As reported by CNN and others, Kim Davis is back at work at the Rowan County Clerk’s office. She reached a compromised with Judge David Bunning that licences would not have her name on them, but rather “issued pursuant to a federal court order.” Such a licence has been issued to a lesbian couple today.
On this issue, Kim Davis has said,
I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.
In my opinion, there are many things wrong with her position. For example,
- There’s no requirement you have that job. You can resign. The Bible does not say, you’re required to be a County Clerk no matter what. Vegans don’t apply for jobs at steak houses.
- Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.
- The New Testament is decidedly anti-family and anti-marriage. Jesus said that he had come to set father against son (Matthew 10:35) and Paul said it’s better for a man to be celibate and unmarried (Cor I 7:25).
- Jesus seemed to be of the opinion one should not bother with or interfere with government affairs; render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s (Mark 12:17).
- Jesus said you can’t get divorced (Matthew 19) but Davis had no problem getting several divorces, and presumably executing functions of the County Clerk’s office that support and respect divorce.
Without scriptural support, we must suppose she has other motivations. It is not unreasonable to suspect she is, despite her protestations to the contrary, personally disgusted by, or at the least staunchly opposed to, homosexuality. To suffer jail for this, she must have some strong emotion in play. Perhaps she fears the world changing into a different one that she thinks is hostile to bedrock elements that she relies on feel safe and comfortable. Even if she’s wrong, she might feel that way. I don’t know.
But I do know her allies in this, including people like Mike Huckabee, stoke the fires as much as possible. They are using the Davis case to paint a narrative of overbearing judges and unreasonable halts to personal religious freedom at the hands of hostile, Christian-hating liberals. No doubt, this is meant to rile their conservative base. Huckabee positively salivated at the idea of going to jail on Davis’s behalf, so jealous is he of her martyr potential.
Now if you are angry about Davis’s refusal to do her job, we come to the first reason you should make an effort to sympathize with her instead: it’s what your adversary fears the most. They want you to be aggressive, arrogant, dismissive, and to attack Davis. They want the government to act rashly and harshly. This is evidence they will use to prove their narrative, which will, in turn, galvanize conservatives and motivate votes for them.
Do not help your adversary. Instead, do the thing that undermines them completely. That shatters the false picture and puts a hole in their gas tank: sympathize with Kim Davis. Insist that she should not be ridiculed and attacked (criticism is different from ridicule) unfairly. Insist that she deserves due process, the same as anyone else. Insist that the cold, objective provisions of the law alone should determine her legal fate here, not our anger or disgust with her actions. Openly denounce the death threats made against her, along with sexist arguments attacking her on the basis of her personal life or appearance.
If you are a humanist, you should do those things regardless. But even if you aren’t, do them to steal victory from harmful, regressive political elements like Huckabee’s camp.
But all that aside, there’s an even better reason to do what I have suggested.
It is how progress is made in the long run. Would you like a world where there just wasn’t a person doing what Davis is doing? Well this is how you make that wish come true.
I can’t say for certain in the case of Davis, or any one person, but it’s quite likely that just under the surface you find fear. Lots of fear. Panic, even. Fear that you live in a winner-takes-all, us-them contest with the “them” threatening to take away things that you believe makes your sphere habitable and good. Community standards, moral values, things ma and pa believe. Also, fear of loss of autonomy, security, and stability. Now, this fear may be totally unjustified, but that does not prevent its harmful effects.
If you want to prevent Kim Davises rather than react to them, we must start proving with our words and actions, that we are not in a culture war. We are not in cultural Thunderdome where there’s no second place. We’re a civilized society. We are in this together and we all need each other. This remains true, even when we disagree and squabble. Even when we hurt each other. Sympathize and support Kim Davis as a human being (her right not to get death threats for voting her conscience, to not be dehumanized with sexist attacks, to due process under the law) to show her and all the other possible nascent future Kim Davises they don’t have to be afraid; that even change they do not like is not a threat to their basic security and way of life.
When you see someone so full of fear and anger, they are due more of your tolerance and compassion, not less of it. This does not mean you agree with them, or fail to stop them. It means you recognize a person whom society has made to feel insecure and vulnerable that should not feel that way. Nobody should ever feel so insecure about increasing freedoms that they are willing to go to jail to fight them. When someone acts that way, partly, it means society has failed that person and harmed them. They need, and are entitled to, our help. They need our compassion all the more.
See, you can’t bomb a nation into a stable democracy. You can only make one by putting the guns down and building the things that make a democracy possible and worth having: roads, schools, hospitals. That’s what we did for post-war Japan and Germany, two of our great republic allies today who were once our bitterest enemies. Similarly, you can’t ridicule, jail, and insult the South into modernity. You can only do that by putting down the weapons, and extending a hand.
This isn’t just one way to win, to secure real progress. In the long run, it is the only way.