Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk jailed for neglecting to issue a marriage license to a same sex duo after a judge ordered her to do so, had to answer some serious questions about her faith and her job. It might be a good exercise for us to put ourselves in her position, and see how we would answer those questions.
As a Christian, am I in a position to make a determination regarding the rightness or wrongness of same-sex coupling? If I take the Bible seriously, there is no question: I take the unequivocal position that it is wrong, condemned in both Old and New Testaments, and an activity which precludes one from gaining eternal life.
The next question: Can I in good conscience issue a marriage license to people who are, from an uncontestable Biblical position, involving themselves in a sin which if they don’t repent of will send them to hell? The Bible gives me some clear direction here. “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22). I cannot have my name associated with this license so, no, I cannot issue the license. What comes strongly to me is that I will one day stand before God and give an account for everything I do. Whatever has my name on it will be judged by Him who has decreed that marriage is between a man and a woman. So no, I cannot participate in the sin of others, even if it is in the context of doing my job.
Archibald Hodge, theologian at Princeton College, in 1873, stated that “a Christian is as much under the obligation to obey God’s will in the most secular of his daily business as he is in his closet or at the communion table. He has no right to separate his life into two realms, and acknowledge different moral codes in each…”* So I am obligated to maintain my integrity on my job and I do not check my Christian principles at the door of the clerk’s office. But what about all the others around the nation who are issuing such licenses? That is not in my purview since I have the instructions from the Bible: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Ex. 23:2a).
The harder question: Should I refuse to give them a license or should I resign my position? I have taken an oath of office to fulfill the duties under the laws of the State of Kentucky. These laws state that a marriage license is given only for the marriage of a man and a woman. If I give them the license, then I am violating the law that I promised to uphold. If I don’t give them a license, then I am going to be held in contempt of court because a judge ordered me to give it to them. Can I resign? That, too, would violate the oath I took after being elected to the office of clerk. I avowed that I would discharge my duties. None of my duties were then odious to me, nor are they now, inasmuch as they involve fulfilling the laws of the State of Kentucky. But now another entity has invaded the former balance of my oath to the state and my conscience. The judiciary, at the instigation of a ruling at the national level, and now enforced by a judge at the state level, has insisted that I do something that violates both my conscience and the laws of the state.
Is there help in this knotty decision? A Christian from another time, dealing with another issue (he was Dutch, and was imprisoned for supporting the Arminian faith) had something to say about this kind of question. Hugo Grotius, known as the founder of the science of international law in the early seventeenth century, wrote, “Among all good men one principle at any rate is established beyond controversy, that if the authorities issue any order that is contrary to the law of nature or to the commandments of God, the order should not be carried out.”**
But what if that is an order from the courts? After all, the Supreme Court of the United States has made a decision that two of the same sex can be married. But there is a problem. Their ruling was just that, a ruling. It is not a law. No law in the State of Kentucky has been changed. There is a process for that. It is not to come from the federal government but is up to the states to write their laws. If the court made a decision that affects the laws, the court still has not made a new law. That is up to the states. When the judicial branch of government begins to make laws, they are out of their Constitutional limits. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to a certain William Jarvis, warned of the courts’ overreach: “You seem…to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.”
So now I have another twist to this problem. If I resign, I am in effect conceding that the courts have written new laws. But they haven’t. There is no law written in my state about how to deal with issuing licenses to a duo of the same gender. I have no problem complying with the way the law is written as of now. But to act as though there are new laws when there is only a court decision is not something I have either the jurisdiction or the electoral mandate to do. So I cannot conscientiously resign the office I was elected to and agreed to fulfill.
What about the Scripture that says to obey them that have the rule over you? That was the favorite verse of the Nazis who told the Christian churches in Germany to come under their thumb. There is another passage that says we are to obey
God rather than man, and to that principle both Grotius and Hodge (quoted above) appealed. But that is not even the whole picture here, because to which authority of man am I to acquiesce in this case? We have laws on the books in the State that have not been changed since I’ve taken office and we have a decision of a court backed by a threat from a judge to have me change what no law has yet changed.
What to do? I think I’ll stick with the law of God (nature’s law) and the law of the State of Kentucky and not add something new to it. I won’t resign and I won’t issue the license. Come what may.
That may or may not be what Kim Davis thought, but it is what comes to my mind as I try to imagine what she went through before going to jail. Pray for Kim Davis. Pray for America.
*America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations, Ed. William J. Federer, Amrisearch, 2000, p. 292.
**Ibid, p. 269.
***Ibid, p. 330.