Civil Disobedience, the Bible and Kim Davis
I’ve been asked a dozen times over the last few weeks, for my opinion on Kim Davis, the Rowan, Kentucky, County Clerk who was jailed a few weeks ago for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So what are Christians to think?
Based on my research, Kim takes God seriously. She gave her life to Jesus four years ago after three failed marriages and several children born out of wedlock. But since her conversion, she takes both marriage and the Bible serious – seriously enough to go to jail for what she believes. You have to admire anyone who is willing to be jailed for their religious convictions!
However, I do not agree, either with her decision, or her rationale for making it. I’ll first explain why. Then, I’ll present several biblical options for someone in her position.
Legalizing sin I believe the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex couples to marry was a terrible decision that, like Roe vs. Wade, legalizes a sin, God prohibits and will have repercussions for our society we can’t even imagine today. Read my blog on July 2, 2015 (http://bit.ly/1T8gyAB) to read a summary of my objections.
That being said, when the Supreme Court of the United States makes a ruling, for all practical purposes, it becomes the law of the land, for which there is no appeal, other than a constitutional change. I understand there are Christian legal experts who disagree. They believe only Congress can make laws, not the Supreme Court, therefore Davis is not violating an actual law. However, almost all Supreme Court legal experts I’ve researched, seriously disagree – and cite hundreds of Supreme Court rulings, that never were backed up by a law in Congress, which de facto, became the law of the land. (Affirmative Action, Brown vs. The Board of Education (the desegregation of schools), etc.)
But, Kim Davis did not give the argument that she wasn’t violating an actual law as her reason for disobeying. Rather, in the words of her attorney in court, “her (Davis) religious convictions and faith, should exempt her from having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which violates her conscience. This is a freedom of religion issue.”
So the question is, can Christians refuse to obey the law of the land? The answer is both “no” and “yes.” Part of the “no” answer is found in Romans 13:1,2: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Frankly, it makes no sense to me why God would allow a government (or a court in this case) to issue a law that appears to violate his own words in scripture. Nevertheless, we are a nation of laws, and whether we agree with every law, or not, the Bible does not allow Christians, or anyone for that matter, to violate the law. I guarantee you, that if a Muslim county clerk somewhere in the U.S. had refused on religious grounds to issue marriage licenses to Christians, or an atheist clerk refused to issue licenses to any religious person, these same Christians who are standing with Kim Davis, would go crazy! And, I’d agree with them. Why? Because we’re a nation of laws and individuals cannot simply pick and choose, based on their religious convictions what laws they will, or will not obey.
Mrs. Davis’ options In my opinion, here are Mrs. Davis’ three options;
1. She can resign. She’s an elected official, but also an employee of the government. Unlike soldiers in a war, who are often ordered to violate their religious beliefs, Kim Davis has the option to resign her office, if her duties require her to do something that violates her conscience. The law gives her a way out of this dilemma. Why she doesn’t resign, isn’t clear. Nevertheless, if we as citizens, believe she has the right to defy a law that violates her conscience, that opens the door for anyone of any religion to the same. Do we really want that?
2. She can continue to order her clerks not to issue licenses, (which she did until a week or so ago) and go back to jail and suffer the consequences for living by God’s law (in her opinion) rather than obey man’s laws. (Think Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!)
3. She can continue as a County Clerk, and simply not personally issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Apparently there are at least four employees under Kim’s authority who are willing to do so and by simply allowing them to do what their consciences allow them to do, Kim is not violating hers. Problem solved. As of this week, that appears to be the option she’s chosen. (But, she apparently believes that the licenses they have issued are not valid without her signature. So, stay tuned!)
Getting back to a biblical case for civil disobedience, theologians have almost universally agreed on these general principles; 1. If the law of the land causes you to violate a clear teaching of scripture, you must obey God. But then, you must also be willing to submit to whatever punishment the law allows. This allows a Christian to submit both to God and to the punishment of the authorities. 2. The question in Mrs. Davis’ case, is this violation of a clear teaching of the Bible? Does the Bible say, “you shall not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” The offense against God is being committed by the same-sex couple, not Mrs. Davis. And if Davis chooses not to issue licenses personally, but left it up to the conscience of the clerks in her office, there’s no violation of any of Gods laws by her. Some would argue that if Christians fail to stand up to laws that violate their consciences, that in and of itself, is a sin. If Mrs. Davis believes that, she has options #1 and #2 open to her.
I know there are serious followers of Jesus who will disagree with me on some of these points. However, we have to be very careful about insisting on rights for ourselves, that we’re unwilling to grant to other religions. (That’s the law of unintended consequences!) We live in a democracy. Paul reminded us again of our duties as citizens, when he said, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,” Titus 3:1.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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