I respect a person who stands up for his or her deepest beliefs, even if I don’t always agree with those beliefs. My respect intensifies if that person is willing to make a personal sacrifice for that conviction without harming other folks.
There has been much controversy over Kim Davis, the Ashland, Kentucky county clerk from Rowan, who has staunchly and consistently refused to grant same-sex marriage licenses, despite the Supreme Court ruling from earlier this summer. Seeing her unyielding stance from behind that office counter on multiple pieces of TV news coverage has made me think carefully about what it all signifies, on both sides of the issue.
To my knowledge, all of the Christian saints died for their religious beliefs, and rather horribly at that. I can’t think of an example of a saint who sacrificed someone else to satisfy his or her own individual credo. Personal sacrifice, for whatever cause, means that the individual gives up something prominent or momentous that brings about his own suffering. The problem I have with Kim Davis and her very self-righteous and self-inflicted maltreatment (if indeed it may even be called that) is that in her grandstanding as what some may call a heroine, she has really not given up anything, but rather has gained publicity and kudos from her fundamentalist Christian friends. Note I didn’t say the word Christian by itself. That word has much broader and more compassionate significance than the manufactured meaning given it by the far right, which often seems to be using the word as a mask for personal prejudices and ignorant accusations based upon whatever may be lifted out of context from The Bible, in which Christ himself never said a word about homosexuality.
The problem for me is that if Kim Davis were really an honorable woman with sincere purpose founded in Christian love, she would have said, “My religious beliefs are simply too strong, and I need to resign. This job places me in too much compromise with my convictions.” Instead, she was willing to use the media for personal attention and to sacrifice the happiness and wellbeing of others by refusing them their legal rights. How dare she use God’s name as a threat for her personal biases! The noblest way she could have addressed this problem was to quit her job, thereby not being responsible for any “sin” she thought was being committed but without hurting anyone but herself for her own cause. She is not God and had no right to be His temporal voice in a matter already decided by the Supreme Court.
A considerable segment of our society is flummoxed by the tremendous changes in our culture over the past several decades through the civil rights movement, equality for women, child protection laws, gay rights, etc. all of which at one time had very dark interpretations by Bible thumping preachers, who believed things should stay “traditional,” even if those things were obviously unjust. The changes have been fast and furious, leaving many folks confused and lost. Those are the people outraged that some of the beliefs they held for so long have been modified or deleted altogether. This has created anger and indignation for those who feel that the only anchor for them is the religious credence they’ve held, often since childhood. I understand this terror of change and the feeling of being left behind, but we have to remember that during the American Civil War, people were outraged, because their lifelong interpretation of the Bible had been that slaves were God’s will and that those slaves being freed was an assault upon God’s will and grand design for the universe. Outlooks change over time, because they have to. There are many “religious” beliefs that often coincide with ideas of right versus wrong, but they change as we learn more and become more aware and compassionate. Our understanding bends with enlightenment, as well it should and as well it must.
What scares me more and more in a complex and legally secular society such as ours is that religious zealots think that they can use the “religious belief “ card to trump anything standing in the way of judging others as inferior just because they have other convictions, peaceful or not, convictions that don’t necessarily coincide with very specific religious doctrine. We are not yet a theocracy, but we are moving in some parts of the country back to a time that was. The year is 2105, not 1692. People are no longer lashed in the public square or put into the stocks because they missed a prayer meeting or disagree with the powers that be in the canonical beliefs of just one group. People should be able to keep their religious beliefs, but when those beliefs destroy the lives of other people, the believers need to accommodate themselves to the prevailing law that protects those other people. Just one religious doctrine can no longer prevail and bully the rest of the population with its mean-spirited accusations, and persecution however “holy” the believers claim they may be. Look at Muslim fundamentalists to see where this can lead. The Christianity that makes sense to me is that which goes back to Christ himself and his almost constant messages of compassion, inclusion, love, and kindness toward our fellow beings. None of this has appeared in any way or on any level in the diatribes from people like Kim Davis. JB