No, Kim Davis isn’t a martyr. But legally, she’s not wrong.

I’m dragging Dull Razor out of its dusty closet as a place to post my collected thoughts on the Kim Davis situation and its legal and moral ramifications. I’ll start with my fundamental assumptions: legally, I’m a fan of the Constitution and a pretty literal reading thereof. I totally love the title 24 compliance. I generally err on the side of “more freedom.” Morally, as a Christian, I think one is beholden first to God and then to the government as His agent – in other words, one should seek to cooperate and abide within the legal system as much as possible without going against God’s law before resorting to breaking it.

So here we go.

When I first initially heard about the Kim Davis story, what I read was that a county clerk was refusing to perform gay marriages. That was it. The initial reporting was that she believed they were wrong, and so she wanted to put a stop to them. Hearing that, my immediate reaction was “well, Title VII doesn’t apply here since she’s a public employee, so she needs to quit.” I argued as much with a few friends and on Facebook about it, even as I laughed along with Mollie Hemingway at all the people who tried to turn her faith against her in ignorant fashion.

But as I started to read into it, I found out a few things. First, Davis didn’t seek to stop all gay marriages in the state. She just wanted her name off the license, and offered several suggestions on how this could be accomplished:

  • Providing an opt-out exemption for the marriage licensing scheme (as exists with game and fish licenses),
  • Deputizing a clerk to issue the licenses under that other clerk’s name,
  • Gaving a neighboring county sign off,
  • Modifying the license to remove the multiple references to her name,
  • Deeming Davis “absent” and thus allowing the fallback provision under KY law to have the licenses issued by the chief executive of the county,
  • Distributing marriage licenses at a state level instead of county level, or
  • Legislatively addressing the entire marriage license scheme in light of the Obergefell decision.

And then, I read a great piece by the inimitable Eugene Volokh on the subject, who pointed out something I’d somehow missed: Kentucky’s RFRA, as well as the Federal RFRA, do apply here, and those were the grounds for Davis’ request. Now several of these options seem to be easy for the state to provide, given their requirement under the RFRA to provide exemptions so long as there is no fundamental undermining of a compelling government interest. In other words – it’s cheap to remove her name from the licenses, and doing so does not undermine KY’s interest in any substantial way, so they would be required to do so.

But the local KY federal district court judge rejected her argument saying that having her name on the marriage licenses wasn’t a burden. Volokh points out that this is quite an error in judgement on the judge’s part, to the point of outright contradicting the most basic elements of Kentucky law. Davis refused to keep issuing licenses with her name on them, and the judge took the rather controversial route of tossing her in jail, rather than, say, fining her. But here’s where it gets really interesting, for me at least.

While Davis was in jail, clerks issued marriage licenses using “Rowan County” in the place where her name would normally be – which is almost exactly what she asked for in her appeal and was told would not be possible, or would result in illegal licenses. The plaintiffs don’t have any problem with that change, but Davis’ lawyers wanted it clarified that the licenses are being issued by another entity than her, and that’s where the current question lies – can she get her accommodation? And are those licenses issued while she was in jail even legal? Will she file an appeal with the state, as Volokh suggests? I think that’s her best option.

So! What’s the takeaway from this whole mess? Going back to my original premise, the thing to do is work within the legal framework as much as possible before breaking it. So I support Davis’s appeals, and I think she has a reasonable and just claim under RFRA. I think the judge was horribly unjust in his decision and needs a refresher course on the law, as well as the definition of “religious belief.” But at the point where her appeal was denied and there was no other legal recourse available, two options were available – comply, or go to jail. If compliance isn’t an option due to religious reasons, and you haven’t gotten an injunction from the state, then either accept the time in jail or step down. (I am assuming her stepping down at any point is a legally acceptable way out – I could be wrong on that point, though I’m not sure how.)

