What are we to make of the refusal of Kentucky’s Rowan County clerk, and our sister in Christ, Kim Davis? Most readers will know that Davis has refused to carry out the law of the land in the U.S. as decreed by our Supreme Court this year, that county courts provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And, that her position is based on her belief that Christian faith views homosexuality and same-sex marriage as sin.
I get the principle behind Ms. Davis’s convictions. The principle that as Christians, our religious ethics and morality, Christ himself, will call us to take stands on issues in the society around us that may get us into trouble, even arrested…at some points in history, even put to death. But we have to be very careful here. Jesus told us, be innocent as doves but wise as serpents when we go out into the world (Matthew 10). We need not to be foolish when we pick the battles we believe Jesus is calling us to fight…and into which we therefore drag Jesus. What’s at stake is what the world is hearing about who Jesus is.
Those Christians who share Davis’ views apparently feel that their religious rights are being “taken away” by U.S. courts, or that their religious freedoms are being trampled. The idea that they are applying this conviction to Kim Davis’ situation and seeing her as experiencing some kind of “religious persecution,” though, is mind-boggling to me.
Kim Davis does not run a Christian business, or pastor a Christian church, or direct a Christian organization, where she rightly would be in a position to be able to tell the government that they can’t tell her how to do her job because that would be discriminating against her religious rights. Kim Davis went out of her way to get and then spend years working a secular, civil service position that can be defined as 100% non-religious. Davis absolutely has a right to walk around her office condemning homosexuality all day because of her religious beliefs, if she likes…but that has zilch to do with her execution of a job which is 100% areligious.
If at some point she feels the job compromises her religion, then the faithful thing to do is not to refuse to do the job while she’s still getting paid for doing it. That’s not being a conscientious objector, as she herself has suggested; it’s being a hypocrite. Davis cannot logically say that part of her job as a county clerk is wrong to her but that somehow the rest of the job is OK: her job is giving marriage licenses to people, including gay people, period. If part of that is objectionable, it’s all objectionable. And true conscientious objection based on religious beliefs means that one refuses to do the thing to which one objects.
So the faithful act for Kim Smith, or anyone in this situation, is simply to quit that job. And since she has refused to do that, it invites speculation as to whether she likes her $80,000 a year salary more than the Christ whom she keeps talking about. Again, people are watching who we say Jesus is. Is the Jesus that Kim Davis is trying to define really who Jesus is?
The Rev. Bob Anderle, a transplanted Midwesterner, began serving earlier this year as pastor at Scotchtown Presbyterian Church in Middletown.