“I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word.”
The questions which have come to me personally and pastorally over the past week have been both insistent and incessant—is Kim Davis a criminal and/or an out of control Christian who should be the subject of church discipline? This post is my answer.
Her name is Kim Davis. Politically she is an elected Democrat serving as County Clerk in Rowan Co., Kentucky. She also is a professing Christian, newly converted to Christ from a self-admitted lifestyle of rebellion against the Lord of glory and grace—including three failed marriages. Likely you already know this information from the vast publicity delivered through formal and social media, almost all with a definitively negative slant denigrating her conversion and questioning both her motivation and her church. What you may not know is that Mrs. Davis is in jail—perhaps the one where she has been regularly teaching a Bible study for inmates—with no bail, by court order. Even though the judge had a variety of options he decided they would be insufficient to achieve his purpose, which is to force Mrs. Davis to “sign” or “resign” and “teach her a lesson.” At best, this is a miscarriage of justice and at worst intentional judicial tyranny.
(Editor’s note: Ms. Davis has since been released from jail)
Let’s be clear. This post is not specifically about Kim Davis, the authenticity of her conversion, the orthodoxy of her church or divining the motivations of her heart. It is about the issues of this case and its implications. It is about how we should respond to Mrs. Davis and this situation. It is also about the undeniable fact that Christians serving as public officials, military chaplains, as well as simple everyday citizens will soon find themselves in similar predicaments of conscience. Why? Because an increasingly fascist government through an aggressive Dept. of Justice buttressed by an arrogant judiciary armed with the mantra that “same-sex marriage” is the “law of the land” in light of the Obergefell 5/4 opinion from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will inevitably put all of us in the same situation—sign on or resign—it’s the “law of the land” isn’t it and you must obey it—or do you—will you?
WHAT IS THE SITUATION?
Mrs. Davis has declared as affirmed in the introductory quote that she cannot in good conscience affix her signature as ordered by the Governor of Kentucky to “same-sex marriage” certificates. Therefore she refuses to sign any and all marriage certificates until the Commonwealth returns to issuing marriage certificates consistent with its Constitution. In addition, she refuses to resign her elected office to ensure that the issues are addressed. She cites two reasons. One is that the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky define marriage as a legal covenant between one man and one woman. And the Obergefell SCOTUS opinion has no authority to overturn those laws established by the people through their elected legislators. Secondly, as a Christian she cannot submit to the laws of men if they contradict and cause her to disobey the Law of God. The long standing premise as to the supremacy of God’s Law over man’s law is repeatedly affirmed in the Old Testament (i.e., the Egyptian midwives disobedience of Pharaoh’s decree to kill the Hebrew children, etc.) continuing in the New Testament (i.e., John and Peter’s refusal to obey the public authorities command to be silent as to the Gospel of Christ with the salient statement,“We must obey God rather than man,” Acts 5:29), continuing throughout history as affirmed by the martyrs of the church and notably in the Reformation, with Martin Luther’s history-changing declaration before the Church and the Holy Roman Empire:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason—for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
Kim Davis, in like manner, has determined that for conscience sake she will not participate in subverting the sanctity of marriage as a Divinely-designed heterosexual, monogamous, conjugal, covenantal relationship for life. So should she be incarcerated by the United States and/or should she be the subject of church discipline due to her lack of obedience to the professed laws of the United States?
THE QUESTION – WHERE DO I STAND?
While I have no idea as to the integrity of her profession of faith in Christ—although I deeply care—nor the orthodoxy of the church where she worships—of which I also deeply care—let me state emphatically, I stand with Mrs. Davis and all other public officials who humbly yet courageously oppose and refuse to participate in propagating the sinful charade of “same-sex marriage.” More pointedly, I would hope by God’s grace to respond with the same courageous humility as she has if I were in her place. Why? There are multiple reasons, but here are two.
THE SUPREME COURT AND THE LAW OF THE LAND
The first reason is to confront a legal fallacy. It is commonly believed that the opinions of the Supreme Court are the “law of the land.” This mantra is constantly trumpeted by the media, the pundits, the commentators and the administration of President Obama. Nine unelected, though elevated, justices do not “make the law of the land” in our system of government. The law of the land—the Constitution—is supreme in the United States, not the Supreme Court. And the Constitution can only be changed by the people through elected legislators at the local, state and federal levels, not the judiciary at any level. Governors and Presidents execute the law established through elected legislators. The Supreme Court renders “opinions” on cases it hears, but it does not create law. If this delegation of duties is not observed then the warnings of Thomas Jefferson concerning the inevitable tyranny of the judicial branch will be a reality, as even James Madison, the architect of the Constitution, eventually admitted could happen!
In a word, SCOTUS is an arbiter of the law. To make this clearer, they are umpires. Umpires do not make the rules, they make ruling judgments, which may or may not be right. So it is with SCOTUS. And like any other umpire, they can, and have been wrong. Sometimes with catastrophic effects these nine justices have historically made rulings and issued opinions which were politically shaped, but legally and Constitutionally devastatingly wrong. Thankfully in some cases they were rightly challenged by citizens and elected officials in the history of our country. For brevity’s sake, here are just two politically and culturally shaped, but Constitutionally and devastatingly wrong opinions.
- Dred Scott – (Oct. 1857) a slave was less than a person without unalienable rights.
- Roe v. Wade – (Jan. 1973) Legalized homicide of a baby in the womb for any reason at any time.
