You’ve probably heard by now about the county clerk in Kentucky who has been refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, insisting that her action is placed “under God’s authority”. (If, perchance, you haven’t heard about it, this New York Times article will get you up to speed.)
At first blush, a person might think that the issue of same sex marriage receives more attention than it deserves, particularly from Christian conservatives. But there is no doubt that this issue is like that seemingly innocuous stray thread hanging off a knit sweater which, should it be tugged upon, could unravel the entire garment. The topic of same sex marriage is, in fact, a watershed issue that ties into a range of seemingly disparate topics from religious freedom to civil rights to biblical authority and interpretation to church/state relations.
How you choose to think about Kim Davis’s actions will determine the kind of analogy you think fitting. If this is a civil rights issue for those seeking a union, then her appeal to God’s authority rings as hollow here as it did fifty years ago when Davis’s predecessor might well have refused a license to a mixed race couple.
On the other hand, if you believe same sex marriage violates a just divine command, then you might view Davis’s stance as a courageous act of non-resistance which stands shoulder to shoulder not with the propagators of Jim Crow, but rather with the very protestors that sought to subvert it.
As deep as the divide is between these two diametrically opposed positions, one thing is clear: credibility depends on consistency. For the nay side, this involves, among other things, consistency on what the Bible teaches (or appears to teach) on matters such as marriage.
Here’s what I mean. Kim Davis refused to issue a marriage license to homosexuals because she believed their union to be illegitimate based on divine law.
However, in Matthew 19 Jesus explicitly says that divorce for any reason other than the sexual immorality of one’s partner which is followed by remarriage is an adulterous act:
“8 Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.'”
So one must ask: if Davis only issues marriage licenses to married couples that she believes receive divine sanction, then according to Matthew 19:8-9 she ought not issue licenses to couples that include at least one partner divorced for a reason other than adultery of the spouse.
One must wonder then whether Davis has ever issued a license to people she knew were previously divorced. Did she know the circumstances of that divorce?
More fundamentally, did it ever even occur to her to question the past marital history of those to whom she issues licenses? If not, that would seem to be a flagrant disregard on her part. If those marital unions are indeed adulterous violations of divine law, then it would seem she as a county clerk is obliged to ensure she is not herself violating divine law by issuing licenses to illegitimate unions, heterosexual no less than homosexual.
This brings me to an issue I’ve raised at several points in the past. So long as Christians apply to others different standards from those which they apply to themselves and their immediate belief community, they will not have a credible moral voice in the public square.
Oh yeah, and as for that clerk Kim Davis, she’s been married four times. (To be fair, that’s three divorces before she says she became a Christian. But that doesn’t change Jesus’ above-mentioned indictment.)