From One Clerk To Another: Kim Davis Got It Wrong

Kim Davis, Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, has been jailed for her defiance of a court order to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Her view is that, by refusing to process any marriage license for anyone, she is engaging in an act of civil disobedience based on a position of Christian conscience.
It is an odd position for a clerk to take. I know that, because I am one. My day job is as a Presbyterian pastor, but I also serve as part-time Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Monmouth — our denomination’s county-government equivalent here in central New Jersey, a legislative assembly comprising elected “commissioners” from 45 congregations.
Part of my job as clerk is to serve as parliamentarian for our presbytery meetings: advising the moderator on Robert’s Rules of Order and our denominational Constitution. When called upon to dispense advice, we clerks are meant to keep our personal opinions to ourselves, speaking neutrally to matters of procedure and church governance.
Clerks are not decision-makers in our system; the presbytery is. Our task is to help that elected body do the hard work of governance, in ways that are both fair and faithful. Should we wish to participate in debate at a Presbytery meeting, we’re supposed to leave the clerk’s table and walk to a microphone in the audience — making it crystal-clear that we are speaking for ourselves, not for the church.
Our denomination has recently amended its Constitution to permit ministers to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies — a decision that happens to coincide with my own considered beliefs, based on my study of the scriptures. Until that denominational sea-change, I was frequently asked whether or not such marriages were permissible under church law.
My answer, at that time, was always “No.” My pastor’s heart — well-acquainted with the travails of faithful, committed LGBT couples in my community — wanted to say “Yes.” But my clerk’s mind told me I could not. That would have been unfaithful: not to my understanding of the gospel, but to the responsibilities I had pledged to fulfill as servant of the governing body.
Ms. Davis’ decision to close her office door to LGBT citizens (and, soon after, to all couples seeking licenses) reflects her personal theological position, but it fails to honor the position of the government she serves. She forgets that she herself does not issue licenses. The licenses do bear her signature — indicating that the paperwork was properly processed — but at the top of the license is not her name, but the words “Commonwealth of Kentucky.” States issue marriage licenses; county clerks do not.
Ms. Davis’ stubborn refusal to follow a federal judge’s order is indicative of two mistaken views that have become entrenched in much of conservative Christian culture: radical moral individualism and the establishment of Christianity as the de facto established religion of the land.
Ms. Davis has declared that she is acting on “God’s authority” and that her decision to issue marriage licenses is a choice between “heaven or hell.” Creedal statements, to her way of thinking, are an individual matter, between the believer and God. Those who profess correct beliefs earn God’s favor, but those who differ risk damnation. There is little sense, in her public remarks, that creedal formulations are products of a Christian community. In this uniquely American view, individual believers are charged with maintaining their own personal creeds, participating only in congregations whose collective creed jibes with their own personal standard of orthodoxy. Ms. Davis is transferring this outlook to her work as an elected public official. One has to wonder what — as a divorced-and-remarried person herself — she would make of a devoutly Roman Catholic county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to divorced citizens.
This intellectual sleight of hand arises from Ms. Davis’ second mistaken viewpoint. She clearly regards Christianity as the de facto national religion, despite the First Amendment to the Constitution and numerous judicial cases founded upon it. This wild assumption has become a popular meme in conservative media. Right-wing Christians have become a regular feature on newscasts, loudly decrying their persecution by a godless government, one that prevents them from imposing their personal moral convictions on society at large. Ms. Davis is making good use of  her fifteen minutes of fame to raise similar complaints.
I have not heard of any earthquakes striking Rowan County, Kentucky and throwing open the doors of the County Clerk’s jail cell —  as happened to the apostles Paul and Silas in Acts 16. Undoubtedly the only news to rock Ms. Davis’ world, since her self-righteous perp walk, has been the news that her Assistant Clerks, in the absence of their boss, have quietly started issuing marriage licenses again, some of them to same-sex couples.
  • STLCardsDad

    I believe your article raises a great point,I feel people like Kim Davis are always getting their views in the headlines, and pawning these views off to be the norm for all Christians. When in reality I feel like a majority of Christians hold a view on these issues much like yours and mine. I have always supported the LGBT community and their right to marry, but people like me and you do not make headlines.

  • westernwynde

    This is about the most sensible analysis of this situation that I have read.

  • Whiskyjack

    She clearly regards Christianity as the de facto national religion, despite the First Amendment to the Constitution and numerous judicial cases founded upon it.

    Exactly. That is the heart of the issue. Well said.

  • Well_Read

    It’s always the extremists who make the headlines. If I was shopping for a religion I would look at her and Huckabee, and take a pass on christianity.

