Maybe The Kentucky Clerk Should Be Jailed For Refusing to Issue Marriage Licenses. Maybe?

Posted on September 9, 2015 in Marriage, Religious Freedom by

Kim Davis

Image Credit: Associated Press

I’m having trouble with this one. I’ve read a lot of commentary on it and each carries the views of evangelical social leaders condemning the actions of a judge in Kentucky for ordering a county clerk to prison (with no bail) for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But I’m wondering if there is sufficient cause to condemn the actions of the court. Or, for that matter, if she had a justifiable reason to refuse to issue the licenses.

Remember the account of Daniel in the Bible?

In this account Daniel was a high ranking member of the King’s court. He had exceptional favor with the king and a few people were jealous of that favor. So the jealous parties tricked the king into signing a new law which forbade anyone from praying to any other god than the king for 30 days. Well, Daniel didn’t care about any laws, he had no plans to stop praying to Almighty God.

So every day Daniel opened his shutters and prayed at his window for everyone to see. The jealous people took word to the king that Daniel was violating the law and ordered Daniel to be punished. The prescribed punishment for this action was being thrown into the lion’s den. Obviously a death sentence.

The king agonized over this, but had to keep his word – according to his royal decree – and ordered Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. After just one night in the den the king rushed to learn Daniel’s fate and was surprised – pleasantly so – to learn that Daniel was alive and well. Daniel made it clear that though his accusers intended harm, death actually, for his actions, God had protected him.

So Daniel refused to compromise his convictions, even while working for the king (a secular entity). That decision led to his punishment; a punishment Daniel was fully prepared to accept, even to the point of death. At no time did Daniel plead his case or demand his “religious convictions” be honored. The end result was that Daniel’s accusers were thrown into the den of lions where they all perished, and the king decreed that only the “God of Daniel” was the true God.

Does this biblical account relate to the Kentucky clerk that now sits in prison for refusing to compromise her convictions?

I think there is a relationship between the account of Daniel and this Kentucky clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The relationship is that Ms. Davis – the clerk – is living according to her religious convictions despite the laws of the land. The current law makes it illegal to deny a marriage license to any couple seeking to be married, refusing to comply with that law is an act of disobedience to the law.

As Christians we know that Romans 13:1-7 starts out by telling us that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities…” The passage goes on to make clear that we have a duty to respect and honor God by respecting and honoring our civil government, a government God has instituted. However, we are also aware of Acts 5:27-29 which makes clear that our final and ultimate authority is God. The phrase “We must obey God rather than men!” is found in this passage.

So at once we have a duty to obey the civil law of the land, but only so far as it does not violate God’s law. When civil law violates God’s law we have a duty to reject civil law and adhere to God’s law. But in each instance where Christians rejected civil law and obeyed God’s law, there was a civil penalty: Daniel and the lion’s den, the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, Peter and John being whipped for preaching in the streets.

The lesson here is that Christians are duty-bound to honor God first, above all others. When a civil law goes against the law of God – as in the case of legitimizing same-sex “marriages” – a Christian must honor God and refuse to take part in what God has called sin. But, this does not mean there will not be a civil penalty for such actions. Kim Davis is experiencing that civil penalty right now.

This doesn’t mean that I agree with Kim Davis being put in jail, or that I think she deserves jail. In fact, I think any country that boasts “religious freedom” should make reasonable accommodations for people of faith. It would be very easy for Kentucky to create an exception that allows people of faith to refuse to issue marriage licenses while making sure the license gets issued in accordance with civil law. And every state will hopefully take a serious look at ensuring such protection for people of faith.

I can’t help but think if things would be different if this was a Muslim refusing to issue marriage licenses. It’s well-known that Muslims see homosexuality as immoral and wrong, and refuse to participate in supporting the lifestyle. Would a judge order a Muslim to jail? We can trace this out logically and wonder: would an atheist be jailed for effusing to support a God-themed event? Would a black person be jailed for refusing to support a KKK event? Would a Jew be jailed for refusing to support a Nazi event?

Let’s be clear about one thing: when it comes to private businesses, those business owners should have the right to refuse service based on conscience or religious convictions. So what happened to the baker in Colorado, the florist in Washington, and the photographer in New Mexico is patently wrong. No private business owner should be forced to compromise their religious convictions in order to conduct business.

The lesson that seems obvious here is that while accommodations should be made for people of faith regarding adherence to laws they believe violate their religious convictions; until that time there is the possibility of civil penalty that we all need to be prepared for. I’m not making a martyr of Kim Davis, but I do applaud her courage in boldly standing for her faith and refusing to compromise. Whatever anyone thinks of her, there can be no doubt that she has a deeply held conviction, one she will not violate. Her conviction causes me to assess my own faith, to consider what I am prepared to endure for my beliefs.

Good can come from this event. I hope it causes every state to consider protecting the religious convictions of people of faith. If states begin passing laws to ensure people are protected, then all Kim Davis has endured has a purpose. If not, she has honored God with her life. Who could ask for more than that?

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