Kentucky Court Clerk, A “Professing Apostolic Christian,” Questions Legal Authority

Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who continues to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples despite the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear her case, says she is obeying “God’s authority,” not the authority of her employer or even the highest court in the land.

Davis’s lawyers at Liberty Counsel, the conservative Christian law firm affiliated with Liberty University Law School, describe her in court papers as “a professing Apostolic Christian who attends church worship service multiple times per week, attends weekly Bible study, and leads a weekly Bible study with women at a local jail.”

That might leave a lot of people scratching their heads, as this description is not as recognizable as “Presbyterian” or “Baptist” or “evangelical.”

So what does that mean? I asked our own (very busy covering the Pope) Anthea Butler, a religious historian at the University of Pennsylvania. In all likelihood, “it means she is part of a group of churches that believe in apostolic succession,” Butler told me. “They see themselves as a direct line from the early church.” These churches are often Pentecostal, believing in signs and wonders (such as miracles and divine revelation), and “believe in high moral boundaries—no drinking or smoking, modest dress; many have prohibitions on cutting their hair. They are literal interpreters of the Bible,” Butler said.*

That the Bible is the number one authority, Butler added, “would’ve been drummed into her since she was a little girl.”

So how did Davis become the center of a national firestorm? That has a lot to do with how the legal advocates who share Davis’s belief that the Bible, not civil law, is the ultimate authority, took that belief to court.

For the long historical view, it’s useful to read Julie Ingersoll’s new book on Christian Reconstruction, which details how a Calvinist religious movement (which would part company on several key theological points with an apostolic Pentecostal movement) brought the argument that the Bible trumps civil law into the mainstream of the religious right. As Ingersoll told me in an interview last month:

Christian Reconstructionists argue that the Bible must govern every aspect of life. In their framework, known as “jurisdictional authority” or “sphere sovereignty,” God delegates biblical authority to three distinct, and severely limited, spheres of “government.” There is family government, ecclesiastical (church) government, and civil government, each with its own authority and sphere of legitimate influence. . . .

Reconstructionists do not seek to unite church and state but they do seek to bring the civil government under biblical authority. In fact, they seek the complete transformation of every aspect of culture to bring it into alignment with what they believe the Bible teaches.

Kim Davis very well may have never read a word of Christian Reconstruction in her life; she may very well have never heard of Rushdoony or any of his followers. But that, in a way, demonstrates Ingersoll’s central point: that the idea that the Bible is of a higher authority than a ruling of the United States Supreme Court is now, for many conservative Christians, inviolable. Indeed despite theological differences between Reconstructionists and 20th century charismatic Christian movements, there was mutual admiration and cooperation between the two—more evidence of the fluidity between the various religious movements that converge in the political (and legal) religious right, and how it’s not possible to silo them as independent political actors.

Although conservative Christian lawyers couch their legal claims in the more palatable “religious freedom” argument, Christian legal education is explicitly designed to train lawyers to represent someone like Davis, a plaintiff who purports to make a religious freedom claim, but actually aims to litigate the very essence of authority.

The first Christian law school in the United States, Oral Roberts University Law School (founded in 1986 and later absorbed into Regent University Law School), was created to “restore the Bible to legal education,” according to one of its founders, Herb Titus. Titus has represented Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court best known for his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse and, more recently, for his own claims that court clerks should refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Ingersoll noted that Moore is “something of a folk hero for conservative Christians but you rarely see recognition of the background to his views,” meaning how “sphere sovereignty” underpins his protests against secular authority.)

Students at Liberty University Law School, as I reported in 2011, were taught that “when faced with a conflict between ‘God’s law’ and ‘man’s law,’ they should resolve that conflict through ‘civil disobedience.'” One former student explained it this way: “The idea was when you are confronted with a particular situation, for instance, if you have a court order against you that is in violation of what you see as God’s law, essentially… civil disobedience was the answer.”

Davis’s Liberty Counsel lawyers argued in their petition to the Supreme Court for an emergency stay that her “conscience forbids her from approving a SSM license,” and issuing one would be a “searing act of validation” that would “forever echo in her conscience”—setting the stage for her disobedience of a court order.

With the latest ruling from the Supreme Court, Davis faces being held in contempt of court if she continues to refuse to issue the licenses. But for her, she is acting under “God’s authority,” not the courts’.