  • Well_Read

    The puritans landed here with the intent of building a ‘city on a hill’ that only practiced a pure form of christianity. Davis’ version of christianity. They succeeded for a time in Mass, non adherents had the property taken and made to leave or convert. Early america was a convert or die theocracy, each of 9 colonies had their own sect of christianity. There were mass killings, inquisitions and executions of catholics all the way down into Florida.

    This was partly why our founders wrote a godless constitution that allowed the colonies to continue their theocracies but disallowed federal govt from adopting religion. By the time the 14th amendment applied it to the states most of our states had ended their theocracies on their own, but not all. 7 states still have religious tests and state religions in their constitutions, they cant enforce it but they think they can again one day.

    People like Davis are an embarrassment to christians, and people wonder why people are leaving the faith in droves.

  • Graham Douglas-Meyer

    She has also forgotten, conveniently, that her divorce has been granted, thanks to the same supreme court making its decision in the case of No fault divorce in the 1970s

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I’m a liberal pastor and son of the South and I passionately disagree with Ms. Davis’ stance — however since I don’t know her personally, I take at face value that her actions are a matter of conscience. I’m dismayed that this article didn’t give a fellow Christian the same benefit of the doubt, and in fact derided her (e.g., “self-righteous perp walk”). Where is the proclamation of grace in your post, Pastor Wilton?

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    There are things in the pasts of ALL of us (including myself as a minister) that could in the unforgiving court of Reason render the moral stances we take today inconsistent — but aren’t we all “sinners saved by grace” who must act in good faith each day on our conscience?

  • Emyth

    However, your gracious solicitousness for Ms. Davis is blinding you to the cruel, selfishly-centered hurt she is inflicting on innocent neighbors… Get your priorities in order please… As a “liberal” “obscurely agnostic” minister, you should be able to weigh the damage and see whom it is to whom you ought to side… Then, and only then are your prayers for Ms. Davis righteous…and then you can go and visit her in prison like a good minister ought.

  • Jim Reed

    What would benefit of the doubt mean?

  • Jim Reed

    It seems like everyone is a winner here. Time in jail will lead to the possibility of going on the lecture circuit in a Sarah Palin kind of way. Her husband encourages her to be stubborn and stay in jail indefinitely. The hundreds of protesters have a hero to look up to, and the next generation of Americans has an example of what Christianity is all about that they can refer to when choosing their religious path. To top it off, she can walk out of jail at any time by just quitting her government job that she doesn’t want to do anyway and that she will have to quit to have more lecture time, but first she needs to build up her jail credibility. Nobody loses here.

  • Smknws

    Pastor Wilton Thank you i agree with every word you wrote , I think there are more people on your side than hers .

  • Graham Douglas-Meyer

    She is an Oath-breaker and a Law-breaker. She is disobeying the Laws that she swore to uphold. Laws made in accordance with the constitution and interpreted by the judicial branch of the government; as is their job and purpose. These very same excuses were used in the 60s to justify racist bigotry then.

    By Invoking the name of God and her interpretation of God’s word does not put her above the law. In fact she has declared that her interpretation is God and created an idol. Like so many in the religious right, she has not bothered to study the Word herself, but instead is implementing the Word of Her pastor, her denomination, her political party as gospel. She, like so many others have set themselves up in similar to the pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus dealt with.

    Please don’t offer platitudes. I can forgive her stupidity. I can forgive her naivety. But, I’m not one of the people she has set herself up as moral judge over, denying them their constitutional and legal rights. They are the people she needs to ask for forgiveness.

    Yes we need to pray for her; she needs an epiphany. She needs to hear Pastor Dewey Smith and TD Jakes; rather than the snake-oil salesmen she’s been listening to. Otherwise she will continue to feel justified with her own self-righteousness.

    As an officer of the state (and I do refer to the broader state here, not just Kentucky) she is not asked to give her opinion. She is simply a clerk. She is certainly no Martyr. However, once the Religious Right have finished with her they will throw her to the wolves; they always do.

  • Graham Douglas-Meyer

    Too true, sadly though, the RR seem to have a firm grasp on the microphone and the camera lens and Rupert Murdoch doesn’t give airtime to those he opposes. If only Lachlan would Come Out. LOL

  • Margaret Placentra Johnston

    Your point – that the position of a clerk is not to write policy, but to follow the policies set out by others who have been granted responsibility for doing so – is well taken. It seems that so many in this argument are missing that point. A clerk is not a professional position where specific expertise is used in making crucial decisions. A clerk is hired to carry out tasks laid out for her by others.

