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.

What really happened to Jennifer Knapp

About a year and a half ago, I was listening to A Diamond in the Rough and decided to see if I could track down why Jenn disappeared so suddenly from the music scene several years ago. I couldn’t find much other than all sorts of wild rumors about contractual disputes, having kids out of wedlock, secretly being gay, giving up Christianity, etc. – although I did find one brief interview with her, and so I wrote a post with what I’d found. Since then, it’s become my second most visited post on the site, only surpassed by that one time I got instalanched. Thousands of people have found that entry thanks to Google and other sites and I allowed myself to think, “Hey, maybe some people are being disabused of all these rumors now thanks to me!”

Well, it turns out that one of the rumors was actually true, as Jen revealed today in an interview with Christianity Today that she’s been in an eight year long relationship with another woman. She says that it’s a hard decision even admitting to it publicly:

There’s some extremely volatile language and debate—on all sides—that just breaks my heart. Frankly, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be making any kind of public statement at all. But there are people I care about within the church community who would seek to throw me out simply because of who I’ve chosen to spend my life with.

I empathize with her frustrations and pain, but I have to admit I’m kind of saddened by the news. I honestly believe that what she is doing is sinful, and that her denial of it being so is a dangerous act on her part. Denying sin only ever lets it dig its talons into you deeper. I’m not going to use this space as a spot to talk about why I think homosexuality is a sin – I’ve talked about it before, and if you’re curious there’s always email or comments (or the search button).

Instead, I want to talk about what Jen’s music has meant to me.

For years, her albums have been a place for me to find some comfort, some solace when life seems to be battering my door down and the sky looks like it’s falling. A few songs in particular have really meant the world to me – Martyrs and Thieves, Hallowed, Undo Me, Refine Me and more have really been huge impacts in my life. It’s funny how when everything is going so badly, something as simple as a song can ease the burden and make it seem like maybe, just maybe, things might be okay after all.

I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, and the simple and honest pleas that Jen sings have always connected with me on some level that most music doesn’t. When I was in a dark place, I took bongos lessons and listening to that music made it seem like I wasn’t alone, like there was light to reach for even though I couldn’t see it at the time.  The words to Martyrs and Thieves remain some of my favorite ever written.  So when I read that interview, my initial reaction was one of anger and betrayal. How could one of my heroes do this? How DARE she?

How dare she sin?

How dare I hate her for it.

Jesus once said, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” While I still believe that she’s in sin, I’m in no place to think she’s any less than she was before I knew her situation. I’m just as sinful as she is, if not moreso. Why is her sin any worse? She’s heard from plenty of people already that she’s a terrible person, or that she can’t be a Christian with this out there now, and I’m not going to add to it. Christians sin just like everyone else, the difference is that we have hope to have that sin forgiven and taken away by the grace of God. The difference is that we can repent of it and have the Holy Spirit work in us to strengthen us in our weakness so that we don’t fall again.

In Refine Me, Jen sings “Lord, come with your fire, burn my desires; refine me. Lord, my will has deceived me, please come and free me, come rescue this child for I long to be reconciled to you.” If that’s truly the desire of her heart, and I really hope it is, then the Holy Spirit will work in her and convict her where she needs to be convicted. God will not leave even one sheep behind. So in the meantime, let’s just continue to support a sister and pray for her.

I’m going to keep listening to her music, and I’m going to buy her new album. I’ll keep following her on Twitter, and grinning like an idiot when she replies to a tweet. Even if this all goes south and she becomes the raving evil hedonist that the most judgmental of Southern Baptists are saying she is, she still has written some of my favorite music and she has still had a major, positive influence on my life. Nothing can change that.

So Jen, if you ever stumble across this: Thank you. Keep on honestly seeking God, and he’ll take care of you.

Thoughts on death

This post is going to be weird, and probably uncomfortable to read. I know it’s uncomfortable to write,  but I’m doing it anyway, because I need to get it out of my head.

Last night, Michael Spencer died.

Some of you may know him personally on some level. Some of you may know him as the Internet Monk, or the founder of Boar’s Head Tavern, or just an author of some really good posts about God and Christianity. Some of you may not know of him at all. But he means a lot to a lot of people – and to some degree, you can even measure his influence objectively, since his blog is one of the oldest and most influential on the internet.

