What Kim Davis Thinks She Won. (And What She Really Lost.)

What Kim Davis Thinks She Won. (And What She Really Lost.) September 10, 2015

Kim Davis has been released from jail and is taking a little vaca before returning to work next week. She’s claiming victory, complete with preaching and speeches amid choirs singing songs: a truly alarming and creepy fusion of extremist religion and extremist nationalism, because nothing could ever go explosively wrong with that combination.

Is this a case of a Christian losing a conflict utterly and declaring victory anyway? A case of “speaking truth to power” by lying her ass off and hoping that Jesus will magically make it good?

I don’t think so. Watching her, reading her words, I get the sense that she at least thinks she has genuinely and truly won something big–and her supporters largely seem to agree. She does not have the tight, smug tone of someone who is insisting she won even though she knows she’s been handed a crushing loss. I heard people talking exactly like this all the time in church, and I hear Christians talking like this every single day nowadays.

(Credit: Jim McIntosh, CC license.)
(Credit: Jim McIntosh, CC license.)

I think she sincerely thinks she won something. But what does she believe she won?

Before I answer that, here’s what she did not win, though she claims otherwise.

1. “God” did not release her, nor was her release in any way miraculous. 
U.S. District Judge David Bunning, who had initially jailed Kim Davis ahead of the holiday weekend for refusing to do her job as the elected County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, decided to release her because her office had said they’d give out the required marriage licenses without her.

I’m sure that many Christians supporting Kim Davis have heard of the story in the Book of Acts wherein Paul and Silas are flogged and then thrown in prison for proselytizing in a particular city–and then a weirdly targeted earthquake released them. Older folks might even remember the Amy Grant version of the story.

However, no earthquake opened the jail holding Kim Davis–and that’s only the first difference between the stories. The judge who had put her there do so purely because he’d determined that she stood in contempt of court. After subsequently determining that her office would gladly follow the law if she wasn’t forcing them to flout it, she was released. As long as she allows her office to do its job, she will remain free. If she doesn’t do her job and interferes with her office doing her job for her, then she’s going right back to jail.

Her release was miraculous only in the sense that Christians consider “miraculous” a patient recovering from a wholly ordinary injury with the care of every advantage modern medicine can provide. They might as well call it miraculous that Saturday followed Friday last week.

2. She didn’t get vindicated legally in any way whatsoever.
Her office must–underscore and bold that point, please!–issue marriage licenses to each and every couple who legally qualifies for one. That did not change. Her office didn’t gain an ickieness exemption.

She was not found to be in the right regarding her refusal to issue licenses to couples she thinks are ickie. That did not change either. She’s still in the wrong, legally, in every single way. The only reason she’s free at all is that her office agreed to do its job without her.

3. Equal marriage is still the law of the land.
Even in Rowan County, Kentuckystan, equal marriage is the law. Every single pair of of-age, consenting-adult citizens, regardless of gender or orientation, that qualifies to marry can get a marriage license if they wish. Kim Davis did not gain her county an ickieness exemption any more than she got her office one. If she doesn’t like same-sex couples and doesn’t think they should be married, then that’s her problem and nobody else’s, and it’s a problem she has to deal with on her own time; same-sex couples pay their taxes and are good citizens just like she wishes she was, and they have the right to enjoy every single service their tax dollars pay for without having to double-check to make sure their taxpayer-funded civil servants follow all of the laws they swore to uphold.

Kim Davis has been told emphatically and unequivocally that she doesn’t get to pick and choose which services the citizens of her county will get or which laws she’ll follow.

4. Most of the couples she refused licenses to have gotten their licenses–and more besides.
Of the four couples who sued her, only one hasn’t gotten their license yet–and other couples flew in from as far away as California to get marriage licenses in support of them. The last couple is pausing their plans because the actions of this “lawless woman” have “tainted” what should have been one of the happiest days of their lives.

5. Nobody seems to have seen the light and converted as a result of her superior religiosity–or even softened in stance toward her type of religion.
If she was trying to spread the love of Jesus by being a hateful, nasty bigot, then it sure didn’t convert anybody to the cause. It might have strengthened the Fox News-watching crowd in their feelings of false persecution, and it might even have firmed up that cthonic maelstrom of utterly impotent rage that the Religious Right is becoming more and more known for these days.

If anything, Kim Davis’ case has made her end of the religion look considerably worse than it already did. And other Christians are openly opposing her and her cause, making it clear that Ms. Davis does not represent Christianity. Rachel Held Evans wrote the following definitive tweet:

Other Christians have written impassioned treatises trying to advise their bigoted brethren to quit being such assholes (bonus: in the comments, watch for people throwing down Bible verses like Magic cards–and getting gently smacked down).

The general gist of her defenders’ arguments are quite imaginative and almost exclusively attempted by fundagelical bigots-for-Jesus. As far as I can tell, these arguments have not persuaded one single person that Kim Davis is even vaguely in the right, nor that her actions deserve support from anyone with compassion and morality. The wackiest? In between predicting the end of the world soon, Pat Robertson has been going into overdrive supporting Kim Davis, declaring–among other things–that now Christians will be marched off to jail just for believing in their religion (which I’m sure will happen as soon as “God” hits the Earth with a meteor for not harassing gay people enough).

In his hysterical prediction, Pat Robertson is illustrating the other kind of “victory” that Kim Davis and her supporters may well be thinking about here.

Remember, Ms. Davis’ goal in becoming the County Clerk of her area (aside from drawing an incredibly fat government paycheck of damned near quadruple her county’s median per capita income for what amounts to a sinecure) was to use her elected office to force her religious views on other people, which she pronounces as “being a voice for God’s word.” Her goal was and is to broadcast her religious ideas while standing on as broad a platform as she can possibly manage.