    Forgive me for saying so, but God is not paying Ms. Davis’ salary. The government is. She should either agree to do the work assigned to her by those paying her salary, or she should find another job whose requirements she can live with.

  • Brilliantly written, and precisely right. It’s self-aggrandizing, radical individualistic, interpretation of a doctrine which is not shared by most Americans, Christian or otherwise. It’s a danger to the Constitution, and should be treated as such. Lindsay Graham was the ONLY GOP candidate who got it right: “The law is the law.” She’s being paid to do a job for the public, and if she can’t do that job, she should quit, forcibly or otherwise.

  • It seems to me that her claim that she’s acting for “God,” in avoiding the work she is paid to do, is the clearest possible example of blasphemy.

    She’s in luck! The First Amendment protects her from being prosecuted for this crime — a crime which has in most times and places carried the death penalty.

    -dlj.

  • JPeckJr

    Yes, she is making her stand on the basis of her conscience that homosexuality is a sin and, therefore, she cannot participate in supporting a sinful marriage between two persons of the same gender. She is also making a legal argument — that the legislature of the Commonwealth of Kentucky must amend the marriage statutes to authorize clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. One of her points is the Governor does not have the authority to order county clerks to issue such licenses as county clerks are not part of the Executive Branch. And, she and her lawyers are claiming, a SCOTUS decision is not sufficient. Kentucky’s statutes must also be changed. Further, she and her attorneys are arguing that an exemption should be granted for issues of religious conscience. These questions of law are not inappropriate to ask, particularly the one regarding the Governor’s authority, which should be adjudicated in Commonwealth courts not Federal ones. She could have continued to issue marriage licenses to all couples while these questions were being properly adjudicated.

    While Stated Clerk of a Presbytery has some analogies, there must certainly be times when an issue of procedure or interpretation arises. Neither Robert’s Rules nor the Book of Order covers every possible matter. There is an interpretive system in the PC(USA) that can take a matter to the General Assembly. Once that interpretation is resolved, compliance is expected. Or you can leave the denomination. Or start a new interpretive process. Does the Stated Clerk never offer an interpretation of Robert’s Rules or the Book of Order? From your post, I surmise that you do.

    Mrs. Davis is in error in saying that the Obergefell decision does not become applicable in Rowan County, Kentucky unless the State Legislature acts to implement it. At least one presidential candidate (Mr. Huckabee) has said Obergefell does not apply until states pass “enabling legislation.” Both are wrong on this point. But that is the absurd legal argument that is being made. It is hard to hear over the “Christians are being persecuted” rhetoric, but it should be noted.

    In good conscience, she should resign as County Clerk. Inasmuch as she was elected in November, 2014, she cannot claim to be unaware that same-sex marriage was coming before the US Supreme Court. She cannot claim to be surprised by this issue.

  • JPeckJr

    I, too, take her testimony of conscience at face value. On the other hand, I believe the attorneys who are representing her from Liberty Counsel, and the politicians and office-seekers who are aligning themselves with her, have their own agendas for fundraising and attention. They may very well agree with her on the substance, but a good lawyer would be advising his / her client to stop speaking to the press while the case is ongoing. Publicity-seeking lawyers for liberal / progressive causes are guilty of the same behavior, although usually with less drama and outrage.

    I also object to the sniping against her appearance, hair style, and clothing that I have sometimes seen, although not here. It makes her opponents look mean-spirited and petty. And for Christians, I think it is un-Christlike to ridicule someone in this way.

  • Jim Reed

    When you consider this case and others, it does seem like this kind of fundamentalist Christianity is seeking confrontation. They will find something to fight over, and they will press until they can feel they are being persecuted. It might be they see the writing is on the wall, and they are on a decline into irrelevance, so they need to try something.

  • JPeckJr

    Mr. Reed, your observation about seeking confrontation is completely valid. Conservative Christianity knows it is losing the culture wars, so every skirmish must be amplified. The young adults in my university town, even many of the Christian young adults, are mortified by these kinds of public displays of discrimination and what they see as judgment.. Sometimes loving one’s neighbor may mean leaving them alone to live their own lives, particularly with regard to the civil law.

    Since June 26, 2015, civil law (case law here) says two persons of the same gender can marry anywhere in the United States. A government official should not, must not, block someone from exercising their civil liberties under the law.