*Editor’s Note: At least one commenter on RD has pointed to this statement of faith, which includes obedience to the government, to argue that Kim Davis is in violation of her own church’s beliefs. The confusion is understandable, but The Apostolic Christian Church of America is a denomination with no connection to the Pentecostal church Kim Davis reportedly belongs to. 

  • cranefly

    If this is supposed to be shocking and horrifying, I’m confused. There is nothing wrong with civil disobedience, and there is nothing unbelievable about this woman honoring the Bible above the Supreme Court. There’s nothing illegal about interpreting the Bible in your own stupid way. But if she thinks she’s Martin Luther King, here’s the difference: She is demanding to have her own civil rights valued far above all those of everyone else, and get paid by the people she’s trampling for it. If you want to take the taxpayers’ money and refuse to do the job they hired you for, you need to be much higher ranking than county clerk, at which point you’re certainly no martyr; you’re the beast itself.

  • Jim Reed

    We can’t allow God to have any authority over how we run the country. God sucks. He never bothers to give anyone any hint about what he wants, and He never even bothers to correct anyone who decides on their own to speak for Him. To the extent that God is given control, everything will be totally screwed up.

  • scottrob

    “Christian Reconstructionists argue that the Bible must govern every aspect of life.”
    Sounds an awful like Sharia Law.

  • NancyP

    She could resign. Other people in her position resigned rather than issue licenses. But then she wouldn’t get on TV. Maybe she hopes for her own radio show. I don’t suppose she’s Pentecostal enough to try to start her own church and be the minister, but you never know. The Liberty lawyers are probably filling her with all sorts of ideas of what to do with her newfound fame. They have to keep her happy in order to have a case to present.

  • nightgaunt

    She should be fired for not doing her job as she was hired to do. Doing her job doesn’t in any way facilitate what her Bible says is not only forbidden, but given the death penalty. Doing the job has nothing to do with it. That should be made clear. It isn’t a First Amendment problem. This isn’t a Bill of Right’s issue. Just is put in that way which needs to be shown to be wrong.

  • nightgaunt

    Its Leviticus Law that came long before Sharia picked up on it.

  • nightgaunt

    We have never been a religiously governed country. Only sometimes and it is bad every time it is done like the (some) Drug War 101 years old and still screwing up things. It is evil and must end.

  • nightgaunt

    In any other job she would be fired. Time to fire her now for dereliction of duty. Why should she get special positive treatment?

  • apotropoxy

    Kim Davis been married four times and conceived twins by having sex outside her marriage. Why has her community not stoned her?

  • She is an elected official in the state of KY and the only way to remove her under state law is to impeach her in their state legislature which will not reconvene until next year or call for a very expensive legislative special session. Unfortunately, they do not apparently have any way to recall her, and probably would not succeed in the effort in KY anyway.

  • Sharia is actually the Arab version of Leviticus Law because the original Muslims were for the most part descendants of break away factions of the slaves who left Egypt with Moses, and were not Jewish by birth. The sad fact is that most Jews and Christians seem to forget that Mosaic laws are just as harsh as Sharia, and so they sound incredibly ignorant when they talk about Judeo-Christian laws being benevolent and better.

  • Because she claims to have found God about four years ago and turned her life around and over to God. Funny thing, the father of her twins is not her current husband, because the father of her twins is her third husband, and she was pregnant with them when she was divorced by her first husband. I would say that this woman has no moral or ethical grounds on which to judge anyone for their sexual activities, and if she cannot find it in her conscience to do her job, then let her be a prisoner of her conscience and experience how much she likes having someone else impose their views on her. She is no martyr for her faith, she is a bigot and is hiding behind her faith, trying to force her religious beliefs on others which is neither legal nor morally acceptable to God. She is an elected servant of Caesar and as such should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and do her job.

  • LOOKINIKOOL

    If she and other Christians want to look at “God’s law” being above the laws of the United States, I would suggest moving to a country that defines its laws according to the Bible. While religious freedom is part of our Bill of Rights, any one person’s religious freedom ENDS when it affects another’s religious freedom. If she believes her Bible tells her to go stone or kill another individual, her religious freedom ends right there…it’s common sense, obviously something her and her lawyers haven’t yet figured out…

  • cranefly

    That is a very helpful detail, thank you. Of course, as an elected official, she should have even less business demanding the special privilege to discriminate in violation of the law. I guess we’ll see how it plays out.