I’ve only come to know much about him in the last couple of years, mainly through a friend of mine mentioning his work incessantly (something for which I am now truly grateful!) – and while he comes from a very different place than I do spiritually and theologically, and while he and I have very little in common I feel great respect for him. His posts are well thought out and detailed, well written and insightful. He’s given me a new way to see a lot of things, and for that I am thankful.

He also got the group together at the Boar’s Head Tavern, a group of people that is very diverse and has discussed every topic under the song in a public forum that I’ve gleaned a lot from. His sickness and passing was noted there in detail and with a wide variety of reactions and comments from the patrons of the bar – all different, but all strong reactions. Death causes strong reactions. The death of a loved one, be they family, friend, or whatever this e-relationship makes us causes reactions only that much stronger. It’s visceral and it’s painful. For Christians, there may be some hope, or even some joy mixed with the pain. There is also anger, and bitterness, and depression.

Many people lost a friend last night. I lost a man I respect. What I feel is nothing next to his family. It’s not even anything next to his friends, or many of the patrons at the BHT. But I feel grief. I feel confusion. I wonder why God chose now, this time when he was doing so much and doing so well to take him home – and to allow it to happen in such a cruel and miserable manner. I remember the story of Job, whose only crime was faithfulness, having his family slaughtered and his possessions destroyed, all just because Satan was mad that someone would be so faithful. He didn’t deserve it, and neither did his slaughtered family. As kids we’re all taught that Job turned out okay, because he got a new farm and a new herd and new employees  and had more children – but as a friend wrote recently on his Facebook, Job’s family was still dead.

Regardless of what was given to Job at the end, having to bury 10 children and the pain that comes with that is not instantly replaced by the birth of 10 more. There are signs in neighborhoods that read, “Slow down, we love our kids!” not “Floor it! We’ll make more!” No parent would ever take the death of their kids even if they knew God would give them more to replace them. What he gained doesn’t change the fact that he had to bury hundreds of employees and friends that were taken from him.

Suffering sucks. Pain sucks. Michael Spencer was subjected to a long, lingering, ravenous disease that destroyed his body and left him a shell of who he once was – I remember him writing a few sentences about how he was doing, which closed with an example of how poorly he was: it had taken him 45 minutes for this prolific writer to write a couple of simple paragraphs. I hate cancer. I watched my grandfather die of cancer, and it’s something that really shook me up then and still gives me nightmares now. It’s an ugly, disgusting way to die. There’s no upside to it. And he had to live through that to a point where he knew there was zero chance for survival. He found out about it right after Christmas, battled the disease for four months, and then he died.

But he looked forward to it. Not to the pain, not to the suffering he would experience and the hurt his loved ones would feel. He didn’t wish for that. He looked forward to seeing his Lord, because his faith is so firm, his trust so complete, that death didn’t shake him. He accepted what he was given with determination and dedication. He penned these words on his blog, the last post of his, which I’ll copy here:

The ultimate apologetic is to a dying man.

That is what all those “Where is God?” statements in the Psalms are all about. They are, at least partially, invitations to Christians to speak up for the dying.

All the affirmations to God as creator and designer are fine, but it is as the God of the dying that the Christian has a testimony to give that absolutely no one else can give.

We need to remember that each day dying people are waiting for the word of death and RESURRECTION.

The are a lot of different kinds of Good News, but there is little good news in “My argument scored more points than you argument.” But the news that “Christ is risen!” really is Good News for one kind of person: The person who is dying.

If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.

What is your apologetic? Make it the full and complete announcement of the Life Giving news about Jesus.

He didn’t post about how sad he was or how angry he was. He didn’t write about how it wasn’t fair or that his depression was getting the best of him. He wrote about the good news. He encouraged us to be better people and better examples to others, better followers of Christ.

I am not that faithful. I am not that devoted. I am not that strong.

I wish I could be.

That is his testimony.

Those people at the BHT, who would never have met each other without him, those hundreds of thousands of people who read his writing and were touched in some way, the friends whom he ministered to and counseled, the wife and children he left behind?

Those are his legacy. And what a legacy it is! How many of us can ever hope to leave that kind of impact on this world, on that many lives?

Rest easy, Michael. You’re home now. We miss you, but we know we’ll see you again one day.