    I have no objection to a religious organization saying they will not solemnize a same-sex marriage, or even a clergy person. I do object to insisting on imposing those objections on all persons. Mrs. Davis is not herself either a religious organization nor a clergy person. She is a government official and, therefore, should not receive an exception to implementing the civil law.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I’m sorry, but in the Christian vision the grace of God isn’t about “weighing the damage” and taking a side in some earthly dispute over “rights” — it’s about building each other up in love …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    You’re a hard man, brother — I only hope when you take your own costly stand someday you’ll enjoy more mercy and grace than you’re giving here …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    The Christian right haven’t created any “political mess” because they’ve been patsies for the Republican Party for decades now — once in power with their votes, the G.O.P. ignores the agenda of the fundamentalists who helped elect them … you’d think they would have wised up by now?

  • phatkhat

    Don’t forget the inevitable ghost-written book, book tours, and then the movie! Maybe M. Landon Jr. will be up for it.

  • Graham Douglas-Meyer

    Please, don’t patronise me. Your passive aggressive approach is more akin to saccharin and would promote a namby pamby Jesus.

    You forget that he thrashed the money changers and the Pharisees in the Temple’s Outer court, with a whip that he had spent a day making.

    I don’t appreciate when My Father is blamed for the ignorance and bigotry that passes for Xtianity; it certainly isn’t Christianity, offered by the RR in the US and around the world because of them.

    Hard, no, righteously indignant, yes!

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    OK, you’re free to walk the hard road of Law while I’ll take Jesus’ path of Grace … just be ready for some BIG surprises in Heaven when you see who makes the cut — peace be with you always, brother!

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    John Kasich also said (on TV Sunday) that “the law is the law” …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Yes, as a pastor I agree resignation is the best way for Ms. Davis to honor her Christian convictions — and it has the additional advantage of costing her more than a few days or weeks in jail?

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    ‘Costly stand”? If it were, I might have SOME (small amount) of sympathy for her. But the whole point of her stand is that she shouldn’t have to pay any penalty for taking it, because she’s doing what (in her mind) God commands. If she’d simply resigned, or been fired, because she wouldn’t go along with a position she thought her God would see as immoral, if she’d lost that $80K a year, that title, that authority, etc, okay, THAT would have been costly.

    But she was given so many alternatives that would have let her keep what she had, She refused to take them. Again, that’s the sort of thing that can be a ‘noble’ act; even if we disagree with her But then she insisted it didn’t matter, that she had every right to put her god over her job and keep that job.

    The judge, not just a GWB appointee, but the son of one of the most conservative Senators in the pre-Obama era (when conservatives went crazy), realized that if he merely fined her, she would, again not pay the cost, but would get others to pay it for her.

    No sympathy, no understanding, nothing but the contempt she deserves.

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    I may be criticized for what is — in a small way — an attack, but, as an agnostic, I am utterly confused and annoyed that you call yourself one, and then quote the most childish ‘Sunday School’ Christianity as if it were unquestionable. I understand an ‘atheist rabbi’ — to use the self-given name of a contributor to Patheos — because he can, legitimately teach the tradition of Judaism — and then show how, without the need for a God, it provides some valuable pointers on how one should behave,

    But what IS an ‘agnostic pastor’ in your sense? Are you merely someone who, without actually believing, are willing to accept Descartes’ wager and go through the motions? Are you ‘agnostic’ only in an inability to ‘know’ which conservative Christian denomination ‘gets it right’ while having no doubt that one of them is correct?

    I call myself an agnostic above, and maybe you might challenge that from someone who usually refers to himself as an atheist. So maybe it would be useful to explain how I can consider myself both — and then ask you how your Sunday School Christianity meets any definition of the term. (Besides, it might make for an interesting discussion some time.)

    I am an atheist in that it is perfectly obvious to me that no god that has been worshipped by any human religion could or does exist. (Unlike many atheists, my rejection of God came before my rejection of the ‘faith tradition’ I was brought up in — Catholic, btw. My study of the history, the errors and the contradictions came much afterwards — as in decades — and might be fun to discuss with you. (If you have, for example, ever sat down, deliberately made your mind a blank, forgetting everything you know from tradition and the other Gospels, and simply read Mark as if it were about someone you’d never heard of in any other context

  • Jim Reed

    I don’t think Christianity works that way. You can’t decide what is best. Everyone has to decide for themselves.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I try to avoid feeling “contempt” for people I’ve never met — and I hope (per the Golden Rule) people will extend me the same courtesy!

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I stand corrected — I should have said, IF IT WERE ME, I would have resigned and taken the costlier route of honoring my convictions … thanks for reminding us only Kim Davis can decide what’s best for Kim Davis!

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    I was going to state my personal pleasure at not having a ‘mantle of sanctity’ I need to wrap myself in before commenting. and say that I am very glad that I do nott need to pretend that there are no people — of the billions I’ve never met — who have proven them literally contemptible.

