. We would instead judge others, especially those who would be considered marginalized than to look at them as a creation of God.
In our Baptismal Covenant that we say during a baptism and every time we renew our vows when asked will we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being, our answer is, I will with God’s help. Saying that means that we recognize that this is something that we cannot do on our own. We acknowledge that it is only with God’s help that we can hope to treat others with respect and make sure that we care for others the way that we want to be cared for. We are also reminded of this during the season of Epiphany. The Preface of the Epiphany of the Incarnation states: O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ. This so beautifully shows why it is that we should try to live our lives in respect for everyone.
There are also several scriptural references located in the bible that illustrate the concept of human dignity. Genesis 1:26-31 mentions that God created man and woman in his image. This is a reminder that from the beginning that it was God who created everyone. Deuteronomy 10:17-19 talks about, God’s loves for the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. This verse can serve as a notice that we love as God loved. He did not treat others differently due to their status. The is echoed in Proverbs 22:2, “The Lord is the maker of both rich and poor.”
The New Testament also has references for this concept. In Luke 10:25-37 talks about, the good Samaritan recognized the dignity in the other and cared for his life. This is an essential text because it requires us to think about who is our neighbor. It’s not just those who we have things in common with but also those who society might say we should avoid.
A liturgical resource that I feel would be helpful to prepare the participants for the immersion trip would be to have a forum to discuss the Baptismal Covenant. Another helpful resource that could be used is to have the participants begin a practice of doing the Daily Office and include prayers for others during their intercessions.
As the chaplain/clergy presence on this trip, it is critical that I get everyone that decides to participate, both socially and theologically prepared for the trip participants. Transferring the concept of human dignity can present challenges in trying to help prepare immersion-trip participants being able to acknowledge, become sensitized to, and enter into a genuine relationship with people of different socioeconomic, racial and minority backgrounds. The preparation experiences should be thorough enough to help participants recognize that they may not understand the experiences of others.
One of the first steps would be informing the youth the purpose of the trip which is, helping teenagers embrace and respect the dignity of all people. I want everyone involved to be clear about what exactly we want to accomplish. Each young person should have a stake in helping develop what they wish to their vision. Also, what results they want and how they want to go about creating those results. Then we can all work together to research issues and contributing factors. I want to make sure the youth are involved from the beginning in shaping plans, researching strategies that might work, selecting strategies to try and implementing them.
I would then introduce them to the scripture references mentioned above to make sure that they understood why respecting the dignity of others is essential. Also, it would be useful for the youth group is to work with them to build cultural competence for working effectively and respectfully with youth from a variety of backgrounds. This will help to illustrate to the child that they may not understand the experiences of others. Just because they may have it in common with a majority in their circle of friends does not make it the norm. The way things are in an economically depressed racial minority community. This will go a long way in helping them be prepared to engage with others who do not share the same background as they do.
They should be able to learn about their own culture through a process of self-assessment that includes examining their culture’s assumptions and values and their perspectives. Also, they should learn as much as they can about significant aspects of their cultural backgrounds. These steps will allow them to reflect on the theological reasons that they should be done in respecting human dignity. Keeping in mind what they already learned about different backgrounds will hopefully help them be more sensitive and capable of entering genuine relationships with those they encounter.
With this framework in place, my prayer is that they would now be ready to enter into the immersion trip. I believe that the training that has been outlined would open them up to view others the way that God looks at all of us. Showing love to others and respecting their dignity is what God wants for all of his creation.
Publishing, Church. 1789. The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments
and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church. New York: Greenwich, Conn.: CHURCH