Conflict and Conscience

She took her stand. She paid a price.

To many she’s both hero and symbol.

To others she’s a bigot and law-breaker.

Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused, “under God’s authority”, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, remained quietly defiant in the face of judicial threats. When she didn’t back down, a judge had her remanded to jail indefinitely. Though she could have posted it, bail was denied.

Davis, a Christian who said she could not in good conscience violate her faith and God’s law by signing the marriage licenses, sat in jail for nearly a week. It could have been longer, but the judge relented and released her. He warned her not to interfere with the issuing of marriage licenses to homosexuals.

Kim Davis is an elected official. She serves the public and is employed by the government. In the absence of federal statute and much of anything else except growing public support, the U.S. Supreme Court in June decided that gay marriage was a sacred constitutional right. After that, Davis’ job description changed. She must now put her official imprimatur on an intimate – and suddenly legal – union she considers a sin.

Although signing marriage licenses is only a small fraction of her duties as a county clerk, to her this was a matter of conscience.  It was also still part of her job as a government employee.

It was a conflict not easy to avoid or resolve.

For Kim Davis however, it wasn’t so hard.

She refused to bow to the latest golden image of government-sanctioned political correctness and expanded perceived “rights”.  She wasn’t thrown into a fiery furnace or a lion’s den, just jail. But, like those ancient Hebrews, she stood her ground as an act of faithful obedience to God.

Not alone certainly, but still in a clear minority today.

Kenneth Upton, senior legal counsel to the gay lobby, was concerned that Kim would become a martyr to the cause of bigotry. Pointing to a photo of Davis in handcuffs, Upton said, “This is what the other side wants. This is a biblical story, to go to jail for your faith. We don’t want to make her a martyr to the people who are like her [intolerant bigots?], who want to paint themselves as victims.”

Kim Davis is an unlikely hero – or victim. She’s a Democrat who has been married four times. When opponents railed at her hypocrisy, her answer was simply to say she’s been changed by the power of God’s grace. Not so hard for a Christian to grasp.

Ever since Peter and the apostles declared to an enraged authority, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, KJV), conscience and civil disobedience have been an important part of the “biblical story” and the history of Christianity. In the Old Testament, the Jews in exile offer an inspiring example of courageous and unswerving allegiance to divine law – and a willingness to pay the price for loyalty to a higher power.

Perhaps Kim Davis should resign as county clerk. Perhaps there can be no accommodation to her religious conscience. After all, she’s a public employee and the law says gays can get married. So if signing their marriage licenses violates her conscience, then resigning is the only right thing to do.

After all, government and the law march inexorably forward. Society calls this progress. And individual conscience must submit to the inevitable. It must submit to power.

That’s a popular point of view.

We get agitated and impatient with conscientious objectors.

The Supreme Court decides what the Constitution means. Of course, the Supreme Court isn’t always right. History reveals its tortuous and contradictory legal path, especially on the matter of slavery.

Who knows what Jefferson and Madison might think of Kim Davis – or homosexual marriage as a constitutional right. It was Jefferson, after all, who suggested to his close friend that he draw up a carefully-worded list of specific rights that would safeguard the individual conscience against the encroaching power of the State. These first ten amendments to the Constitution became our Bill of Rights. Among these unalienable rights was the free exercise of religion.

Natural law, bequeathed by “Nature’s God”, was the foundation of our Constitution. Today, that foundation continues to crumble amidst a mocked obsolescence.

One thing is certain: our founders were wary of the government’s power to deny any person’s beliefs.

“No provision in our Constitution,” wrote Jefferson in 1809, “ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” These “rights of conscience”, Jefferson argued, must never be submitted to civil rulers. “We are answerable for them to God.”

Of individual conscience, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote:

“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right?”

Kim Davis gave her answer.

Hundreds of thousands of Christian refugees fleeing Syria and other troubled lands for their very lives face that question daily.

And living in a time of escalating conflict between conscience and culture you and I must ask – and answer – that same question.

May God bless you and your family.

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Filed under Christian World View, Current Events, Faith, Politics, Religion

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