Assuming that, then legally, Davis still had the option of resigning her position, which would have kept her out of jail. Her “martyrdom” is one of her own making in that sense, not comparable (as I’ve seen some claim) to Daniel’s sentence to the lions’ den, as Daniel had no way out from under Darius’ decree. But, like Paul, Davis sought to use the legal system to her benefit. Paul escaped a beating and demanded his fair trial as a Roman citizen – Davis demanded her rights under RFRA to religious freedom. Despite the memes popping up on Facebook and Reddit, that actually does have meaning. Christians, along with anyone who believes in religious freedom and the Constitution of this nation, should be rightly upset with the judge’s decision, and hoping for relief if she files in state court. But at the same time, she isn’t a blameless victim in all this. Whether it’s her pride or she honestly believes she’s fighting injustice, I don’t know – but from the moment she defied the judge’s order onward, she’s brought anything that comes on herself.

Duck Dynasty Debacle

It’s somewhat frustrating how people are so quick to point out that the whole thing with Phil Robertson has nothing to do with “free speech” – sure, A&E can suspend him without violating the First Amendment, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the point being made. No one is arguing the government should intervene and give Mr. Robertson his job back.

What is being discussed is the culture of free speech in America, something that has drastically declined in the last 15-20 years. There is a natural balance of reaction that used to take place: in other words, the punishment fit the crime. If someone said something stupid or mean, then other people corrected or made fun of him. Now, it’s somehow become commonplace (and in a truly bizarre turn, treated as “more civilized”) to dodge any confrontation and instead impose legal or economic sanctions on someone for comments. Instead of using our words to discuss these controversial issues, we’ve devolved into hate-slinging and twitter-length jabs, followed by a public thrashing of the person in question.

This happens with both sides: only a couple weeks ago, Martin Bashir was harassed out of MSNBC for making crude and offensive remarks about Sarah Palin. Should he have been mocked and rebuked for his comments? Absolutely. Should he have lost his job? Probably not, unless his crudeness became so distasteful to viewers that his ratings tanked.

Similarly here, we have a case of A&E “killing the golden goose” by removing one of the most popular figures on its highest-rated show to appease the politically correct requirement that someone be sacked for upsetting a LGBT lobbyist group. Think about this: who has the power to most quickly and directly impact your life without recourse if they want to penalize you for saying something they don’t like – your government, or your employer?

If the media organizations agree that something is Politically Incorrect and Worthy of Punishment, and use their position to attack your employer to coerce them into imposing real penalties on you – suspensions, demotions, mandatory behavior seminars, etc – just because you said something they don’t like… then you’re in a very scary place, and there’s not much you can do about it.

So yeah, A&E has the right to fire Phil Robertson. MSNBC had the right to fire Martin Bashir. But – as Ace pointed out this morning – they also have the right to stick up for people’s right to say what they want, even if it’s unpopular, and as media companies, they really have a vested interest in doing so. The pushback is not against the government. It is, and should be, against this idea that “of course your employer can and should fire you for expressing an opinion.”

Let’s just go back to being civil to each other and not seeking to destroy the people we disagree with. As an aside, I think Phil knew exactly what he was doing. He’s got a history of clashing with A&E over their censoring religious stuff from the show, and has said he doesn’t enjoy the cameras. My guess is he’s not exactly heartbroken.

The Law, the Gospel, and You

Today’s passage: Galatians 3.

As I referenced in my previous post, grace is a key concept in the Christian faith. The idea of God’s holiness is so overpowering that grace is the only solution by which an imperfect being can be allowed into God’s presence – without grace, there is simply no mechanism for us to have salvation, or hope. Incidentally, the concept of grace lays waste to the idea of “losing your salvation” – if you can’t do anything to improve your status with God, and didn’t do anything to attain your salvation, then how can you do something to lose it?

So, what is the Law? The Law is God’s standard. It’s a catechism that explains what “perfection” means, what standard we are held to. Take note that the standard is perfection – anything less, and “cursed be!” And unlike in college, God doesn’t grade on a curve. This means you’ve already failed before you even knew the rules. The Law exists, in essence, to show you that you’re screwed. “The only way to win is not to play,” and that’s the option that grace gives us. Interpreted through the lens of grace, the Law is now, as Paul says, a tutor, something that directs us to God.

But, if doing those good works has no effect on your status with God, if you can’t do anything to improve your standing, then why do good works? We shouldn’t do them to improve our standing, we should be doing them out of love. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “keep my commandments.” Not “if you want to get in good with me,” or “if you want to get into Heaven,” but “if you love me.” If that doesn’t make sense to you, let’s try analogy.

