Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis is in jail. She refused to issue marriage licenses, even after members of her staff offered to do it (she forced them not to), even after the Supreme Court informed her that no exception from the law would be made for her. Stating that she was acting “under God’s authority,” she defied court orders and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a motion for her to be held in contempt.
The plaintiffs asked that Davis is fined but not jailed, but Judge Bunning feared that a fine would not get her to comply with the ruling.
He suspected that, if fined, Davis would be able to crowdsource funds to take care of things. Thus, in order to get her to actually comply and issue marriage licenses, Kim Davis has been sent to jail. These are the facts.
It’s important to remember the facts of this story. At the end of the day, the facts are what matter. They tell us the cause and effect. They don’t, however, give the fullest picture as to why. To understand why it happened and how we should respond to it, we have to take three things into consideration: faith, the law, and human beings.
Faith plays a huge role in this situation. As Christians, we are called to be the light of the world. Matthew 5:16 instructs us to “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works” and praise God. Perhaps that’s what Davis thought she was doing in refusing to issue marriage licenses. By publicly acting on her beliefs, her light shone not just on those she denied, but on all of America.
What about the “good works” part, though? What good has this light brought forth? It has harmed people, denying them rights that the highest court in their country says they have.
It has not caused others to praise God, but rather to praise or condemn Kim Davis.
It has caused people to personally attack her, pointing out the hypocrisy of her own marriage situation (which may be fair to point out) and insulting her hair and clothing (which definitely isn’t fair). “It has caused a marginalized group in this country to be called “homo terrorists” and “rapists” by her supporters when they have done nothing but asked for the recognition of one of their rights.
This doesn’t glorify God. This doesn’t glorify anyone.
What about the law? Davis’ defense rests on the idea that forcing her to perform a service against her beliefs violated her right to freedom of religion. That simply isn’t how things work. Freedom of religion isn’t the right to exercise your religion at your secular governmental job. It isn’t the right to exercise your religion at any job.
Freedom of religion is the right to exercise your faith without persecution.
Davis has not been persecuted for her beliefs. She is, as she has always been, free to have and express her faith. Her being in jail has nothing to do with her faith. Clerks in other counties walk the streets freely today because, rather than refusing to do their job because it went against their beliefs, they simply left the job. They, just like Davis, have not been forced to change their beliefs.
The law of faith, the law that Jesus says He fulfills in Matthew 5:17; that law has not been challenged by the courts. Davis, just like all of us, is allowed to follow and interpret it.
Rather, in our great, diverse, and religiously pluralistic country, that law cannot be used to override the laws written to give rights to all people, Christians and non-Christians alike. This is not a spiritual issue; it is a legal one. As Judge Bunning said: “Her good-faith belief is simply not a viable defense.”
At the end of the day, Kim Davis is a human being.
We may not agree with her opinions or her actions, but we cannot deny this. How are we called to respond to human beings in situations such as this? Matthew 5:43-44 reminds us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
What does this mean in this context? Davis has not only ignored the requirements of her job and disobeyed the law, she has committed spiritual violence. Why would we show her love?
Simply put, we should love her not only because we are called to, but because it’s the one thing she refuses to do for us. This does not mean forgiving her. One cannot forgive someone who has both used spirituality for harm and remains unrepentant for causing said harm.
Loving her also does not mean that we should not hold her accountable.
Part of showing someone love is compassion, but it is also showing that actions, especially hurtful ones, have consequences. The court has already done this legally, but we can so spiritually.
We can avoid the personal attacks on her looks and her life, even the ones that show that Davis does not follow all the rules of her faith equally (as explained in Jack Jenkins article at Think Progress).
We can drown out the hate speech of her followers with the actual message of the Gospels: that we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love one another as Jesus loved us. We can use this opportunity to lift up and support those called out in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-11: the merciful, those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, those who are reviled for just being who they are.
We can be the light that shines and gives glory to God, showing that, while Davis may be a Christian, she does not speak for all of Christianity.
We cannot change the facts of this story, but we can respond to them.
We can give glory to justice. We can give glory to equality. We can give glory to God.
Photo by Ty Wright via Getty Images