Mrs. Davis is right to challenge the Obergefell wrong ruling/opinion as others challenged such legal fabrications in the past. Many in the North and South as citizens and government officials challenged the Dred Scott opinion. If more had done so, there is a good possibility that 700,000 lives in a fratricidal Civil War might have been avoided, and racial hostilities still plaguing this nation might have been rightly addressed. Although Roe v. Wade eventually has been challenged with legislative, ministerial and civil disobedience initiatives, the fact is 57 million plus annihilated lives might have been saved, if citizens, including elected officials had challenged the Roe. V. Wade ruling/opinion from the outset.
Kim Davis is right not to sign and affirm a so-called law affirming “same-sex marriage” with the devastations, sexual anarchy and relational carnage it will bring. Furthermore, she should be commended for not resigning to go quietly away which many would desire. Then admirably she is willing to suffer the persecution of judicial tyranny, thereby forcing a nation to address the Constitutionality of this issue and professing Christians to address it personally. The First Amendment protecting the free exercise of religion (not just the subset of worship), is not forfeited when you become an elected official. As an elected official, she took an oath to uphold the Constitutions of Kentucky and the United States. The Constitution of the United States does not determine marriage laws. Marriage laws are established by the states and the Constitution of Kentucky is clear and unchanged—marriage is between one man and woman.
A FOCUSED CHRISTIAN HISTORY OF POLITICAL DISSIDENCE
The second reason begins with acknowledging that one of the great assets to this nation has been the influence of a Christian world and life view affirming the Christian virtue of obedience to the “law of the land.” But Mrs. Davis is correct in affirming that when the professed “law of the land” demands that a believer as a citizen or as an elected official transgress the Law of God, then a Christian not only is right before God to disobey such laws, but actually has a duty to do so out of allegiance to Christ and love for others. I commend to you as an eloquent example of this the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” defending the right and duty of professing Christians to disobey unjust laws that attack God’s Law and human flourishing.
This is particularly true of “lesser magistrates” as prescribed by the Reformers, specifically John Calvin and Martin Luther. They not only affirmed the right and duty of such civil disobedience by Christian citizens to unjust and immoral laws, but especially those Christians who serve as lower magistrates under superior magistrates who decree immoral laws.
It was such “lesser magistrates” who protected the lives of Calvin and Luther. It was such “lesser magistrates” who contended for God-given unalienable rights that led 13 colonies through its War for Independence, resulting in a nation that affirms the God-given liberties of its people—a nation of free people who give defined powers to the state, as opposed to the power of a state giving liberties to the people. It was such “lesser magistrates” alongside brave protestors who eventually eradicated oppressive “Jim Crow” approved but immoral laws.
WHY THE VILIFICATION OF KIM DAVIS?
So, given the history of Christian political dissidence and First Amendment affirmed rights, why have not only liberal progressives vilified Mrs. Davis, but also astoundingly, why have so many political conservatives and libertarians insisted she must “toe the line” or resign because a SCOTUS opinion is now the “law of the land”? Even more pointedly why have many Evangelical Christians and churches remained silent or in some cases chosen to demean her and her church while some have exhibited outright embarrassment that someone like her has taken a stand in the name of Christianity to uphold the Sanctity of Marriage? Why not stand with her in opposition to a destructive immoral law and the bully power of the culture in general and the State in particular, facilitated by a supportive media? I will suggest three reasons:
- Intimidation. Everyone wants approval. It seems that today’s Evangelical church is much more interested in the approval by the cultural elite of the academy, the media and political progressives than God. Therefore, the threat of being mocked or slandered as intolerant or bigoted is enough to silence many in the contemporary Evangelical church. Those who are so intimidated will distance themselves from Kim Davis as fast as the Palm Sunday crowd following Christ in Jerusalem disappeared on Good Friday.
- Emotional blackmail. Many evangelicals are convinced of the myth that sinners saved by grace must at best be silent about sin, and at worst accommodate sin culturally in order to love sinners not yet saved by the power of the Gospel. Interestingly, those who believe that to accept someone you must accept their behavior, not only are rejecting Christ’s Gospel ministry which identified sin and called for repentance, but in some cases have participated in the vilification of Kim Davis and her church so as to distance themselves from her and her stand.
- Isolationists. Some are convinced that Christians and the church are to be silent about the sanctity of marriage and other issues such as the Sanctity of Life, Sexuality, etc. in the public square, and simply address these matters within the church membership knowing that changed lives will change and influence culture. While undoubtedly the most effective apologetic for the Biblical doctrine of marriage are Gospel transformed marriages, the fact of the matter is that marriage is not a church ordinance. Christian marriage ( i.e. a marriage “in the Lord”) is a church ordinance, but not marriage itself. Marriage is a Creation ordinance, like the Sanctity of Life, and the ethical absolutes identified in the Second Tablet of the Law. If we love our neighbor and desire human flourishing we must not, we cannot be silent about Second Tablet and Creation ordinances. The Christian/Church must issue both Gospel streams of Redeeming grace and Common grace. “Let marriage be held in honor among all…” Heb. 13:4
So Kim Davis, I do hope and pray you know Christ as Lord and Savior. And I do hope and pray you are in a solid Christian church, and by God’s grace your motivations are saturated by the love of Christ. But regardless, what you have done is right, and you have both the legal right to do what you have done as a citizen and the moral right as a professed Christ-follower. You should not be criminalized by the State nor should you be the subject of discipline or distance by the church. So for whatever it is worth, I am praying for you and standing with you. And in the future if our Lord does not intervene with a Gospel Awakening in the church and this nation, I pray you will graciously stand with me when the unchecked judicial tyranny of the secular state comes to the pulpit for me and for others, even those not standing with you now.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This post was originally published on his blog.