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The Biblical Problem With Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis' Opposition To Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Since being faithful is clearly the driving force behind Ms. Davis' actions, it seems to me that she'd want to be consistent, rather than just picking and choosing the parts of the Bible she likes. Unfortunately for her, Romans 13 presents a conundrum for government employees like Davis.
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You may have heard that the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional a couple of months ago.

I believe at least a couple of news outlets reported on it.

Well, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis definitely heard the news and she wasn't happy about. However, unlike many of her fellow non-affirming Christians, she was -- and at least for the moment still is -- in the position to do something about...or at least so she believes.

As the Rowan County Clerk, Kim Davis is responsible for issuing marriage licenses in her part of Kentucky, an area which until recently had a law against issuing those licenses to same-sex couples. When Ms. Davis heard about the Supreme Court's decision, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Citing her sincerely held religious beliefs and "being God's authority," Davis has steadfastly refused to issue marriage licenses to the same-sex couples who have applied for them at her office -- despite repeated orders from the court to do so. Her lawyers even requested that the Supreme Court grant her "asylum for her conscience."

Their request was denied.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Davis has become something of a folk hero to those convinced she is taking a biblical stand in the face of Christian persecution and the downfall of civilization.

But there's a biblical problem with Kim Davis' biblical opposition to issuing same-sex marriage licenses in Rowan County, Kentucky.

And, no, I'm not talking about the contentious debate over what the Bible does or does not say about same-sex marriage.

I'm talking about Romans 13.

Since being biblically faithful is clearly the driving force behind Ms. Davis' actions, it seems to me (and I think Davis would agree) that she would want to be consistent in that faithfulness, rather than just picking and choosing the parts of the Bible she likes, while ignoring the rest.

Unfortunately for her, assuming she does want to be faithful to biblical authority, Romans 13 presents a serious and rather awkward conundrum for government employees like Kim Davis.

On the off chance you don't have the thirteenth chapter of Paul's letter to the Church in Rome memorized, allow me to share it with you and refresh your memory because it's a tremendously important passage for government employees like Davis who are concerned about violating their conscience.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.

Of course, this famous passage in Romans is in addition to other verses like 1 Peter 2:13 and Titus 3:1 and Jesus's own command to "Render unto Caesar" in Mark 12:17, Matthew 22:21, and Luke 20:25. Together they mean that if we're going to play the The Bible Is Clear™ game, then Kim Davis is clearly in violation of Scripture for the Bible clearly and repeatedly tell us to obey the government. Which obviously creates an incredibly awkward conundrum, for in her steadfast determination not to violate her biblical values, Davis has done just that.

"But what if the government is affirming something clearly evil like slavery or Jim Crow or the Holocaust?!" you say.

That is an excellent question.

Welcome to the sometimes murky world of biblical interpretation.

We love to believe that biblical values are clear and being biblically faithful is easy or at least pretty straightforward. While sometimes those things might be true, the Bible isn't quite as black and white as we want it or need it to be. Because the Bible was written in a language different than our own in a context dramatically different than our own for people who lived and died long, long before our great-great-great-great grandparents walked the earth, understanding and the living out what the biblical writers call us to live and believe isn't as easy as just pointing to a verse and declaring "the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it."

Not only is that sort of approach to faith incredibly lazy, it creates awkward situations like Kim Davis is currently experiencing (whether she realizes it or not) that can't be resolved with more proof-texting. And, worse - much worse - proof-texting our faith transforms the Bible into a weapon and us into sanctified judges, juries, and executioners who wield the power to exclude, condemn, and destroy lives with nothing but a verse and our sincerely held religious beliefs.

This doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't live with conviction. We can and we should. But that conviction has to come from more than a list of proof-texts and sincerely held beliefs.

What Ms. Davis would do well to remember, what all of us would do well to remember in moments like this is the teaching of that great Church Father, St. Augustine who, via the teaching of Jesus himself, called us to read the Bible using the Greatest Commandment as the beginning and end of our scriptural interpretation for "the fulfillment and the end of the Law, and of all Holy Scripture" is love of God and love of neighbor. Therefore, Augustine says, "Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought."

That is what putting the Law of God above the Law of Man looks like.

So, when your interpretation of scripture compels you to treat your neighbors like second-class citizens who don't deserve the same rights you enjoy, you can rest assured that regardless of the proof-texts you have compiled, you have not reached an interpretation of those verses that builds up the twofold love of God and neighbor.

You have not chosen the Law of God over the Law of Man.

You've chosen discrimination.

Now, I have no doubt that no words of mine will change Ms. Davis' mind or the minds of her constituents, but like the Christian baker or florist or party supply owner, she would do well to also remember that she is no more endorsing her same-sex neighbors' "sin" then Holiday Inn is endorsing adultery because one of their hotel rooms might be used by someone having an affair.

Kim Davis may indeed be signing the license, but she really isn't the one endorsing the marriage. The government of Rowan County is (or at least the United States government).

But if Ms. Davis is convinced she is in the right about same-sex marriage, if she indeed believes sincerely that the Bible is clear and thus refuses to be subject to the governing authorities Paul says are "appointed by God," then Romans 13 makes it clear she has only one option if she want to avoid judgment.


Otherwise she would be doing the very thing she says she can't do: living in direct opposition 0f scripture.

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