    But I also want to ask you which version of the Golden Rule you prefer, Hillel’s original (“Do NOT do unto others what you would NOT have them do unto you”) or the Christian version, without the ‘nots.’ Personally I’ve always given the (really quite absurd, if you think it through) Christian version the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was merely the long-accepted result of a copyist’s error.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Benefit of the doubt here means just practicing the Golden Rule — assuming that others (e.g., Kim Davis) are in just as good faith in their moral stances as I/you/we are?

  • Jim Reed

    You have to get rid of her because you can’t have everyone alter the law to match what they believe. If giving her the benefit of the doubt means she can make up her own law, then I don’t see how you can give her the benefit of the doubt, unless she quits her job. Then everything is OK.

  • Jim Reed

    I think what is best for her is to drag this out because that increases her value as a fundamentalist Christian spokesperson. It is a highly polarized nation, so the more she is hated, the more she becomes worth.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    As another person you don’t know, you’re not giving me a very big menu here, brother! … either I’m wrapping myself in a ‘mantle of sanctity’ OR I’m practicing “childish Sunday school Christianity” … if we go with Hillel’s version, how about a third option — I’m choosing to NOT dismiss you and others here as I hope you and they will NOT dismiss me?

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    But we don’t know her well enough to say why she’s really doing it, right?

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    No, our legal system is working and Kim Davis has been stopped from infringing the rights of others … I’m very glad about that, but I still insist on giving her the benefit of any doubt that she was taking what she saw as a stand on personal moral principle — don’t we all get to do that in America?

  • Jim Reed

    How about do unto others as they would have others do unto them? Then it is not you deciding what they would want which might be a little different from what you would want.

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    Elsewhere I asked which version of the Golden Rule you preferred, Hillel’s or Jesus’. Now I’m sorry, but I have to ask you if you even know what the Golden Rule IS. It specifically refers to actions — in either version — and has nothing to do with ‘presuming good faith in others.’

    In fact, it has nothing at all to do with your thoughts about others. Maybe an example might help. My wife and I get into battles because she insists that she may not be interrupted when she speaks — and that she has the right to correct anyone else — by interrupting — if they get anything ‘wrong.’

    My objection to this is not concerned with whether she sincerely believes she is right on both parts, it is not concerned with my total acceptance of that sincerity. All it has to do with is ‘if you set the rules, you obey them yourself as well’ which is another version of the G.R.

  • Jim Reed

    We can say she is taking a stand based on her morals without respecting that or giving her any benefit for it. It is just saying that is what she believes, but so what?

  • Jim Reed

    But you need to have an asymmetrical relationship with your wife.

  • Jim Reed

    All we can do is wait and see.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    In reply to your question, I couldn’t have given a better explanation of why I’m an agnostic minister than the one you gave below! … also, I think practicing what you dismiss as a ‘childish Sunday school Christianity’ (but many others call Grace:) requires a certain degree of agnosticism, or lack of certainty that you’re right and everyone else is wrong?

    “I am an ‘agnostic’ because there are potential ideas of God that are, either currently or inherently, neither provable nor disprovable. Thus it is impossible from ‘inside the system’ to distinguish between an uncreated world, and one created by a truly deistic God — i.e.. one which does not and cannot interact with his creation.”

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    Okay, sorry for the cliché, but the people who opposed — and some who still oppose — interracial marriage were/are taking a stand on their own morals. For that matter, so were the societies who believed that human sacrifice was necessary for the placation of the gods, and thus for their own survival. There were certainly even Nazis whose actions were based on sincerely held moral principles — who even acted nobly in some conditions. (I think of vanSalonen’s story of the Nazi prisoner who was offered the opportunity to escape, was even urged TO escape, by his jailers, and refused because to do so would be dishonorable.)

    “Acting on your own moral principles’ says nothing about the rightness of the action or the principles — which, as you point out, we can’t truly judge anyway. All it says is that consistency may be one of those moral principles/

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I would go a little further as a pastor and say that we can respect her for being someone willing to pay very high costs for honoring her moral/religious principles — we can respect those we disagree with, right?

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    She’d probably agree *grin.*

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I don’t think we can equate Nazis with Kim Davis — Ms. Davis just simply didn’t want her name on the marriage licenses of same-sex couples 😉 … I personally would have solved that moral dilemma by resigning …

  • Jim Reed

    Only if we also have the option of not respecting them.

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    Oh come ON! She could have willingly paid ‘very high costs’ by resigning. Instead, she is being forced to pay a high cost — that neither her, her backer/lawyers, or even her opponents expected her to have to pay.

