The plight of Kim Davis has taken America by storm this week.
The Kentucky county clerk’s steadfast refusal to carry out her job, followed by her imprisonment for contempt of court, is the stuff Kirk Cameron and Kevin Sorbo movies are made of. Whether you think her a martyr or a bigot, you have to admit: this is dramatic stuff, especially for the apocalyptic crowd.
I’ve read two takes on the situation this week that I really enjoyed, and that I want to riff off of a little bit.
Over at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner is as usual a refreshing source of common sense and clarity, by cutting through the rhetoric and getting to the heart of the situation:
Religious freedom, of course, has long been seen as the hot 2016 culture war issue, so it’s not surprising to see some of the candidates line up to support Davis. Religious freedom is a new litmus test on the right; of course abortion is still there, but now religious liberty is the proxy for opposition to marriage equality.
But if you listen to what Davis is saying, her real argument is that God’s authority trumps that of the courts (a truly odd statement for someone who is employed by a court), not that her religious liberty is under siege.
And over at Patheos, Brandan Robertson keeps religious liberty in the mix, but explains how Kim Davis is actually undermining freedom of religious expression:
Kim Davis posed a great threat to the religious liberties of our nation by refusing to carry out her duties as an agent of the state, issuing marriage licenses to all couples, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. Davis forced her Christian faith on the people of Rowan County, and violated their right to be able to receive equal treatment from the government, regardless of their sexuality, race, religion, or values. If Davis was able to continue serving as the county clerk, she could, in theory, continue to refuse to grant marriages licenses or provide services to everyone she disagrees with, which would, in effect, completely dissolve the religious freedoms of the people in her county.
I think together, these two takes on Kim Davis make such an important point. Davis is not some private citizen made a martyr by a rampaging federal government intent on stamping out Christianity. Kim Davis is a state employee, an agent of the government, tasked with carrying out the duties of that government. When she goes to work, like it or not, she has a duty to check her Christianity at the door and do her government job.
Our government is one that makes no special priveleges for, or discriminates against, any religion. By refusing to do her job on religious grounds, Davis is discriminating on behalf of the government she represents against the citizens who have a right to equal treatment under the law, the right to receive a marriage license from the state.
Kim Davis has no right to her government job. If she doesn’t want to do it, she can step down. If she is more interested in working for what she see’s as “God’s law” then she should go work for a church (though, knowing what kind of church she likely comes from, they probably wouldn’t let her.) Nor is she some sort of brave martyr. She is breaking the law, as upheld by the Supreme Court just over two months ago. She is refusing the serve the citizens of Rowan County, Kentucky fairly and equally. She is acting as an agent of religious discrimination, instead of a beacon of religious liberty.
The sad thing about this is, Kim Davis is merely a tool of the religious right. Her jailing will last long enough for it to play well with right wing email appeals for money to fight secular liberalism. Folks like Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson and televangelists everywhere care little for the plight of Davis outside of her use as a fundraising tool. I’m sure she will make the rounds of speaking and interviews with all the usual suspects after this, but her fame is temporary.
She’s the perfect stand-in for the religious liberty fight in that sense. The religious fears and concerns of white middle America have become fodder for raising money for right wing politicians and opinion leaders who actually can do very little for those they are taking money from. The actual contours and ideas of such a complicated idea hold little appeal for them, and thus they will never actually enact policy that could actually do anything, as 1) religious liberty is a real non-issue, and 2) to do so would eliminate it as a fundraising tool. The legislating options around this are nonexistent; instead, these guys raise money and then govern in a way that devastates places like Rowan Co, Kentucky economically.
So, when Kim Davis resigns and goes home finally, she will be forgotten. She will go back to her life, and Mike Huckabee will go back to New Iowa or New Hampshire or wherever the next “Crisis” pops up. Religious freedom will still be assured in America, but right wing politicians will continue to use things like this to rake in the cash on false pretenses.
As Christians, we should be ashamed that this is what is being allowed to be the face of our faith in America right now. It should outrage us that those we consider “Religious leaders” are more concerned with fear mongering and raising money than spending time on real injustices in America. It’s stuff like this that is at the root of the rapid decline of self-professed Christians as detailed in the Pew Report this summer.
This is not the face of a loving, compassion filled, merciful faith. This is small-mindedness, cruelty, and greed masquerading as religion. It’s infuriating, but it’s what we have come to expect from mainstream American Christianity.