On Church and State in Rowan County

The case was huge on Twitter and Facebook. Depending on your slant, either a Christian was jailed for her faith or a scoff-law was put in her place, when Kim Davis, County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, was jailed for contempt of court (she has since been released). Her crime was to defy a court order requiring her to issue marriage licences to homosexual couples.

I sympathize with Ms Davis and admire her willingness to place her convictions ahead of her personal freedom. However this is not a religious rights case, at least not as I read it. And her statement that she had no choice but to go to jail is ludicrous. If she didn’t want to do the job she could quit.

The state frequently imposes on the religious beliefs of its citizens. Sometimes it goes overboard, in which case there are legal remedies that can be applied. (I’m usually not too hopeful in those cases. In post-Christian North America it has become trendy and acceptable to infringe on the collective and individual rights of Christians with the full blessing of the authorities and the judiciary. This is the reality of the society we live in.)

The Bible has quite a few passages on the interaction of Christians with the State. Offhand I don’t see any that require the State to promote the agenda of the Church. That the two became intermingled in the past few centuries is not surprising, but neither is it Scriptural.

The State has taken over many of the functions that were once solely the domain of religion. Providing health care and welfare was primarily done by the church, not the state, until the 20th century. The same is true with the registration of marriages. There were church records long before there were civil ones. As a result many people of faith believe that their rights are being infringed upon when the State introduces rules into what was once the domain of the Church. Conflict erupts, cries of persecution abound, and there is great publicity.

The controversy over homosexual marriage should offer an opportunity for the Church to look at its interactions with society, to ask itself some hard questions. Has Christianity lost its focus when it comes to social issues?

I have read fairly extensively the various positions on homosexuality and the Biblical passages involved. Those who have concerns about endorsement of homosexual activity raise them from a solid Biblical perspective. But the issue in Kansas and anywhere else is not about homosexuality, it is about the state giving “rights” to its citizens.

I will not get into a long discussion on rights today. I have touched on it elsewhere. Because “rights” are not the issue in Kansas. Ms Davis may say that as a Christian she cannot in good conscience affix her signature to a marriage licence that goes against her personal belief. That is her choice and she has accepted the consequences of her actions.

However, nowhere in the Bible do I find a command that says Christians are supposed to impose their beliefs on the society around them. Act as salt and light, yes, that is there. Civil disobedience against an ungodly law, yes, that is there too. But it seems to me that Ms Davis in her zeal is not allowing people to make their own choices. It is not her responsibility to restrict the free will of others. She cannot believe for them.

Students of history know that probably more often than not Christians have found themselves at odds with society. That has been the lot of the Church from its inception. I may sympathize with Ms Davis’ beliefs, but I think she is misguided in trying to impose those beliefs on the society around her in defiance of the law. Whether she likes it or not she does not live in a Christian nation. None of us do. (Residents of Vatican City might differ with that statement.) She is not being persecuted for her faith. I’m not sure that trying to Christianize others by her interpretation of the law is the smartest way of expressing her faith.

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7 comments

  1. […] “On Church and State in Rowan County“, Lorne Anderson wrote about the refusal of a municipal clerk to issue a marriage license to […]

  2. Brad Darbyson · · Reply

    Excellent analysis and commentary!

  3. J. Laurie McLean · · Reply

    Yes, I agree with you too. But, there is also Eph. 5:11 and perhaps that is what Ms Davis was going by.

    1. The NIV translation of that verse reads “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” She had the option of resigning her post to fulfill the first half. Without that conflict she would then have been free to expose the deeds of darkness using whatever forum she liked.

  4. But it seems to me that Ms Davis in her zeal is not allowing people to make their own choices. It is not her responsibility to restrict the free will of others. She cannot believe for them… Wow. That was the most eloquently stated argument I’ve read on this story. I agree with you completely.

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