Over the past month, the story of Kim Davis has taken up a fair amount of the news cycle. The story of the Rowan County clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and spent time in jail for contempt of court dominated the headlines for more than a week. For those who study and comment on religious liberty in this country, Kim Davis seems like the perfect storm. Her “stand” for her conscience brings together so many elements of the things that people who are concerned about religious liberty debate about, regardless of whether you would call yourself a liberal or a conservative in this field. And so much of what I would have to say on this issue I have said before in other times and other places. Davis has made a decision according to her conscience, has had the willingness to not only follow it through, but also to go to jail for it. I am surprisingly both outraged by, and sympathetic to her plight. I would love to talk about the legal ramifications of what she is doing (and I still might do that briefly), but my mind turns primarily to the spiritual consequences of Davis’s actions.
A quick note about the politics and the law, however. I am somewhat sympathetic to Davis from a political perspective. It must be tough when the law changes on you in such a fundamental way (at least for her). When Davis was elected to this position, upholding the laws of the land did not violate her conscience in any way. Now doing her job is a violation of her conscience in this particular respect. The fact of the matter is, however, that she is by law and agent of the state and as such has no recourse but to either fulfill her duties, resign her post, or go to jail. All of those options are valid. (Oddly enough, Justice Scalia agrees with me about this.)
As a Christian, there are three things that bother me about the stance that Davis has taken. First, I am not sure that Davis’s actions are the best way to fulfill the Gospel Commission, which is the charge given to every Christian. Before Jesus left Earth, He told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you...” Now I could be literalist and argue that Jesus did not command the disciples in anything regarding signing marriage licenses, but I don’t think I need to make that point to see the flaw in Davis’s modus operandi. If the command that the Messiah, the founder and leader of our faith, gave us was to make disciples, our decisions as Christians in our interactions with others should be guided by this principle. In other words, when we interact with someone who is not of our faith, our eye should be towards how best to exemplify Christ and His character to this person. I have always found instructive the words of Ellen G. White on this question. In the book Ministry of Healing, she writes, “Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, "Follow Me." Christ did not think of Himself in ministering to people, but thought of others first. Unfortunately, there is an inherent selfishness in the type of freedom of conscience practiced by Davis and those who believe as she does about the freedom of religion, that thinks of themselves and their rights first and foremost above the right of others. Davis thought first and foremost of her conscience and freedom to exercise her beliefs over the consciences and freedoms of those who she was called to serve. Even so, I am somewhat sympathetic to Davis’s plight. I don’t know that I would want a ton of people telling me how to act on my beliefs either. However, I am convinced that we ruin Christ’s reputation (and by extension make it harder to assist in the creation of disciples) when we present Christ as a God who seeks to constrain, restrict, and hate instead of showing Him to be the God of love and freedom that He is.
Second, it seems to me that everyone on Team Davis has forgotten the golden rule. Even people who are not Christians are familiar with the golden rule. In Matthew 7:12 it is stated as, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” And while it is clear that Davis did not seek to treat those same-sex couples applying for licenses the way she would want to be treated if she were in a similar situation, I am more fascinated about the context of the golden rule. The statement in Matthew 7:12 starts with therefore because it is the concluding statement of a section of the text that begins with “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” In that same speech Jesus also warns against the hypocrisy of removing a mote from someone else’s eye while a beam exists in your own. These two principles are things we as straight Christians should think about before we condemn the LGBT community for wanting to be a part of the secular form of an institution that straight Christians have been destroying long before anyone else showed up and asked to join the club. If there is blame to be handed out for the downfall of marriage, it belongs to straight Christians who weakened marriage through sinfulness and infidelity. It is high time for the church in this sense to remove the beam from its own eye on the issue of marriage before we attempt to remove the mote from the LGBT community’s eye, if one even exists on this question.
Finally, the quandary that Davis found herself in is emblematic of the very reason why Christianity does not work best in conjunction with secular power. The Gospel of John records the story of Jesus before Pilate prior to His crucifixion. When Pilate asks Jesus if He is King of the Jews, Jesus responds, “My kingdomis not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Sometimes I think we as Christians have forgotten what we should be fighting for. We are fighting (if that is even the right word) to introduce humanity to a separated Savior who only desires a new relationship He created. The kingdom we ultimately serve is not in Rowan County, Kentucky. We are members of a Kingdom that is not of this world. It makes me wonder why we spend so much time trying to dominate this one.
 Eugene Volokh makes an interesting counterpoint about a religious exemption for Davis under Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I would counter by asking how Davis did not see a need for a religious exemption until 3 months after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell.
 As they should be – the principle can be found in some form or another in over 20 world religions.
Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7093