I know that as a conservative-Christian-libertarian-leaning-Republican I’m supposed to pick a side in this Kim Davis controversy. These days, if you’re not 110% in one camp or the other, you’re a traitor and a sell-out. Nuance is for losers. Nevertheless, I’m deeply conflicted about the issue of the county clerk who was hauled off to jail for refusing to sign same sex marriage certificates, and I know I’m not the only one. Although I’ve heard from plenty of people about why one side or the other is wrong, I’m still not sure.
On the one hand, I agree with Davis on principle. As a Christian, I wouldn’t want my name on a form declaring the legitimacy of a union that is outside the bounds of the biblical definition of marriage. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that Christians are to obey the governing authorities unless they are commanded to do something that violates God’s commands. In between those two points is a gray area where there is room for Christians to come to different conclusions about whether putting one’s name on a marriage license would constitute an endorsement of the marriage. Even among individuals of other faith traditions (or no faith at all) there is disagreement on this issue; Americans from all walks of life are conflicted about it. And that is why everything about this ongoing conflict is terrible. Every. Last. Thing.
I went on to list 3 Reasons Everyone Should Hate the Kentucky Marriage Debacle. I’d like to build on that by adding three thing that Christians, in particular, should hate about the spectacle in Kentucky and explain my concerns about how this is playing out in the larger culture.
We’re once again confusing Christianity with the GOP.
Not too many years ago, the voice of the Moral Majority dominated Republican politics and it wasn’t a good moment for American Christianity. People began to think that being a Christian meant being a card-carrying Republican. Or that being a Republican was the same thing as being a Christian. These beliefs are in error and they do harm to both Christianity and the GOP. Political parties and elected officials more often than not fail miserably when they weigh in on theological issues because they’re trying to serve two (maybe more) masters: God, government, voters, and special interests. The GOP doesn’t speak for Christianity — and in fact, Republicans often do and say things contrary to the Bible’s teachings. But during the Moral Majority years a lot of people truly believed that if only the right people were in office — the right Christian Republicans — the country could be saved from the impending moral decline.* Somewhere along the way the GOP developed an unhealthy codependent relationship with the American Christian church and the lines between those two distinct realms of authority (church and government) were blurred. Christians sometimes forget that revival begins in hearts, in families, and in churches — not in government bureaucracies or partisan campaign offices.
*This is not to say that Christians shouldn’t hold elected office. In fact, it’s a good thing when godly people are in positions of authority. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” While we shouldn’t depend on political parties or government officials to provide spiritual leadership, individual Christians living out their convictions as elected officials can be a tremendous influence for good in the world. But we must always remember that men are fallible; if we’re putting our faith in them, we will surely be disappointed. As David said in the Psalms, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
The pep rallies on both sides are awful.
I hated seeing the angry mob, reminiscent of the crowd begging for the release of Barabbas, cheering as a county clerk in Kentucky was hauled off to jail. But I also hated presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s “Eye of the Tiger” rally with Kim Davis after she was released. There is nothing to celebrate—on either side. We are going to see more and more Christians having to choose between their faith and their jobs and this deep gash in our American psyche will continue to fester. I don’t have any expectations about good behavior from the progressive left—in fact, their ugly behavior and angry taunts are consistent with their worldview. But Christians ought to be above fist-pumping religious spectacles. While I agree with Davis in principle, this grandstanding is unseemly and a poor reflection of the message of the Christian gospel. We’re commanded to “speak the truth in love,” not flaunt our triumphs over our political enemies. The apostle Peter instructed Christians to keep their conduct among the unbelievers “honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” He also said in 1 Peter 2:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people….Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Those are tough words, especially difficult to obey when a government is lawless and oppressive. But keep in mind that Peter gave these instructions to Christians–he called them aliens–in Asia-Minor who were living under the brutal rule of Nero. In the midst of increasing Christian persecution Paul tells them to do good and honor everyone. It was as radical then as it is today. So go ahead and protest and chant and wave your placards—it’s your right as an American citizen—but please don’t hold these angry, fist-pumping demonstrations in Jesus’ name.
The drama in Kentucky is a revealing thread in the fabric of a great unrest in this country.
People (on both sides of the aisle) increasingly have very little faith that their government will protect their rights. The rule of law has been so eroded that people no longer know where the lines are. The law is used time and time again to wantonly bludgeon political enemies, and individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of an ever more powerful government see no real legal remedies to balance the scales. They feel their only recourse is civil disobedience. Or they look to quasi-religious figures like Donald Trump, the GOP savior-in-waiting.
Traditional Judeo-Christian values are in conflict with the dominant progressive social norms (and all of the associated laws and judicial fiats). If you think the new morality enforcers are going to stop with county clerks, you haven’t been paying attention. Francis Schaeffer wrote Death in the City:
But if we are looking across the history of the world to see those times when men knew the truth and turned away, let us say emphatically that there is no exhibition of this anywhere in history so clearly–in such a short time–as in our own generation…Men of our time knew the truth and yet turned away–turned away not only from the biblical truth, the religious truth of the Reformation, but turned away from the total culture built upon that truth, which included the balance of freedom and form which the Reformation brought forth in northern Europe in the state and in society, a balance which has never been known anywhere in the world before…Ours is a post-Christian world in which Christianity, not only in the number of Christians but in cultural emphasis and cultural result, is now in the minority.
Schaeffer, one of the great Christian intellectuals and apologists of the 20th century, penned those words in 1969, presciently describing the fallout from the dizzying cultural shifts that began in the 1920s and continue today. Where is this all leading?
The solutions are simple, but seem impossible to achieve, at least by human standards. The reality is that unless our laws are moored to the Constitution and our citizens are moored to the Bible, there’s little hope of curing what ails our wounded nation.
In Death in the City, Schaeffer called for “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” in the Christian church. Great moments in history, he said, have come when the church has experienced reformation (restoration to a pure doctrine) and revival (a life brought into its proper relationship with God). Such a combination would revolutionize the culture. He explained:
Even in the midst of death in the city, the evangelical church can have a really constructive revolution, a revolution that will shake it in all its parts and make it live before God, before the unseen world, and before the observing eyes of the post-Christian world.
In other words, cultural change starts first in the churches and then spreads outward to the culture as the hearts of men and women are transformed by their faith in Christ. We can’t reform the culture until we reform the churches. In the midst of the protests and the very necessary legal battles over religious liberty, Christians must not lose sight of the fact that the battle is a spiritual one and we are strangers and aliens in a world that is only our temporary home.