  • Boko999

    “the original Muslims were for the most part descendants of break away factions of the slaves who left Egypt with Moses,”

    Rubbish.

  • joni50

    Has she refused to issue marriage licenses to people who have divorced and are re-marrying? Because according to scripture, that’s adultery and a sin. It’s easy enough to marginalize gay people, who constitute a very small percentage of the population and may be seen by folks like her as “other.” But people who divorce and remarry are a large segment of the mainstream population. Hey, she’s one! For that matter, there are all sorts of moral barriers to marriage that she could have been enforcing all along, such as coercion, incapacity, etc. If she’d been refusing to issue licenses all along for reasons such as these, her cause would be a bit more sympathetic. As it is, she’s coming off as a hypocrite. She should resign, or ask for a transfer to a different civil service position that does not require her to violate her conscience. Her rights end where other folks rights begin.

  • Judith Maxfield

    Yep, I think you’ve said it well. There is a beast present here; not especially herself, but the bigger picture she represents. There are others in past history who claimed the same priviledge, causing grief to a larger multitude of humanity. So it goes.

  • Judith Maxfield

    On the literal bible: There are those who claim the Bible as their trump card for religion and continue to disregard the essence in what is actually meant behind and between the words. The Bible as that trump card, dismissing human life in favor of dogma or rules, is blasphemy. The words by themselves become the very idol we are told not to worship, (as this Kentucky clerk is doing).
    The Bible is a “how to” guide about achieving a fulfilling and worthwhile human life on this planet, and in present time. Its about holiness. There are Christains who believe the Bible contains great truths, but only if the reader actually takes time to see the deeper meaning of it all. It takes effort but alas many people prefer simple rules. The rules matter for children, but adults must move past the rules to the meaning behind the rules and grow up to except life with its paradoxes that must be mastered, i.e mercy and compassion for the messy parts.

  • Jim Reed

    Some TV shows can also provide deeper meanings if we want to see it that way.

  • phatkhat

    Abraham’s son by the handmaid, Ishmael, is supposedly the father of the tribes that became Islamic.

  • Judith Maxfield

    You can’t rely on TV sillystuf TV.

  • Jim Reed

    If you are careful what you watch it can be better than the Bible.

  • Actually, you are the one who sounds ignorant, as you clearly don’t know very much about what you’re talking about.

    For one thing, it’s pretty much settled among historians that there was no Exodus from Egypt. The story is mythology.

    For another, “Jewish Law” is not Mosaic Law by itself. Rather, it is the Mosaic Law as interpreted through the rabbinical literature, as evolved and interpreted down over the ages. Depending on which denomination you belong to, you may have a radically different conception of it. The Reform ordain women, extend full equality to gays and lesbians, etc…

  • Yeah, but it’s myth, not history.

  • lorasinger

    She believes in the bible literally but probably ignores this:

    .

    Romans 13:1-7 -Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has
    instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

  • So Civil Disobedience is bad. In that case Dr. King was bad, Rosa parks very bad, in which case the SCOTUS was right: Segregation was the law! Until the SCOTUS had to reverse it because it was a bad law.

    Harriet Tubman violated the SCOTUS and the Federal Government by helping slaves escape. She was the most wanted person during the Civil War for violating the law that was WRONG, BAD.

    This country was founded on Civil Disobedience to the King: Our Founders refused to go along with tyranny. Shall we read the Declaration, it is Civil Disobedience. Jefferson listed a long line of offenses and in doing so disobeyed the King. When the others signed, they violated the Civil Law and Parliament and the King. They were hunted down, literally, many hanged, Jefferson was hidden in people’s barns and had a bounty on his head for breaking the law. And notice that civil disobedience essay talks of “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” and “Unalienable Rights” and “Endowed by their Creator,” and suddenly Posner and the Left want readers and Americans to assume Rushdoony invented something never heard of in the USA until the 70s and the Religious Right. Reconstruction Christians? Really? Redoing what? America had religion in government AFTER the Constitution was signed– Jefferson never missed opening prayer in Congress, Franklin had Congress open with Psalms and prayers, the Congress is adorned with the Bible, then there are the men at Concord, you know, those pastors with guns, but I guess they should have just let the British run roughshod over those country and continue holding us down without representation and our rights signed into law in the Magna Carta not being upheld by a tyrant King.