    Blast it all, I am getting SO tired of the Christian claim that ‘martyrs prove the validity of the cause they die for’ — not your point but a logical extrapolation. The racist shooter who kills a dozen people knows and usually accepts that he will be paying a FAR higher penalty, in fact, that hee will die doing it — I don’t agree with him, NOR do I need to give him the slightest respect for holding those principles so strongly.

  • Jim Reed

    We may be fighting a moral battle for the soul of the nation here. Christians are trying to demonstrate they should be thought of as morally superior as they were in times past. Some of us others believe they deserve no respect because Christianity is not an honest religion.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    So now you’re equating racist murderers with Kim Davis? — I thought your comparing her earlier to Nazis pretty well covered it 😉 … also, I have never claimed nor do I agree that “martyrs prove the validity of the cause they die for” …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Do we really want to dismiss an entire religion just because some of its adherents fail to live up to it?

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    If you think you have agreed with my comment, or the part you quote, please read it again. Oh, use the computer game example if my verbiage eludes you, you seem to have trouble in this area. The type of God I describe is the exact equivalent of the person playing CIVILIZATION IV (okay, plug for my favorite), Actually, even that is more interaction than I would accept, more like the player of a baseball simulation who can merely pick his team and watch them play out the season, unable to make trades or in anyway affect what is happening.

    That god can no more offer ‘real’ rewards to the characters than can I actually send real, metallic gold to Hatsheput for keeping our alliance, No heaven, no Sunday School ‘rewards,’ nine of the ‘trappings of theism’ that classic deists like Jefferson and {aine seemed unable to dispense with.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I’ve seen many people in online blogs try to reduce the moral content of Christianity to the Golden Rule (which of course is espoused by many non-Christian traditions) … in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus (whose ministry came a generation after the death of Hillel) reminded the Jewish people that Torah wasn’t just a matter of keeping moral commandments and rules, it was a matter of the good living on the INSIDE of us FIRST — as Jesus put it elsewhere, “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7) … I have a hunch Hillel would have agreed with Jesus’ rabbinical midrash of Torah — after all, our human problem of performing good actions in the world isn’t a matter of knowing what the right thing to do is — our problem is in actually DOING the right thing, at least on anywhere near a consistent daily basis …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I’m afraid you missed the irony in my comment about our being surprised at who makes it to Heaven? … I don’t know what Heaven ultimately is, but I know we’re supposed to be trying to build its Kingdom here on earth …

  • Jim Reed

    No, I want to dismiss it because it is not honest.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    How is Christianity not honest?

  • Jim Reed

    What is Christianity? I think they would say it is believing in Jesus and then He enters your heart and will take you to heaven. Or variations on that theme. At that level, which is the basics of Christianity, I don’t think it is honest. That is probably what needs to be discussed in the discussion of Christianity.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I don’t think even the fundamentalists would agree to your crude formula — Jesus + faith = Heaven … in my own preaching I teach strongly against any understanding of Christian faith as a kind of ‘fire insurance’ … Heaven (whatever it turns out to be or not be) is at best just the cherry on the cake — and the cake is making our lives together better here on earth …

  • Jim Reed

    That could be bait and switch. Christians go to heaven, but heaven whatever it turns out to be is the cherry on the cake, and not the reason for being Christian. At least after it turns out they don’t really know anything for sure, and the reasons are this is all they have left. Meanwhile, humanism might be a more true way than Christ Jesus. Especially when you see where the belief in Jesus leads, it seems much better to just live a good life for the purpose of living a good life, and not for any religion because that always seems to lead to vanity. It just doesn’t make sense that God is going to stand over people and judge them based on what religion they have been manipulated into. What would God do about those who refuse to get pushed into a religion? Is God involved in any of that anyway, or is it all driven by the church, and religion is developed by the church and encouraged by the church, all for the benefit of the church?

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    When you look at the things Jesus is reported to have done to and with and for people of all stripes and creeds in the Gospels, you find one of the most radically humanist agendas I know of … this agenda continues to the present day, where for example in my small Southern town the local churches banded together and started a free health clinic … as for putting religion over people, that was the one thing that provoked Jesus to anger, and he repeatedly and deliberately flouted religious conventions that were honored at the expense of helping people (e.g., he healed others on the Sabbath) … if you’re telling me that the Church over its history hasn’t done some enormous good in a humanist sense — yes, sometimes in spite of its institutional arrogance — then I have to wonder about your objectivity, sir …

  • Graham Douglas-Meyer

    Thank you for your judgement.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    No judgment here, brother — I really do think you’ll enjoy that surprise in Heaven? … I’m pretty sure I’ll be surprised too!

