In 2015, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis decided that she would ignore the obligations of her job and pick what parts she would and wouldn’t perform. She imagined that the Bible makes a clear, relevant statement against homosexuality (it doesn’t) and refuse to issue marriage licenses because some of those would be for same-sex couples (more in part 1).
Let’s turn to a more famous church/state clash to see a different, less selfish way to approach public service.
We’ve seen this before
John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960. Some Americans were concerned that JFK, as a Catholic, would see the pope as a higher authority and answer to him rather than the Constitution or the American people. One radio evangelist of the time said, “Each person has the right to their own religious belief [but] the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical system demands the first allegiance of every true member and says in a conflict between church and state, the church must prevail.”
In other words, how did we know that JFK wouldn’t do a Kim Davis?
JFK famous responded to this challenge:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; [and] where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials. . . .
I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
JFK explicitly rejected what Kim Davis embraced. That’s how it’s done.
The U.S. Constitution calls the tune
The bottom line is that the Bible isn’t the supreme law of the land—the Constitution is.
Be not confused: the United States doesn’t exist and run because God said so; instead, Christians can preach and worship because the Constitution says so. If the law offends you, you can argue that it’s unjust, you can work to have it changed, or you can leave. We have a 100% secular constitution that defines a 100% secular means for making, changing, and upholding laws.
I hear Pakistan puts God first in their law—maybe Kim Davis would like that better.
“The sky is falling!”
Conservatives were quick to tell us that this incident was the beginning of overt Christian persecution. A Christian Post columnist at the time said, “For years now I and others have been warning that committed Christians could soon face jail time in America for holding to our convictions.”
Not really. Christian county clerks can object to same-sex marriages, Christian pharmacists can object to emergency contraceptives, Muslim flight attendants can object to serving alcohol, and Christian bakers and photographers can object to same-sex weddings, but do your job. Don’t sign up, then claim oppression and refuse to do what you promised to do.
To anticipate some jobs that a devout Christian might belatedly realize conflict with biblical principles, Huffington Post has a list of jobs to avoid. You wouldn’t want to be a clerk selling mixed fabrics (which are explicitly prohibited by the Bible), fishing for shellfish (prohibited), or teaching as a woman (prohibited). Are these examples ridiculous? Then ditto a clerk who objects to same-sex marriage (not explicitly prohibited) but has no problem with marrying divorced people (prohibited).
Another Christian Post columnist said, “Every serious biblical Christian will have to consider what to do now—whether a baker being asked to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage against her conscience, a county clerk faced with issuing a marriage license to a homosexual couple, or a pastor being requested to perform a wedding between two women or two men.” Let me answer that for you: the baker is obliged to follow public accommodation laws that prohibit discrimination, county clerks must do their jobs, and the U.S. has laws protecting pastors.
This last one is always on the list, even though pastors are protected, both by the First Amendment and by Supreme Court precedent. Remember Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court decision that made mixed-race marriage legal? That is binding only on governments, not pastors. Pastors can and do refuse to perform mixed-race marriages. The same is true for same-sex marriages. Even the Family Research Council (a Christian organization) agrees. Hysteria about constraints on the clergy is popular because it rallies the troops, not because it’s realistic.
This reminds me of Glenn Beck’s hysteria on the eve of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage. He declared that there were upwards of 10,000 pastors “that I think will walk through a wall of fire, you know, and possible death.”
Who did he imagine on the other side with the flaming torches?
Kim Davis: another Rosa Parks?
Rosa Parks was the African-American woman who refused to sit in the back of the bus in 1955. One of Kim Davis’s supporters finds much similarity between the two women. If Rosa Parks shouldn’t have to get off the bus, why should Kim Davis? He asks, “Will Kim Davis be the Rosa Parks of the movement?”
The difference, of course, is that Rosa Parks had her civil rights infringed upon, while Kim Davis is trying to infringe on the civil rights of others. If Kim Davis feels that the Bible has something to say about Obergefell, she can express that view, and every atheist I can think of will support her right to free speech. What she can’t do is impose that outside the law.
Will Kim Davis be the Rosa Parks of the conservative anti-same-sex marriage movement? A four-times-married person setting herself up as the arbiter of marriage might indeed be an appropriate saint for this ridiculous up-is-down and Ignorance-is-Strength movement.
“I’m doing this out of love,”
it ain’t love.
— seen on the internet
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/8/15.)
Image credit: Wikimedia