Kim Davis, County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky is exercising civil disobedience. She is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the law. Kim Davis has said, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience,”
I understand the viewpoint of those who believe Kim Davis should be forced to step down from public office, since she has refused to uphold the law. It is worth noting she is well aware of the possible consequences of her actions and has already decided she is willing to accept what comes. This is the true spirit of civil disobedience: the willingness to stand against a law that violates one’s conscience, and accept the consequences with courage.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to make you aware that I align myself with Kim Davis’ definition of marriage. Whether or not she should serve as County Clerk while disobeying a law is something the courts will ultimately decide.
My thoughts here, however, are intended for those of every persuasion. I humbly ask that you consider them regardless of your position on marriage, sexual orientation, government authority or civil disobedience. I am troubled that we sometimes let an emotional social issue takes us down a road that leads to a place where we don’t really want to be. Even if we win a war, we can unwittingly sacrifice a piece of personal autonomy we might someday wish we had back.
To understand the danger before us, we need to go back to the first days of the church. The early church faced persecution at the hands of government authorities who grew weary of their disobedience. What led Christians to disobey an authority that could crush them like ants? First and foremost, they were compelled to proclaim the message of Jesus. In the process they offered divine deliverance from spiritual bondage, sometimes putting themselves at odds with merchants and government authorities. Idol worship was big business, and in some instances refusing to worship the Roman Emperor was considered an act of treason. Polycarp, the famous Bishop of Smyrna, who was tortured and killed for his faith in Jesus, was accused of being an atheist because he refused to worship the Roman gods.
Early Christians were also persecuted by religious authorities. Perhaps you remember Peter and John’s famous words before the Sanhedrin when they were being threatened for proclaiming Christ: “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).
As we scroll through the years we find many examples of civil disobedience which brought about positive change. In our own nation, this is clearly seen in the courage of Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on a bus. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law”
Here is my question in regards to Kim Davis and the opinion she should just step aside and obey the law. Do we really want to give our government that kind of power over our lives? Yes, we are commanded to respect and obey the authorities (Romans 13:1-7), but this principle doesn’t prohibit non-violent protest. Certainly Kim Davis’ methods and demeanor have been peaceful.
My suggestion is, even if you disagree with this gutsy County Clerk’s position, it is wise to respect her right to her opinion. And it is also healthy to allow her to carry her convictions through to their ultimate conclusion, even if that means she is removed from office or incarcerated for her disobedience.
In a sense, the people throughout history who have been truly free aren’t necessarily those who have found protection under the law, but rather those who have remained faithful to their personal convictions. They have been willing to accept the consequences of their actions and have avoided selling their souls to any earthly power.
God is our final authority and we must all struggle with how we are going to function as citizens of two kingdoms. Just be careful you don’t think your government is on your side because they have ruled in your favor.
And perhaps more importantly, don’t convince yourself it doesn’t matter one way or another as long as you win (Proverbs 26:24-28).