Campus Reactions: Kim Davis Refuses to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

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Those Who Oppose Kim Davis are the Real Bigots

 There are multiple issues to unpack in the aftermath of the Kim Davis controversy. A clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, she refused to issue marriage licenses to a gay couple, maintaining that to do so would violate her conscience and religious liberty as a Christian. Davis was jailed for standing by her decision to withhold all marriage licenses and was released from jail on September 8th.

Many take this line of argument: Well, Davis was elected county clerk, and if she can’t—or won’t—fulfill the basic job requirements, then she should resign. It’s common sense.

I don’t buy this argument for one simple reason: Davis’ job requirements changed quite dramatically after she had already assumed the position. She ran for clerk of Rowan County, where marriage was between one man and one woman; she was elected by a majority of Kentuckians who held, and still hold, to the view that gay “marriage” was, and is, an impossibility; and then a bare majority of the Supreme Court stepped in and upended a thousands-of-years-old, bedrock institution—basically because they felt like it. Don’t believe me? Read Scalia (or any of the other dissenting justices).

Simply put: If any of us was hired to do a job in either the private or the public sector, and then the job requirements were abruptly changed in such a way as to cut to the very character of that job that we held, we would expect to be accommodated in some form or fashion. Why is it that we do not expect and wish the same for Davis and her situation?

This is also a much weightier matter: Davis is not simply uncomfortable or in some vague sense averse to performing her new job duties but professes that to issue same-sex marriage licenses would violate her deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions formed by her adherence to Christianity. In a pluralistic society, we should tolerate people’s differing beliefs about morality and what constitutes the good life and seek to forge reasonable accommodations for them. It isn’t difficult to do at all. North Carolina already has a system that works quite well.

Second, there are also many who argue that Davis is both wrong and absurd for behaving in the manner that she did because Scripture itself actually indicts Davis! This is news to me – let’s delve a bit deeper, shall we?

The crux of Gregg Easterbrook’s argument in his piece “Kim Davis Needs to Read the Bible Again,” featured in the New Yorker, last week:

When conservative Christians justify opposition to gay relations by citing ancient scripture, by the most amazing coincidence they don’t mention the other stuff there. The ancient passages that denounce same-sex relations also denounce eating shellfish and trimming one’s beard. The Christian who says God forbids homosexuality – then shaves before going out for dinner at Red Lobster – is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

 Easterbrook misleadingly decides to use the word amend to describe the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. The word he should have used is fulfill:  “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17). The New Testament does not amend what came before in the Old, erasing or invalidating in some way the totality of what it teaches. No, what Jesus did was come to elevate the Law and to reveal its true intent and object: God Himself. Sadly for Easterbrook and supporters of gay “marriage” everywhere, this did not include amending primordial metaphysical truths about human nature, sexuality, and the reality of marriage.

He then launches into the most tired argument against Christians that exists on the face of the planet. It is the favorite of low information online atheists. Well, Leviticus says not to wear two different types of fabric in the same article of clothing, or sow two different types of seed in the same field or eat fat or blood, and on and on, but you Christians do; therefore, you simply must have a special animus against gays and lesbians (after all, they’re born that way!), you homophobe!

The first point is the simplest to grasp: Those rules and requirements were and are for Jews, not Christians. Also, what Easterbrook fails to grasp (or is unwilling to recognize) is the idea that certain proscriptions in the Old Testament were specific to the Israelites as Yahweh’s chosen people at that specific time and place in history. The rules and laws that God gave to Moses to were never all meant to be binding on the rest of humanity. Other things, such as the inherent sexual complementarity of men and women and the in-built purpose of their sexual organs (in accordance with and grounded in natural law teleology) are not negotiable. In point of fact: Jesus’ disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath and eating it, and the Pharisees scolded them and asked Jesus why His disciples were working on the Sabbath. Jesus asked them if they recalled David’s eating of the Bread of Presence in the Temple on the Sabbath (Matthew 2:23-27). Elsewhere, He asked which of them would not rescue their child that had fallen in a well on the Sabbath (Luke 14:5).

This is a clear instance of Jesus’ fulfilling the law: He shows the Jews what the law was meant to do, which was to bring the people closer to God. He sums it up nicely: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Jews had lost sight of what the true purpose of the Sabbath was. Jesus shows them, not by amending the law, but by fulfilling it in and with Himself.

Easterbrook acknowledges early on in his piece that in Genesis God made therein male and female, but he says that the New Testament is silent on issues of homosexuality and gay marriage. He is wrong: Jesus powerfully affirms marriage as only possible between one man and one woman, as it was “from the beginning,” and then elevates it to the level of a sacrament. He very much implicitly spoke out against other forms of sexual union or groupings by speaking extremely explicitly to what marriage is.

Finally, Easterbrook proffers the favored version of Jesus by progressive Christians and leftists: He was a radical poor-lovin’ hippie who just forgave everyone no matter what. This is a fantasy. No one received Jesus’ forgiveness without a price: They had to make a serious effort to reject the sin for which Jesus had just forgiven them. It is a trivial point to bandy about.

In the final analysis, it is Easterbrook, not Davis, who needs to brush up on the Bible. Only about eight hundred thousand words to go, pal.

It is clear that those who oppose Davis and her actions are simply expecting more from her than they would out of almost any other type of employee in almost any other type of job setting. They also feel that it is their place to dictate to Davis what her Christian faith and her own conscience do and do not demand of her. That is intolerance and bigotry, plain and simple.

It was a grave injustice for her to be removed from her job in the first place, let alone jailed for her beliefs.

I, for one, am happy to see her back at work.

Deion Kathawa can be reached at kathawad@umich.edu. 

On Kim Davis

A woman has divorced three times and is a Democrat. One would not expect that sentence to describe Kim Davis, a county clerk from Kentucky who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses with her name on them to same-sex couples.

That she is Democrat illustrates a country divided on whether marriage is a social institution primarily rooted in romance or sexual complementarity. While some like I draw from Aristotle on the purpose and nature of marriage, Davis draws as well from Genesis: “in the image of God he created them; male and female.” And “for this reason,” Jesus says in the Gospels, “the two shall become one flesh.” Attested by scripture, the orthodox Christian understanding is that marriage is a one-flesh union rooted in our creation in the image of God.

This Biblical theme of marital complementarity runs through Genesis (God creating heaven and earth, Adam and Eve), the Old Testament (God and Israel), Saint Paul (the church as the bride of Christ), to Revelation (the marriage of heaven and earth). Basically, the Christian view of human flourishing is inextricably linked to the Biblical understanding of what marriage is. Bearing false witness about marriage means lying about human nature and the faith.

While good people disagree about marriage, one can still understand why this born-again Christian cannot in good conscience issue certificates with her name that testify falsely about what marriage is. Also, her appeal that God’s law is higher than Justice Kennedy has pedigree. Dr. King argued similarly by citing Augustine and Aquinas in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

America has a historically provided exemptions for conscientious objectors. Surely Kentucky can adopt what North Carolina has done: legislating a way to accommodate conscientious-objecting public officials while providing licenses to all couples. That way, actual coexistence is possible.

Ryan Shinkel can be reached at theshink@umich.edu

 

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