What the Bible says about Kim Davis

What the Bible says about Kim Davis September 8, 2015

Today, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will host a campaign event at the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, KY. The jail is housing Kim Davis, who is being held in contempt of court for her failure to heed

Flier for Huckabee's Kim Davis event.
Flier for Huckabee’s Kim Davis event.

judicial rulings requiring her to administer the duties of her office, or resign. Huckabee will be flanked by representatives from Liberty Counsel, National Organization for Marriage, Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America.

It will be a busy day in for Davis; another presidential candidate, Senator Ted Cruz, will also be visiting.

Is Kim Davis a hero? A Rosa Parks of religious liberty? Her case does raise important concerns about the acceptability of religious expression in the age of Obergefell. There is an argument that her civil disobedience is in the tradition established by Lincoln in his response to the abhorrent Dred Scott decision, and King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The courageous men and women rallying around Davis today are colleagues and friends for whom I have admiration and respect. We are united in the fights for life, marriage, and religious liberty, and their support of her has caused me to question my position on this situation.

While I share the pro-Davis camp’s convictions about the meaning of marriage, and their zeal to stand firm for what is true, the touchstone of truth is not Lincoln, King, or the Founding Fathers. The ultimate source of authority is the Bible. As I’ve read the arguments from Davis supporters I’m surprised by their lack of biblical evidence. There tends to be a lot of talk about God without reference to God’s own Word.

Perhaps that is because there isn’t much there? Christians may arrive at different conclusions about what the Bible teaches about civil disobedience, and the particulars of each situation must inform attempts to apply complex biblical reasoning. The details are the reason Christians view Bonhoeffer and John Brown differently. As I’ve sought the scriptures, I’ve become increasingly convinced that there is no biblical justification for Kim Davis’ resistance.

The greatest act of injustice in history is the murder of Jesus. He is a perfect man who knew no sin whose torture and execution was devised by an evil political contingent threatened by his message of freedom. John describes the betrayal and arrest of Jesus:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:1-11 ESV)

Peter is the most fascinating disciple. Courageous and intemperate, one moment he is correctly identifying Jesus as the Christ and the next being rebuked by him, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mark 8:29-33). When Jesus walks on water, Peter is the one with faith enough to join him before his faith wanes and he begins to sink (Matthew 14:22-33). At the Last Supper Peter boldly pledges his fidelity to Jesus, and then denies him three times in one day. Yet, when news arrives of the empty tomb, Peter is the first to go in and see (John 20). After the Resurrection, when the disciples realize Jesus is waiting for them on the shore, it is with typical zeal that Peter “threw himself into the sea” (John 21:7).

We ought not be surprised by Peter’s response in the garden. He is a fighter, impulsive to a fault, but driven by commitment to the Lord. I imagine myself standing side by side with Jesus at his betrayal, as the soldiers move forward to take him to his death. The magnitude of the wrong that is about to occur causes my head to spin and my hands to shake. I have a sword. What would I do?

But Jesus stops Peter, and heals the guard he attacked. “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” And, a little while later, while standing before Pilate, he explains, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).

Peter’s ministry continues after the Ascension, and the Bible contains two letters he wrote to the Church, the books of 1 and 2 Peter. In 1 Peter 4:7 Peter writes, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Self-controlled and sober-minded? Attributes Peter so often failed to exemplify throughout his life, but which he seems eventually to have learned.

Later, in the same chapter, Peter writes:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-19 ESV)

The Bill of Rights begins with two foundational principles: barring the establishment of a state religion, and preserving the freedom to exercise religious belief. Christians who face a conflict between the law and their faith rightfully appeal to the protections of the Constitution, just as Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship for relief. By doing so they acknowledge the authority of the law whatever the result, just as Paul did. “But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death” (Acts 25:10-11).

Christians cannot appeal to the authority of the Constitution when it suits them, but take the law into their own hands when they do not like the determinations of governmental authorities endowed by God with the right to rule (Romans 13). This does not mean that we violate our consciences and the higher laws of God, but it means we suffer the consequences of conflict between faith and law respectfully, remembering that God’s kingdom is not of this world, and that suffering as Christ suffered is an opportunity for rejoicing (Acts 5:41).


And here’s this just for fun:

Calvin seeks a religious accommodation.
Calvin seeks a religious accommodation.

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