Kim Davis, the bigot-for-Jesus County Clerk who refused to issue licenses because she thought equal marriage for LGBTQ people was ickie and made Jesus mad, has been thrown in jail for refusing to do her job as a duly elected official of her state. She was told to start issuing licenses to all couples, including same-sex couples, without discrimination. She didn’t like that idea and decided not to issue any licenses at all because she is a bigot and would rather an opposite-sex couple screw without approval–she herself doesn’t have a problem with that idea, clearly, given that she’s got a string of failed marriages and confirmed adultery under her belt–than for a same-sex couple to be allowed to get a license from her state to affirm their lifelong love and commitment to each other. At first it was just baffling to me that she’d go to such extreme lengths–but then I figured out why she was doing it.
Today I want to talk about why I think she went to the lengths she did.
As usual, her tribe has completely mischaracterized what happened. I want to make this very clear: Kim Davis was not imprisoned because she held this increasingly-rejected belief, but because she didn’t feel like doing her job. Her beliefs had nothing to do with the job, and certainly less and less to do with Christianity itself. Like Creationism, bigotry-for-Jesus is not actually a Christian idea in and of itself; it’s a fringe idea embraced by a narrower and narrower group of Christians with each passing year.
If someone were to get a government position that involved giving out gun licenses but didn’t like guns or think that people should have gun licenses, I would expect that person to receive very similar treatment as Kim Davis.
If someone who thinks women are genuinely second-class citizens gets a job involving giving out driver’s licenses or making hiring decisions anywhere and decides not to allow women to obtain driver’s licenses or employment in that person’s department, I’d also expect such a person to receive similar treatment as Kim Davis.
Her beliefs are all but tangential.
Nobody gives a shit what she believes, approves, wants, condones, desires, or likes.
And that’s the whole problem here for her and Christians like her.
What we expect is that if she serves a country that has declared that LGBTQ people can have marriage licenses, then she will honor her country’s laws by giving marriage licenses to each and every couple who legally qualifies for one and wants it. We want the right to not know or care what Christians like Kim Davis think personally of these laws or about her clients. Her beliefs matter as little to us as those of our barista, or our cable guy, or our banker. And they should matter that little.
But that’s the problem for Kim Davis: her beliefs are irrelevant to us.
What Christians like Kim Davis want is the right to decide for other people what they will and won’t do. They want the right to judge others. Most of all they want the right to approve or disapprove of other people’s life decisions. They want us to care what they think–and to wonder what they think. And to ask. And to have to take them into account when we try to go about our lives and do our lawful business. They want to be under our feet and part of our routine: they want us to have to take their emotional temperature every five minutes just to exist. They want to matter to us.
Someone like Kim Davis–provincial, ignorant, grasping, angry–doesn’t have a lot of power in the world that her leaders have largely set up and control. She’s got to take what she can get. She is apparently a member of one of those literalist King-James-Version-only churches that seem quaintly Victorian in nature, but her fanaticism goes well past her denomination’s dictates. There’s a reason for that. She’s a convert to that kind of religion–and remember, converts radicalize up a lot easier than lifelong members.
What’s a frustrated Christian to do when she is, largely, irrelevant and personally powerless but really wants to be relevant and powerful?
Why, she must seize and abuse her power where she can. She can’t control the world itself, which is moving toward LGBTQ equality faster and faster every day? She can’t force her government to hate LGBTQ people as much as she hates them?
Well, she can damned well control this one little part of that world and that government. Within that little part of her world, she can judge, approve, disapprove, and decide. And her religious worldview has graciously granted her a short list of people she can judge, approve, disapprove, and decide about. The people she is refusing to serve can think as poorly of her as they wish–even laugh at her, or mock her and her weird, provincial, ignorant, and angry-sounding beliefs. Though it doesn’t sound like they are doing any of that, she may well think she is the subject of mockery–I sure did as a Christian of strikingly similar doctrines.But what those folks could not do was override this one little bit of power she possesses.
