Friday, September 11, 2015

Drama or Duty? Morality's Davis Dilemma


Like many items that swamp mass media today, Kentucky's Kim Davis controversy is not as black and white an issue as many want to think it is.

Davis recently spent a brief period of time in jail for refusing to sign marriage certificates as a county clerk, since the Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is now legal in the United States.  Davis professes to believe that same-sex marriage is a violation against God's design for covenantal wedlock, and did not want to appear to be validating such a religious violation by affixing her name to an official marriage license for a same-sex couple.

At first glance, it appears that Davis is merely protecting her religious rights by not wishing to participate in something she believes to be wrong.  Many evangelicals have come out in support of Davis for taking such a stand, and one of the best explanations of the evangelical perspective is here, by famed Baptist minister John Piper.

Of course, many liberals have been howling from the opposite end of the sociopolitical spectrum, claiming that Davis is ironically being immoral by not obeying the laws she was sworn - as an elected official - to uphold.  Perhaps not surprisingly, either, is the liberal fury over Davis being accorded as much press time as she's been, since she's been able to single-handedly prove something gay marriage advocates have long denied:  that gay marriage rights wouldn't interfere with religious rights.

Oops!  Turns out, they can.

Nevertheless, isn't there a bit too much exaggeration from both sides of this conflict?  Liberals, for example, say that Davis should simply quit her job if she can't comply with its demands.  But such a position ignores the fact that gay marriage was not legal when Davis took office.  How fair is it to switch tables after the fact and then demand compliance with a new paradigm?

Conservatives, too, fail to acknowledge that Davis was not elected to personally approve of the marriages she records.  How many marriage certificates she signs for heterosexual couples will end up appearing in a divorce court someplace?  Besides, just because a government official's signature appears on an official document, that is no certification that the government official is ascribing their personal endorsement, support, affirmation, happiness, and moral satisfaction upon the action being certified.

An evangelical building inspector, for example, does not have to personally approve of building plans for a brothel or abortion clinic.  A building permit is simply given when a construction project meets safety and zoning standards - standards that themselves, by the way, may or may not be ethical, adequate, or effective.  The morality of such a bureaucratic document - or even the efficiencies the document allows - is beside the point.  What matters are the laws and public debates that have taken place before the enactment of whatever building permits, zoning rules, and land use plans a community has already enacted.

For a more scholarly explanation of this view, read this by evangelical Baptist university professor Kevin Bauder.

For her part, Davis is responsible before God for the actions she has - or hasn't - taken in this case.  And considering the depth of angst the Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage has triggered among professing Christ-followers, I'm not going to say that Davis has done the wrong thing.  Besides, she doesn't appear to be trying to get any personal gain out of her actions, except her ability to keep her job.

Frankly, I'm glad she's taking seriously the parameters of her job and the extent of her official responsibilities.  And she's forced out into the open one of the fallacies of the liberal agenda by proving that gay marriage rights can indeed compromise religious rights.  Indeed, Davis' case is but the newest chapter in what promises to be an ever more contentious future for religious rights in the United States.

By the way, if there was anybody left in the religious right who still believes that America's legal system and the Constitution itself are supremely righteous, that bubble should by now be well and truly burst by the de-facto legislation created by the Supreme Court regarding gay marriage.  There is nothing completely righteous or perfect in this life except the One who gives life to begin with.

Meanwhile, to the extent that she's made her point - much to the chagrin of liberals - perhaps Davis' best move now would be to go back to work.  We all now know that she does not approve of the gay marriages her official signature will certify!  However, it's not for her to personally approve of any of the marriages she certifies anyway.

After all, shouldn't the next pair of 18-year-olds who, flush with youthful lust and idealism, stumble into her rural Kentucky office probably be denied a marriage license, too?


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