Had Kim Davis walked into my office and asked me, as a minister, to officiate at her latest wedding, there is a chance I would have said “no”. I can’t be 100% sure about that because I don’t know Kim Davis personally–and my decision would have revolved around a number of issues including the couple’s theology about marriage and the couple’s prior track record with marriage and relationships.
A fourth marriage would give me reason for concern. I’d have asked a lot of questions about that person’s marital track record, their understanding of the holiness of the marriage covenant, and what they had learned from their previous failed marriages.
So, yes–there is a really good chance, depending on how that conversation went, that I would have refused to conduct her marriage.
I am called to serve Christ through serving churches through parish ministry. I am not a “wedding chapel” pastor. I don’t run a business “hitching” people. I serve the Lord–and a part of that is being faithful to our teachings. Although the United Methodist Church doesn’t observe marriage as a sacrament, we still view it as a holy event in which two people are bound, one to the other, in a sacred covenant. This is not to be taken lightly. And as a pastor, with authority given me by my denomination and the state of West Virginia to perform weddings, I am obligated to protect the meaning of marriage.
But I am a pastor.
Kim Davis, on the other hand, is a county clerk.
Davis’ authority regarding marriage doesn’t come from God, church, or religion… it comes from civic government.
I am reminded of the day the religious leaders decided to trip Jesus up by cornering him and demanding to know if Jews should have to pay taxes to the Roman government. There were a lot of reasons why many Jewish leaders felt these taxes were unfair and against God’s will.
But not paying Rome was rebellion. Rebellion meant certain death. Death for Jews in Rome meant torture and suffering, chiefly in the form of crucifixion.
They thought they had Jesus in a no-win situation. He couldn’t announce his support of taxes in the midst of a crowd of people who were so overburdened by taxes that they were starving and dying under oppression. But publicly denying Rome’s right to tax Jews was something the Romans couldn’t let slide.
How did Jesus respond?
He famously asked for a coin. And then he asked his interrogators whose face was on that coin.
It was Caesar’s.
“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
I can’t help but think that if Jesus were standing before the Rowan County courthouse today, with people demanding he either publicly support or publicly denounce Kim Davis’ actions that he would patiently ask for a copy of the marriage license in question.
“Whose seal is this?” He would ask, pointing to the raised seal stamped there by the Rowan County courthouse.
“The county’s” we’d have to answer. No matter how we might want to spin the story in our direction–it’s the courthouse that will process that paper, record it, and file it. It’s not gong to be faxed straight to the Pearly Gates. What we’re talking about here is an earthly, civic matter.
“So give to the county (the state, the nation) what is the county’s… give to God what is God’s”
Which brings me back to why I may very well have refused to officiate a wedding for Kim Davis. My job, as a Christian pastor, is to give to God what is God’s. .
But the courthouse’s job is to give to the government what is the government’s. The individuals working there can hold whatever religious views they want. They can have whatever opinion about marriage they want–but the beginning and end of courthouse obligations about marriage is to make sure the government requirements about marriage are met.
Kim Davis’ job as court clerk is to deal with issues of government. My job, as a pastor, is to deal with issues of faith.
As an individual, I may not like an elected official… but as a pastor I would be out of line if I stood in the pulpit and used my position as a faith leader to persuade people to vote her out.
As an individual, Kim Davis may hold religious views that conflict with views of the state… but she is out of line if she uses her role as an elected official to withhold state-guaranteed rights to people outside of her religion.
Those who know me personally know that I have been an advocate for marriage equality and celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision. But even with those sympathies, I have to admit that I can understand why Kim Davis feels so conflicted.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) prohibits same-sex marriage. The church is able to do this because of “freedom of religious expression”. So, even though the State of West Virginia has been recognizing same-sex marriages for a year now, and issuing licences for those couples to wed, I am not permitted to perform those weddings.
As an advocate for marriage equality, I long for the day when the UMC learns to embrace all forms of love between consenting adults–but I recently had to tell a young same-sex couple that I am unable to perform their wedding. It broke my heart. For a moment I wondered if I could even remain in the United Methodist Church. This is the church in which I was raised. I’m Methodist through and through. The teachings and doctrines on grace have been the bedrock of my life. But I had to ask myself if I could remain in the church and abide by it’s doctrines–or if it was time to move on.
I knew that I could rebel–I could do the wedding anyway. But that would most likely entail a church trial later down the line. And if I was brought up on charges for violating the laws of the UMC, the young couple in question would surely be dragged through the mud. Their marriage was not intended to be a political statement–but an expression of their love. I knew that my rebellion would only cause them and anyone else involved harm.
So, even though I’m on the other side of the issue from Kim Davis, I can understand the pain and conflict she feels regarding her role as an elected official and as a Christian who finds opposite-sex couples the only appropriate expression of marriage.
She is torn.
She has a decision to make.
I chose to remain in the UMC and be an agent of change, but that meant in the meanwhile I had to go against my conscience and refuse to perform a marriage that I really believe has the stuff to last.
Kim Davis needs to decide if she will remain in her elected position and serve the people, even in issues that may cause her conflict… or she needs to resign and allow someone who can serve the people to step up to the position.
But this act of rebellion against a government whose highest court has already ruled that the Constitution allows all it’s citizens to enter into marriage, needs to end. It’s tearing us all apart. It’s hurting us all. And it’s distracting us all from the gospel of Jesus Christ: that the Kingdom of God has drawn near and that salvation is at hand.