I can only imagine how dizzying it must be for her to have that kind of power over others. She certainly seems to like it in the videos I’ve seen of her; she seems smug, gloating, spiteful, even exultant that she wields this power and can make these far-reaching decisions about this one detail and nobody can stop her. That’s how I figured it out, incidentally. For all bigots-for-Jesus’ talk of love and compassion, when one sees them in action that insistence starts looking pretty hollow. In one, she sounds like a particularly obnoxious and authoritarian teacher reprimanding a student–it’s downright painful to listen to her. When I saw that video, a lot of stuff fell into place for me.
Thanks to Christian leaders using her situation for their own ends, she is unlikely to figure out she’s nothing but a pawn and a tool anytime soon for those who are way wiser and cannier than she is. Nor is she likely to figure out that they are tricking her far worse than the people she has so treated so hatefully by allowing her to become collateral damage in a calculated gamble to achieve their own Dominionist fantasies.
Mike Huckabee, for example, took a break from getting the vapors over women cussing to declare his support for yet another hypocritical criminal. Other pastors and prominent Christians have come out saying that they fully support her in their new push for theocracy cloaked in “religious liberty.” Ted Cruz, pandering as hard as he can possibly pander, has also voiced his support for the law-flouting bigot–and in so doing, managed somehow to echo every single mischaracterization of her case that’s ever been dreamed up by the Christian Right. Anti-gay bigots-for-Jesus like Franklin Graham and of course the hate group National Organization for Marriage (NOM) have hailed Kim Davis “as a modern Christian martyr”–even a “supersaint”–forgetting that nobody’s even halfway suggesting she be harmed, only that she do her fucking job or, if she can’t, to please get out of the way so someone else can do it for her.
Which, again, is the problem here.
Christians like Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Franklin Graham, and Kim Davis don’t want to be treated like everyone else.
They don’t want their beliefs not to matter to people.
Of course, none of those people pandering to fundagelical bigots-for-Jesus like Kim Davis actually has anything to lose. None of them have actually risked prison or serious fines–except her, certainly. They’re happy to cheer her on in acquiring both, though, if she’s willfully ignorant and foolish enough to take their pretendy funtime games as far as they imply Christians should take ’em. Now that she’s lost they can scream about persecution and “religious liberty” all the harder, trying to gin up sympathy where none should exist so they have a better chance of pushing ahead with their dreams of theocracy. If she’d won by some fluke of chance, though, then it would have been a serious leap forward for those dreams. Either way, they were set to win–largely at her expense.
But none of that matters either.
What matters to Christians like Kim Davis is that their fringe, hateful, nasty, cruel beliefs mattered–for a little while, and in a way nobody could stop till the very end. And I’m betting they’re going to do their best to find a way to matter again, and in just such an undeniable way. Dominant groups don’t tend to graciously share their power or let go of it–and those seeking power and control don’t tend to graciously walk away after they’ve been denied.
The fight’s not over just because these bigots got slapped down.
Judging by what her supporters are saying, I think what happened here looks a lot more like a skirmish, not a war. It’s cliche to say that it’s only the beginning, but I strongly suspect that it’s definitely nowhere near the end. The Christian Right’s got a long way to go before they figure out they’ve lost this culture war they began in the first place.
The funny part is that events like this one might serve to entrench right-wing Christians more in their bizarro-world delusions of nonexistent persecution and gay-rights conspiracies, but they also tend to shake loose a few more Christians every single time. As it is, people–especially young people–are abandoning Christianity in droves–and many cite among their reasons for leaving that their churches were bigoted. I know that it hurts to be a same-sex couple and get treated this hatefully by the self-styled ambassadors of the God of Love, but hang in there a little while longer, friends. These hypocrites are shooting themselves in both feet. Every single time they throw a huge wobbler like this, every time they betray their real agenda like they have in the Kim Davis case, it ends up costing them untold credibility and followers.
Humanism, atheism, and secularism could not possibly ask for better allies than right-wing Christians in making people realize just how harmful and toxic right-wing Christianity is.