    The Stamp Act Rebellion: Civil disobedience, Boston Tea Party, Shay’s Rebellion, we can go on with Americans rising up to say no, you’re not taking my rights. But leftists like Posner will try to convince us government is best for us, not our individual God-given rights. Government can educate our kids best, that’s why we have such poor grades, high drop-out rates, low skills, yet home schooled kids have excellent marks in everything and go onto college early.

    This writer wants to make Davis look like some fringe nut, I have read Posner’s writings often, she makes Christians, all Christians out to be fanatical loons. Yes, there are fanatics and we Christians don’t waste time in those churches with the fanatics because they take Jesus beyond Jesus. And usually, they are really not Christian but just fanatics who control in a cult. But Posner is making the Religious Right out to be total fanatics who lock their daughters up until wedding days when they meet their husbands at the alter.

    Any husband who controls his wife and holds her down is NO Christian, because Jesus did not do that to women, read the Bib le Posner, Jesus was the ultimate feminist in the most controlling patriarchal anti-women society–2000 years-ago when women were lower than dogs. And Jesus elevated us, He did not stone the woman who committed adultery, He asked her accusers if they had not sinned and if not, stone her. And, while He said this, He was writing names in the sand—a gotcha moment from Jesus who was saying I know what you did too, so are you going to let yourselves get stoned?

    You say Davis attends church a couple times weekly and attends bible study as if that is something seriously dangerous, or deadly, or bizarre. Look up the Founders and see how often they did! Oh, most framers and signers were reverends or theologians. Have a problem with that? Yes, you do Posner as do all Leftists, that’s why the Left wants the Constitution gone, that and its horrid First Amendment and that Second Amendment that upholds our rights to protect form a tyrant government.

    Posner has a problem with Davis’s attorneys: They were trained in Oral Roberts Law School to fight for the Christian’s right, they were taught to fight or these cases and these defendants. Really? You mean the Left has no law schools training you leftists to practice law a certain way and to challenge in court a certain way? Really? The Left does not train law students to think and talk a certain way? Have you ever taken law classes? Take some and see just how far the Left will go in its training.

    With every column Posner writes I see trashing of Christians, no open mind to say hey, we have a Constitution. Also, God gave us all free will to choose, we are not robots. It’s mankind that robots people. Some so-called Christians have done his: Jehovah Witnesses, Scientology, they are cults because they do control. God never said to control people. He lets us choose. And the Christian Right is fighting for our rights to be kept, you Posner and your leftists don’t want the Religious Right t be relevant or God to b e relevant because you hate the accountability part, but also the civil disobedience by Christians—you never have a problem when its Occupy Wall Street, many leftists have no problem when blacks burn cities down, they encourage THAT as civil disobedience not violence. Oh wait, the Left considers violence CD, always has, but actual CD is wrong if Christians do it.

    And God does trump the laws because He created laws, that does not mean we should not obey government laws, Jesus said “give unto Caesar that which is Caesars, and give unto God that which is Gods,” meaning there are two laws. One is above, one below. If our laws violate Nature’s Laws–God, then we should disobey, unless you think slavery was right. You complain about that and us Christians in other columns, saying we fought to uphold it—we fought to abolish it, a few slave holders fought to keep. Christians won on that one and everyone should be glad. The War was never about slavery, so its a good thing abolitionists, who were Christians evangelicals, did not stop fighting for that.

    BTW: Same-Sex Marriage s nowhere in the 14th Amendment anymore than abortion is in the Constitution. And you cant compare gays to blacks not being able to marry whites, when gays cant procreate in same-sex marriage’s—unless they get the opposite sex to help, go figure on that one, you would think by now the gays would have figured out how to procreate with the same gender since they demand equality.

    Last thing: Have you interviewed Kim Davis and visited her church to really know what she thinks or how she worships there? No, you made an assumption. And you did so by making sure it sounds insane to attend church more than once a week, let alone more than Easter and Christmas!