Is this the best we can do?

The first rule of parenting is don’t get into power struggles with your kids. The second rule of parenting is that if you do happen to get into a power struggle, you must win. This pretty much sums up my view on the religious freedom case of Kim Davis. I wish she hadn’t been coerced into this particular fight, but now that she has, I hope she wins.

When I first heard of the Kentucky clerk who refused to give marriage licenses to anyone in order to avoid putting her name on licenses for gay couples, I thought she should resign. I am an outspoken defender of the religious freedom of florists, bakers, and photographers to not participate in celebrations that damage people and violate creational norms, but a government employee seemed different. We would have chaos if government workers reserve the right to disregard any law they found objectionable. If Kim Davis felt that strongly about having her name on a marriage license, why not resign rather than feed the left’s caricature that Christians are hypocritical bigots who really dislike gay people?

Ensuing posts by other thoughtful Christians pointed out that Davis’ case was a bit more complex. Ryan Anderson noted that her predicament was caused by the Supreme Court’s overreach and her state government’s underreach. The court created a new norm without carving out exceptions for conscience, and the government in Kentucky was in no hurry to remedy the situation. Others observed the inconsistency of jailing the conservative Davis for not doing her job while allowing other government officials on the left to skate for not doing theirs. Most importantly, our government tells employers they must make allowances for the religious objections of their workers. In this case the government is the employer, and it failed Kim Davis by not providing a reasonable workaround to serve customers without violating her conscience. Couldn’t it issue marriage licenses that didn’t bear her name?

So Kim Davis has a sound legal foundation for her resistance. If she loses her battle for the freedom of conscience, it will be easier for the government to force florists, schools, and parachurch organizations to follow suit. If the ascendant left gets its way, evangelical colleges, adoption agencies, counselors, and homeless shelters will be compelled to compromise or close their doors. Much is at stake, which is why I wish Kim Davis had quietly resigned rather than become the face of religious freedom. Her case seems the worst possible place for evangelicals to take their stand. Even if we win the legal battle, we will have lost more ground in the war of public opinion. And as Obergefell proved, public opinion nowadays sets legal precedent.

I’m not saying we would successfully persuade the public to take our side, but we’d have a better chance if we had rallied around the sympathetic florist in Washington State, baker in Colorado, or photographer in New Mexico as we’re now doing for the clerk in Kentucky. Where were the politicians and pep rallies when these cases were going down? You know it’s bad when the Huffington Post sympathizes with the Religious Right for being stuck with Kim Davis, the worst possible “poster girl” for religious freedom.

I wish we hadn’t been compelled to stand with a thrice divorced woman who recently got religion about the sanctity of marriage, and whose case isn’t about the freedom to not participate in a celebration but merely about the right to keep her name off a document. But now that we’re here, a word of advice going forward.

Let’s emphasize our love for everyone, especially gay people. We fight for religious freedom not merely to protect the purity of our names but in order to better serve others. We claim the freedom of conscience because we don’t want to participate in activities that hurt people. We love people and want what is best for them. We may not feel free before God to festoon their ceremony with flowers, but we will invite the happy couple over for dinner after their honeymoon. We want to be their friends. We want to lead them to Jesus.

So let’s stop playing “Eye of the Tiger” at political rallies. Let’s stop defiantly talking about our rights and start explaining why religious freedom is valuable even to the people who want to take it away. Some day they may be the heretics, and they’re going to need the freedom of conscience that we are protecting for them. Let’s not use our freedom to serve no one (“no marriage licenses for anyone”), but look for ways to use our freedom to serve everyone. Let’s be less concerned about the use of our names and more concerned about our usefulness to others. Let’s really try to love others.

The culture may still hate us, but at least we’ll know we did all we could. We cannot control what people hear, but we can control what we say. Let’s say it with love.

Photo courtesy of www.inquisitor.com.

6 Comments

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  1. nice work, Mike thanks

  2. Yes, I’m with you completely, Dr. Wittmer. I just can’t stand the fact (like The Huffington Post points out) that we are fighting for this kind of liberty with this woman at the helm. She has become a mockery and is making Christianity look downright foolish. Though I know people will always think our beliefs are off, I want to give them a good reason to re-think why they believe that. She has hurt our witness in more ways than one. That’s what’s frustrating.

  3. She’s not an employee. She’s an elected officeholder.

  4. The issue with Davis is more complex than the media lets on and than most internet commentators (read “trolls”) can see. It wasn’t that she was trying to impose her religion on anyone. She didn’t say that anyone seeking a marriage license had to recite the Nicene Creed. Her role as an elected official meant that she personally authorized the marriage in that county. She wasn’t just certifying that they were legal under Kentucky law. What should have been done was that she should have been given an accommodation. Change the wording on the certificate and in the law a little so it wasn’t her personal endorsement and she would have been fine.

    Our culture is becoming increasingly intolerant and accommodations are seen as burdensome. That is a shame since it was one of the ideas our nation was founded on. Room for religious differences. Good post.

    Anyway, here’s a great article at the WaPo summarizing the legal fine points of the case.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/09/04/when-does-your-religion-legally-excuse-you-from-doing-part-of-your-job/?postshare=1111441454859111

  5. While I agree on many of points you make, there is an observation I wish to make. Not out of judgment, but out of encouragement.

    As I said, I agree with most of the points you make, but I sense, in this post and in the one prior on this topic, a spirit of fear behind the words, wether knowingly or unknowingly. I wish to simply encourage you by sharing a verse I have been thinking much about lately. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18 This verse points to the antidote to fear: God’s perfect love for us. Am I saying we shouldn’t stand up for what we believe in? Nope, we should do that. But we don’t have to do it in fear of the future. For we know Who has the future in his hands.

  6. Well thought out & stated, Mike

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