I remember watching a debate between pastor Doug Wilson and Andrew Sullivan, a gay, politically conservative author over the issue of gay marriage. I particularly remember Mr. Sullivan saying that the matter would have no effect on traditional married couples and was just a matter of expanding the tent of marriage to let a few others in. Justice Kennedy, in his decision on the Obergefell case stated that no religious institution or person would be kept from dissenting from the decision and advocating against same sex marriage. And yet, here we are with a Christian woman jailed for four days because she refused to issue licenses for gay marriages or even to allow others in her office to do it, given that her name would have to appear on the license. Nothing will change they swore, and yet you might just end up in jail if you don’t go along with the program.
But she is a political official we are told. Her duty is to uphold the law whether she personally likes it or not. This is the take I heard in an interview on the Federalist Radio Hour yesterday afternoon with Jim Antle from the Washington Examiner. It was an excellent discussion on a wide range of subjects and concluded with a conversation on Kim Davis. Toward the end of that discussion Mr. Antle who was sympathetic toward her, but ultimately disagreed with her approach, asked those who are supporting her how they would have responded if, pre Obergefell, a pro gay marriage clerk refused to issue marriage licenses until gay marriage was recognized and made legal in this country. Christians would have been in an uproar, demanding that she do her job regardless of her personal positions.
But it is just at this point that we as Christians need clear thinking. If Mrs. Davis’ stubborn refusal to grant gay marriage licenses were merely a matter of preference, then I would jump on the bandwagon and demand that she do her job as an elected official according to the laws of the land. But as I understand it, this is not what she is doing. Much more than being a matter of preference, this is for her a matter of conscience. As a Christian, she believes that she does not have the Biblical authority to authorize the marriage of a gay couple; regardless of what five individuals in black robes say about it. That is, she believes that in issuing them licenses she would be sinning. Now I recognize that many reading this may not agree, but that is irrelevant. Particularly as Christians, we must stand in defense of one's conscience whether we agree on the specifics or not. This is the case whether a person is an elected official or not. Public and private acts must both be governed by ones conscience.
We can look to the oft cited acts of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as examples of godly men in public positions with the same responsibility as we have, to honor their governing authorities, and yet who did not obey the law of the land because it violated their conscience. They believed that to bow to the statue was to sin against their God and therefore, it was not simply that they would not bow, but that they could not bow. Sure we live in a pluralistic society and will have to tolerate the beliefs and actions of those we disagree with and even those we find reprehensible. We get it. But when it comes to demanding a person violate their conscience, we must stand in their defense. Paul argues very clearly in 1 Corinthians 8 that to cause a brother or sister to violate their conscience is to lead them to their destruction. For, to sin against conscience is to sin against God. And for Paul this is the case even when the person’s conscience is misinformed. That is, if a person’s conscience tells them not to do something, or that in doing something they will be sinning, and they go ahead and do it anyway, they are in fact sinning even if the thing they are doing is not in itself sinful. The issue that Paul uses as his example is eating meat sacrificed to idols. For Paul this was not inherently sinful and faithful Christians could feel free to eat the meat. However if a person felt that it was a sin to do so and you led them to violate their conscience you were causing them to sin.
Therefore, I am frustrated with Christians jumping on the anti Kim Davis bandwagon. It feels as if we are wanting to say to our adversarial culture, “sure we were opposed to the SCOTUS decision, but we are not going to make any waves about it. We certainly are not like that wacky clerk in Kentucky. We understand that it is the law of the land and want to respect the law and we stand with you in our outrage over her obstinacy. Please don’t judge all Christians by her embarrassing actions.” Christian’s should be wary of turning on a woman who is willing to act according to her conscience and suffer the consequences.
Of all people, we as Protestants should appreciate her position best. After all, it was Luther who helped clarify the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. He taught that our consciences can only be bound or limited by Scripture. We must obey our governing authorities not because they have some inherent right to that obedience, but because the Bible commands it. Their authority is not above the authority of the Scriptures and and therefore when they contradict the authority of the Bible, as we best understand it, and demand that we comply, we are compelled not to obey. It is crucial that we begin studying up on the issue of Christian disobedience in a culture that is rapidly growing in its hostility to the word of God. In the mean time let’s not join our voices with those who want to silence Christian conscience but rather, may we be so bold as to stand with Kim Davis regardless of whether we share her convictions.