Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Few Words on Kim Davis, Same-Sex Marriage Licenses, and Being Born "Anothen"

I almost relocated to Kentucky for my first call out of seminary.  During my search-and-call process, three different churches took a significant interest in calling me: one, of course, is the one I serve now, FCC Longview here in Washington state.  The other two were located in Kentucky, the epicenter of our historic roots in the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801.

While I wouldn't trade my opportunity to return to my beloved Pacific Northwest for anything, it would be fascinating for me to be living in Kentucky now, as it is making a different sort of history at present over in Rowan County, the home of county clerk Kim Davis.  She is not the only county clerk to refuse to issue marriage licenses in the wake of the universal legalization of same-sex marriage by the US Supreme Court this past June, but she, along with fellow marriage license-denying county clerk Casey Davis (no relation) has received probably the most ink.

I have little interest in rehashing the back-and-forth argument of allowing for religious conscience versus a publicly elected official having to do their job, because the law is pretty much settled on that one in favor of the latter: the Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Davis's appeal, and she and her entire staff have been summoned for a court date tomorrow to potentially be charged with contempt.

Nor do I really have that much interest in waving the reality that Davis has been married four times and divorced three times as evidence of her hypocrisy, because (a) I don't get to judge the contexts or reasons for those marriages and divorces, nor should I be able to, (b) I have happily officiated--and thus explicitly approved of--the weddings of people who have been previously divorced myself, and (c) that fact alone actually ignores the larger issue in her hypocrisy: that it is tinged with a very specific sort of religious duplicity that ignores one's past in order to discriminate in the present.

By her own account, about four years ago, Davis attended church about four years ago at the behest of her dying mother-in-law and subsequently seemed to have had a genuine God experience, saying, "There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God. 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."

Her Liberty Counsel attorney Matthew Staver, in the same WaPo article linked in the previous paragraph, is quoted as saying, "It’s something that happened in her past…She was 180 degrees changed."

Here's the thing about our pasts, though: we are indeed forgiven.  But the world, and God, does not forget.  Paul did not forget his own murderous past even after he experienced the presence of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, writing to the Galatians in 1:13, "You have heard of my previous life in Judaism, how severely I harassed God's church and tried to destroy it."  Jesus did not forget Simon Peter's thrice-spoken denial of Him during the Passion, asking Peter three times (one for each denial) "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" in John 21.  And while God, through the prophet Elijah, forgave the wicked king Ahab for his framing and murdering of the innocent vineyard keeper Naboth in 2 Kings 9, God still executed punishment for Ahab's sin, only it was upon Ahab's son rather than Ahab himself.

To say that anyone--God, Christ, our neighbors, or even as much as we wish, ourselves--truly forgets our pasts is a fantasy.  Which is why using the "She was 180 degrees changed" line, like Staver does in defense of Davis, is a total cop-out, a get-out-of-jail-free card.  It isn't that I--or anyone else, for that matter--has any right to doubt the authenticity of her conversion, it's that her conversion does not erase the consequences of whatever her previous actions have brought about.

Put another way, to return to the Biblical examples I cited earlier: Paul's conversion was genuine, but it did not bring Stephen, the disciple stoned to death as Paul approved in Acts 7-8, back to life.  Ahab's repentance was likewise seen as authentic, but it did not bring Naboth back from the dead, nor did it preclude God's own prerogative to enact punishment.

Our greatest sins, no matter how far in our pasts they may be, rarely get entirely erased.  Our historical treatment of African-American or American Indians will never be really erased, nor can they be or should they be.  And sometimes, our own personal or individual sins do not fade away into the ether, much as we might long and wish for them to.  To say that they do does, I believe, in fact cheapen the entire idea of forgiveness, because if something can indeed be entirely blotted out, then there is no need for forgiveness, no great import placed on seeking it, and no necessity for reconciliation.  To say our sins can in fact be wiped entirely out is to say that, in the end, reconciliation doesn't matter as much as confession, which has never, ever, been the case in Christianity.

I see it all the time--I've seen former single mothers harshly judge other single moms as morally corrupted, I've seen recovering addicts refer to active addicts in utterly cruel and dehumanizing terms, and for f***'s sake, the child-molesting, adultery-committing Josh Duggar and his family spoke of gay, lesbian, and trans people as sexual predators, never mind that he eventually found himself in more need of forgiveness for his religious hypocrisy than they did.

And so in the case of Kim Davis, she may well be a new person and born again (or "anothen," in the Greek from John 3, where Jesus first uses that term when talking to Nicodemus), but that does not negate the consequences of her previous marriages and divorces, and one of those present consequences is the real and genuine hurt that same-sex couples who are her constituents are feeling at being denied something they have never had but once but that she has partaken of repeatedly.

This is the danger of our faith becoming too individualistic--we are apt to see our own sinfulness and darkness only as it relates to our personal relationships: with God, with our family, and with our immediate friends.  What we tend to be blinded to is our sinfulness and darkness as it connects to our wider relations, to humanity itself.

I speak from personal experience.  I sometimes have a hard time forgiving people, even people close to me, because of how hard it really is sometimes.  But that does not diminish the necessity that I must eventually do it, because my faith, and Kim Davis's faith, demands nothing less of us.

Kim Davis needs to see how her past darkness connects to the neighbors, citizens, and constituents she is refusing to serve.  Her eyes need to be opened, like one of the many blinded people whom Jesus healed, to how the effects of what she has been previously forgiven for are still very much present, and how her unwillingness to forgive and reconcile with people whose relationships she disagrees with is in fact hurting her.

And she needs to do it now, and not just because she is on the brink of being fined or arrested.  She needs to because as Jesus preaches in Luke 6:37, as we forgive others, we are ourselves forgiven, and in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus goes even further: our own forgiveness from God hinges on our forgiveness of others.  If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.  Davis seems to think that her personal God experience led to her being forgiven by God, but if she does not forgive her constituents for what she sees as a sin (same-sex relations) and treat them the same as any of her other constituents, then how exactly has she been forgiven?

In other words, her own forgiveness that she so, so treasures may well be at stake.  And I have no doubt that she does indeed see this issue before her as one of monumental spiritual proportions.

But I do not think she does not see it that way for the correct reasons.

Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.  That is the reason all of this matters.  We need forgiveness.  Whether we admit it or not, we crave it and desire it because it is what brings peace to our very souls.  Confession alone is not enough, we must have reconciliation as well, and for that, forgiveness is an absolute necessity.

My hope and prayer for Kim Davis is that she can begin to see how her own forgiveness, and mine, and every Christian's, is inextricably tied up into our forgiveness of others.

And if she is indeed forgiven and chooses to live that forgiveness out, she will do the right and principled thing, which is to either begin issuing marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples, or resign her position as Rowan County Clerk.

Vancouver, Washington
Septcember 2, 2015.

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