Say you’re someone who’s worked their way into an incredibly deep debt – the kind of hopeless, crippling debt that prevents you from doing anything else. Then one day you get a call from your dad: “Hey, son, I just wanted you to know, I love you. Don’t worry about the debt, it’s taken care of.” You later find out that your father sold everything he owned to pay off your debt, and was living in a small apartment. What’s your reaction to this? Do you immediately go back into debt? Or do you make sure to do right by your dad from here on out?

Or what if you had screwed up your lungs from years of smoking, to the point where you needed a transplant – but no medical board would ever give you one, because you refused to quit. So your friend, without you asking, gives you his. Do you keep smoking? Or do you refuse to touch a cigarette ever again?

Analogies for God are never perfect, but I hope you get the idea of the dynamic here. That’s why James is able to say that faith without the accompanying actions is dead. If you really had that happen to you, if you really had that faith and love, then something would happen. You’d keep his commandments.

So take a look at your life. If you call yourself a Christian, do you really believe that enough to have it show evidence in your life? If not… why?

Fighting for Grace

Saint Paul, generally considered one of the greatest heroes of the Christian faith, called himself a “wretched man” and the “chief of sinners.” I sometimes wonder if he’d still say that if he’d met me.

We’re in a series titled “Fighting for Grace” at church, which looks a lot better on an overhead than “A Study in Galatians,” and also paints a nice picture of the way a Christian should view this doctrinal issue. Too often do we look at grace as some vague construct of theology, some abstract idea that God must be calling upon as an excuse to get us into heaven. It’s a very easy thing to ignore when you’re either not thinking about your spiritual state, or thinking about it a lot.

The way I see it, self-examination is a difficult thing when you’re called be holy, because all you will ever find is a flawed human being in place of that holy creature you dream of being. You see your mistakes, your shortcomings, your failures, and they dwarf your victories. It’s a small comfort than in Romans 7, even Paul shares this perspective for a brief moment – but if Paul had moments like that, who am I to think I will ever get past them?

It’s grace that must be called upon to bring context to these failures and hope to the wretched man. As hard as it is to admit, we must admit that our sins are no worse – and no better – than any other person’s. That cute girl at Bible study? Just as wretched and damned as you, apart from Christ – and so is that jerk you work with and can’t stand. And so is Hitler (because no internet discussion is complete without at least one Hitler reference). The homosexual in the pride parade is in no worse a state of sin than the pious preacher who “borrowed” a few dollars from the offering plate. Sin isn’t about shades of gray, it’s about being either perfect, or imperfect. Holy or not holy. Black or white.

In that context, grace makes sense. It’s the force of spiritual nature that turns black to white, dark to light – it’s a reversal of spiritual polarity, so to speak. You couldn’t be any worse off, and after grace, you couldn’t be any better off. Grace obliterates everything you’ve done and replaces your karmic score with that of Jesus Christ, the perfect savior of mankind and son of God.

But that’s not fair, we spoiled Americans cry out. The idea of free, total salvation for any who accept it, regardless of history or future, regardless of action – a completely equal status before God? Why, that sounds downright communist. I earned this, we cry out, I can be better, just give me more time…

But remove grace from the picture and you’re back in black, shining your keychain flashlight into the night sky and pretending it’s the sun. You’re deluding yourself. All your “good works” are of no greater value than the diapers in the church nursery’s trash can – at least that’s how Isaiah put it, more or less.

Accepting grace means accepting your weakness. Accepting your complete and total lack of power to do anything about your eternal scenario. Accepting your spiritual impotence. Fighting your pride, fighting your sense of self-worth, fighting the messages of the world, fighting the status quo…

Fighting for grace.

Get it now?

Not a typical Sunday

Today, a man of God passed away. He is home with his Father now, and his family rejoices, because they have hope.

Today, a man of God got engaged to the love of his life. His friends rejoice that God has brought together two of his children in such a way.

Today, a man of God stood before a room of hungry believers to teach and used the passing of his wife to forward God’s kingdom.

Today, a man of God spoke to a sports reporter saying emphatically that his excellent performance was not his work but God’s.

Been a pretty awesome day for the Kingdom, I’d say.