  • Graham Douglas-Meyer

    Go Troll somewhere else.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    GRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrr ;D
    I’ll meat you under that toll bridge brotherrrr!!!

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Answer number 2 — “Anytime!!” ;D

  • gapaul

    While I agree with everything written here, I think it would be useful to realize who is benefitting from this. I believe Ms. Davis is being used. She’s a manifestation of the newest chapter in the Southern Strategy, the plan by the GOP to retain Southern voters by exploiting latent and not so latent racism. Exploiting homophobia, and the myth of Christian persecution, will animate conservative voters in this next election year and in the years to come.

    Ms. Davis lawyers are from Liberty Counsel, a firm in Florida which is supported by donations from the Family Research Council, among others. And guess who contributes to FRC?– none other than David Koch, who, while claiming to be libertarian, and not against LGBT rights or women’s reproductive rights, knows that fanning the flames of this controversy will increase the passions of the Republican base, allowing him to score the sort of economic policies he does care about. Follow the money.

  • Jim Reed

    The churches in the southern town started a free health clinic, and have done other things like that in other places. It is not enough. They give a little help to a few people, but there are growing needs across the nation in a range of areas. Republicans want to cut health care, cut food stamps, cut any help for the poor or the middle class in as many ways as they can, and so that they can keep more money for themselves. The lower their taxes get, the more they want them even lower, and they want to shut down as much of the government as they can get away with except the military. The help from those churches is a drop in the bucket, and is overwhelmed by the greed of the rich that those churches are putting in power with their votes. The churches have created problems that they are totally incapable of fixing. This is the objective opinion.

  • I’m unclear on what moral principle she is supposed to be acting on. The principle of denying adult American citizens access to a common legal contract?

    We are not talking about sacramental marriage, here, but about civil marriage licences. What moral stand is there to take, regarding LGBT people, on this issue?

  • Yes, but that’s an *immoral* stance, not a moral one.

  • The Christian right haven’t created any “political mess” because they’ve never been in real power in America

    —————————————
    This is just false. I can’t believe that you can say this, living in the South. Certainly where I live — the lower midwest — is completely dominated by the Christain Right.

  • In what way are her convictions “Christian”? I wasn’t aware that Christianity had a position on civil contracts.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Nowhere in this thread have I defended the actions of Kim Davis — I have only insisted she be taken at her word as acting on her conscience …

  • No, I really don’t. I’m not begin snarky.

    I understand their objection to LGBT sacramental marriages, but not their objection to civil marriage licenses.

    If the objection is to the sex they have, it’s not as if denying them the marriage licenses is going to reduce that.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Despite the sincerity of their belief that the Bible as God’s inerrant Word forbids homosexuality, on a more practical level the objection of many Christians to civil marriage for LGBT couples has been the same given by human convention and courts of law for thousands of years — that it encourages behavior deemed harmful to the rearing of children … now we have a new understanding in America that this doesn’t have to be the case, and many Christians, being rational and compassionate human beings too, have accepted and even embraced that social reality …

  • But denying them the ability to get civil marriage contracts in no way reduces their engagement in this “harmful” behavior. LGBT people can still have children, regardless of whether they are married.

    Sorry still not seeing the rationale. Seems more like just plain old antipathy and hatred and the desire to hurt others.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    The civil rationale until very recent years has been that the State has an interest in promoting the rearing of children by both a father and a mother — that used to be the idea behind making divorce difficult too … but the State can only efficiently control who gets married (or formerly, divorced), not who engages in private behaviors ‘behind closed doors’, as it were …

  • Hmm. I think mine is the simpler explanation.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    You’re a Professor of Philosophy — you know explanations of human behavior aren’t as simple as we need them to be … as a pastor I find it helps to deal with others at their best, not through my worst fears of them — strangely enough, people seem to instinctively reciprocate generosity of spirit?

  • Simpler in the sense of Occam’s Razor, which counts in favor of its truth as opposed to more complex accounts. This is a general methodological principle of all forms of enquiry.

    My experience has not been like yours. The Kim Davis’s of the world have spent the last several decades trying, through the political process, to make our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors as miserable and outcast as possible. And nothing the LGBT community did earned them any “reciprocity of spirit” from that right wing, evangelical portion of the electorate.