She also seems to revel in attention, as we can see in her bizarrely smug and exultant performance in the post-jailing news conference. For a humble martyr to the faith, she sure is rocking an ear-to-ear grin the whole time she’s shaking hands with the religious and political leaders squabbling with each other over who’ll be allowed to get the closest to their movement’s new anointed mascot. She acts like her god picked her to star on a nationwide reality TV show. That grin is not the chastened expression of a person who’s had her ass handed to her by the legal system. That’s the defiant look of someone who genuinely thinks she won something.

So what did Kim Davis think she won?

Why, the mantle of martyrdom.

Two things are going on here. The first one is quite simple: Christians like her tend to think that they’re supposed to be opposed for their cruelty grabbiness overreach beliefs, so when someone offers them opposition it’s like Christmas came early. Even when I was a Christian, we had a saying: “Dogs don’t bark at what don’t move.” Jail time is some damned loud barking. It means Jesus extra-approves of their overreach. On that level, the only thing that could make Kim Davis happier is if guillotines got involved in the story somehow.

Secondly, she and her supporters think that her case is what it will take to make Americans think twice about forcing “nice” people like them to serve people they think are ickie, and that’s where things get a little weirder.

She calls herself a foot-soldier in a war ordained by Jesus–one she cannot back down from now that she’s been divinely-chosen to fight the forces of utter darkness (and by “the forces of utter darkness” she means “two sweet little old ladies kissing under a wedding arch”), and that now that Americans see just how persecuted TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like her are, surely they will recoil from this terrible thing they have wrought and Make It All Go Back to the Way It Was.

And, um, it ain’t gonna happen.

When interracial marriage and Civil Rights became a thing, bigots like Kim Davis freaked out and did much the same shit she’s doing now. They were defiant to the end, and they did and said exactly the same things Kim Davis and her supporters are doing and saying now (a fact that heartily annoys them whenever it’s mentioned, which is why we mention it constantly).

She is no martyr. She is no foot-soldier for any supernatural being, particularly not one who cares about love.

In reality, she is a willing pawn of the leaders of the Religious Right, who are quite happy to sell and hype the image of an angry, ignorant, hypocritical, judgmental, mean-spirited, condescending bigot as the new symbol of the terrible oppression they face as TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in a world gone mad with compassion, love, inclusiveness, generosity, grace, charity, and kindness.

What they’re counting on is that there are still enough TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in their fanbase to keep the money train flowing for themselves. But they have to go further and further than they once did to gin up the flames of false persecution, class warfare, and outraged privilege. The money isn’t flowing like it used to, not at a time when–according to their own studies–some 3500 Christians a day are leaving the religion, many never to return. Evangelicalism might be bleeding slightly fewer people than Catholicism and the more liberal denominations, but they’re bleeding people all the same. Every person who leaves is another person who isn’t sending in checks or showing up in churches and rallies and voting booths, which makes the burden on those remaining all the heavier.

That’s why these ginned-up calls to action are so outrageous and funhouse-mirror distorted. They’re only going to get worse. It takes a serious threat to get a bunch of outraged, scared, willfully ignorant, frustrated, financially-struggling white people to open their wallets and purses nowadays–so serious threats are what the leaders of the Religious Right are going to offer 24/7, with each threat worse than the last.

And they do it because it works. The people they’re selling these threats to want something so bad they can taste it, and they’re willing to shell out and vote for anyone and anything that seems halfway likely to get it for them.

They want their power and privilege back.

Ed Kilgore at Talking Points Memo put it well:

Eventually the idea that marriage equality is incompatible with conservative Christian “freedom of worship” will fade as LGBT folk continue to get married and people continue to worship and yea, present the case for a depraved world that needs to bend to the will of a very angry and culturally conservative God. But that won’t end the culture wars, if only because the supposed tribunes of “religious liberty” really want dominion.

Kim Davis is not martyring herself over religious liberty at all, but rather to gain the legal right to tell someone, “We don’t serve your kind in here.” She wants the ability to force everyone around her to follow the same rules she’s put herself under. When you see her giving speeches about her wonderful god, thanking that god for getting her free and for keeping her in her cushy government job to fight for legalized discrimination another day, remember that what you’re seeing is really her way of saying, “My god is totally on board with me telling certain groups of people, “You must do what I say.”  And she wants the rest of us to have to sit there and listen to her for as long as she wants to talk about how much her god she hates gay people, and to let her have her way every single time even at our own expense and even if it means allowing her to violate the oaths she swore when she took office whenever she decides they’re inconvenient to follow (sort of like the Old Testament!).

That whole rally, the choir, the hand-shaking, the fist-pumping, the gleeful speeches, the giddy excitement, is all about her supporters thinking that they’re finally moving back to that imaginary world of power and privilege they think they once inhabited.

That is what the rank and file of her supporters think her martyrdom is ultimately meant to accomplish.

It’s almost laughable, but remember, her handlers are well aware they’ve already lost this culture war their side began. At this point, it’s about opening the wallets and gaining the votes of the sort of people who’d support someone like Kim Davis–and that goal was one of the few that they actually sorta accomplished, from what I’m seeing–at the cost of undercutting both their own privilege and their religion’s credibility.

So Kim Davis might think she won something, and her handlers and sycophants might well tell her she did, but in actuality, all she’s done is shoot Christianity in the foot. Again. With its own gun. Twice. And good, I say. If her god really does think that I don’t serve your kind in here is an acceptable way to treat people, then the world will be losing nothing of value when her end of the religion finally falls into total irrelevance.


Hey gang, quick reminder: Let’s stick to criticizing ideas, behavior, erroneous “facts,” and hypocrisy.

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