I’m a Christian, but I’m not … like Kim Davis
Yesterday, I watched Kim Davis stand on stage to “break her silence” moments after being released from jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the grounds of her literal, biblically fundamentalist Christian conviction – which undoubtedly shapes her conscience. Our beliefs ought to guide our actions and here is a woman who is literally walking the walk, not merely talking the talk like many Christians, myself included, have the tendency to often do. Here is a woman who accepted the consequences of her religious convictions and was willing to go to jail for what she believes to be true. Throughout history and to this very day, there are other examples of Christians who have been jailed for their beliefs. I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul came to think of a jail cell as his home away from home and he would not have had it any other way! I think of civil rights activists. And I also think of my fellow Boston College alumna, Sister Megan Rice, including a host of countless others who are jailed for conscientiously breaking the law or worse yet, jailed and even murdered because of their faith.
As I listened to the few words that Kim Davis did say on stage, I also strangely found myself in agreement with her. Yes, indeed, I believe that God is worthy. God is worthy of our belief, of our praise, of our affection, and of our worship. And we Christians are indeed a strong people. It’s true; the early “church” suffered immense persecution, but prevailed by the grace of God, which empowered these early followers of The Way to bear bold, brave, and courageous testimony to the work of the Spirit through their life in Christ. Recall Tertullian’s belief that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
While the scene I watched unfold was eerily reminiscent to the scenes starring Pennsatucky from Orange Is the New Black, I also recognized that this was and is reality, not a Netflix original series. And so, I find myself asking: How can Kim Davis and I both worship the same God, practice the same religion, follow the same Christ, and yet end up with radically different conclusions about what it means to live out our faith?
Sometimes, I despair that there are two different gods at work in Christian revelation, experience, and life. Initially, I am inclined to say that Kim Davis believes out of fear, while other Christians like myself who embrace marriage equality believe out of love. But is it right – is it healthy – for people who believe as I do to condemn Kim Davis and those who agree with her? Kim Davis and those who agree with her will only do the same to us. Is that really productive, does that move us forward? Is it right – is it healthy – to dichotomize Christianity into right vs. wrong, progressive vs. conservative, educated vs. uneducated? What about Jesus? What about the good news? Where does redemption fit into all of this? It is sin that separates, grace that restores and sanctifies. We need all the grace we can get!
Our religious landscape is fast becoming a lot like our political landscape. We talk past each other. Our ego and conceit drive and uphold our belief systems, preventing us from stepping outside and beyond ourselves to learn from the life and experience of someone who is different than us. We have become lazily entrenched in our beliefs and uncompromising in our arrogance when we believe that we have nothing, absolutely nothing to learn from those who believe differently than we do. We wonder why we grow increasingly polarized, but we fail to cast the blame on ourselves.
The best thing that ever could have happened to me after graduating from Boston College was moving to Arkansas. My friends in Boston and Chicago thought I was crazy, but I did it anyway. I have nothing but gratitude for the two years that I spent in the Natural State. The people there made me a better human being as I entered into their lives and learned what they value. And the people in Arkansas are good – some of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met, even though many of the Christians there do not agree with marriage equality. And the activists and leaders there who fight and struggle and work for diversity and inclusion are some of the bravest and most courageous I have ever known.
I’ll never forget meeting one woman while on the campaign trail. As she and I talked about politics and religion, she could not understand how I could be a Christian and a Democrat, especially since, as she reasoned, the Democrats tend to support a platform that embraces a woman’s right to choose and marriage equality, two issues that she thought to be profoundly unbiblical and antithetical to the Christian faith.
Instead of hardening my heart and walking away from her, I risked vulnerability and shared my story with her, including my support of marriage equality. I was patient, spoke in her language, and appealed to her values. By the grace of God, we ended the conversation on a positive note. She later found me in the neighborhood and, with a troubled look on her face, apologized to me for making me uncomfortable and in her words said, “I do not want you to think that I am condemning you.”
I cannot say for certain, but I am sure this woman thought highly of Kim Davis’s stance against issuing the marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But her words remain etched on my heart: “I am not condemning you.” Nor was I condemning her. Both the lady and I wanted to do the right thing. And so, we came to a place where the Spirit opened us up to each other. Of course, I acknowledge that this one isolated incident – graced though it was – is not the case for everyone. Hearts have been broken, relationships ruined, jobs have been lost, housing opportunities denied, and lives have ended because of rejection and condemnation and fear of the “Other.”
But I do have hope. And while I cannot say for certain Kim Davis would be willing to sit down and have a chat with me, I would hope her conscience would beckon her to say yes. I’m a Christian but I’m not … like Kim Davis.
Or am I?