  • Nice way to avoid responsibility for defending and fighting for the weak, the outcast, and the marginalized. You may think such a stance is virtuous, but I do not.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    OK, that’s the heroic narrative you need for your (minority) cause, I get that … but we can all be “more than conquerors” (as St. Paul puts it) if we transcend our grievances … (a la Gandhi-ji and Dr. King) … Sir Occam 😉 must have been a really UPtight dewd eh …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Grace is bigger than our self-made (and self-aggrandizing) virtues … see 1 Corinthians 13 …

  • I am Jewish, so quoting the NT to me would be like my quoting the Book of Mormon to you.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    There’s wisdom in both what Christians call the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon — it all comes out of our deeply shared humanity …

  • Why are you so dismissive of other peoples’ experience?

    Not to mention passive aggressive. You insult by way of glib, drive-by remarks. Marginalized LGBT people, who have been systematically discriminated against, are now inventing “heroic narratives”?

    Your thin veneer of nice covers a lot of nasty, underneath. You can wave your hands at Gandhi and MLK all you want. You’re not fooling anyone.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I’m not insulting anyone or dismissing their experience, quite the contrary — my theology is not only liberal but liberationist, affirming that what we call “God” favors all who are despised and rejected in our societies, all victims of power and privilege … what you dismiss as “glib, drive-by remarks” are just theological abbreviations and shorthand to which I’m limited by this form of expression … as an intellectual you must also know that we ALL invent narratives which both fit and shape our inchoate human experience … to acknowledge that we invent them doesn’t demean the narratives or the people who need them — and it doesn’t by any means suggest the narratives are fictions, by the way … speaking anthropologically, religions are also human narratives that give meaning and purpose to billions of lives — and yes, like any other spiritual truth, they are double-edged swords that can be used against minorities and scapegoats of all stripes …

    As for my alleged “thin veneer of nice” — have you considered you may have a gift for alienating those who, although not in lock step with your views, might otherwise be natural allies in your cause? … you might dismiss this speculation as part of my hidden “lot of nasty,” but I only mean it as a way to bluntly get your attention that we may just be on the same team, brother …

  • We are talking about what our attitude should be towards the Kim Davis’s of the world. You suggested that we treat her charitably. I replied that given the harm she has done to LGBT people, we should not.

  • Kevin Osborne

    So now we have the interesting question, what is harm? I could offer a good many reasons why marriage is not a good idea for a relationship, certainly not for ones that do not involve children. No doubt there are many LGBT’rs who were secretly quite happy they were not able to marry. As to those who wished to, they were bound together more fiercely through facing their common enemy. Isn’t the point of marriage greater bonding? If they were being denied a freedom to marry as the means of harm, the same could be said for Ms. Davis as nowhere in her job description was there the requisite to operate against her religious beliefs on penalty of jail. Until lately, that is. So now if freedom is to be offered as a means to solve the issue, the county is free to fire Ms. Davis who is then free to hold her beliefs as she chooses and the LGBT community is free to marry and then discover why they were better off without it. And you are free to ride a white horse into the sunset. Wasn’t that easy?

  • You could give precisely the same “arguments” — scare-quoted on purpose — for why it was good for interracial couples not to be able to marry. And perhaps you would’ve back in the day. Wouldn’t surprise me at all, given what appear to be your attitudes.

    Your description of Ms. Davis’ plight is utter nonsense. Her job description is to — among other things — provide civil marriage licenses, according to the law. As for her “religious beliefs,” I don’t believe a word out of her mouth on that front. Given the number of divorces she’s racked up, I don’t believe that she has the least bit of piety with respect to the sacrament of marriage, but is acting, instead, on plain hatred of LGBT people.

    I have no interest in riding white horses. My sole interest is that my LGBT family, friends, and neighbors, receive the same treatment under the law as everyone else, which includes being able to receive civil marriage licenses. It’s really that simple, no matter how you might like to twist and turn it.

  • Kevin Osborne

    I was thinking about interracial marriage when I put forth the argument, a bit tongue in cheek I admit. My twisting and turning really has to do with your statement about treating her uncharitably. I assume that means not only jail, harrassment, and firing but other discomfitures one might come up with. If I’m wrong let me know. We all have the plight of being human thereby lacking omniscience and perfect clarity and all of our judgments are apt to fall short in some regard.

  • Sorry, it is often difficult for me to read tongue-in-cheek in text.

    No, I don’t think she should receive any “extra” punishments. That sort of lynch-mobbing/hounding of people strikes me as completely unacceptable.

    I was simply responding to what struck me as an excessive appeal to people to be charitable to her. Sort of the opposite mistake of suggesting she be hounded to the edges of the earth.

  • Kevin Osborne

    Fair enough.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Then we are agreed to disagree …

  • Fair enough.