An Open Letter to Kim Davis and the Evangelical Community

The recent account of Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky who has refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses highlights several thorny problems in the continuing clash between Evangelical Christians and the homosexual community. The latter sees same-sex marriage as a civil right nearly identical to the civil rights issue of race and gender. Sexual orientation, to their way of thinking, is no different. The former sees this first as a moral issue of sin to which the Scriptures speak directly.

It is not an overstatement to say our culture has moved swiftly on this matter from once viewing homosexuality as something hidden and “queer” (as it was when I was a boy) to something fully accepted in our culture complete with the right to marry (as it is now). I can’t think of another issue on which an entire culture has moved so thoroughly from one point of view to another.

In this letter, I’m speaking only to Evangelical Christians who believe homosexuality is sin before God and who hold to the traditional view that marriage is between one man and one woman. I am in that camp. The plain reading the Bible, without the exegetical gymnastics that some are going through today to conclude God supports homosexuality, would lead any reasonable person to conclude that the God presented in the Bible defines all sexual activity outside of marriage to be sin. It misses His standard of holiness. It misses his standard for marriage, which is to reflect the unity and diversity found in the Trinity. Perhaps I will outline this in another post on another day.

Here is my letter to Kim Davis and the larger Evangelical Community:

Kim, I admire your willingness to stand for your beliefs. I support your right to not be forced to violate your values and conscious by government action. Freedom of religion is worthless if our exercise of our religion is either forced or repelled by the government. Yet, as an elected official, I have mixed feelings about your refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

It’s my understanding that your decision to not issue marriage licenses altogether is a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling giving same-sex couples a constitutional protection to marry. Rather than issue marriage licenses for heterosexual couples and deny them for homosexual couples, you (along with several other counties in other states) decided not to issue marriage licenses to anyone.

As an elected official, how do you balance your beliefs about traditional marriage with God’s commands to obey authorities that He has instituted? How do you balance your beliefs about traditional marriage with God’s commands to honor the oaths that you take? How you handle yourself before God is a more complex matter than simply asserting that you’re following God’s authority instead of man’s authority. You took an oath to uphold the laws of our land, I suspect, under the assumption that American and Kentucky laws would never ask you to violate God’s laws, an assumption which probably shouldn’t have been assumed and should not be assumed by those in office moving forward.

How would you view a Muslim in government who decided to deny a business license to a woman-owned, privately held business because his religion tells him that women should remain at home, out of the sight of any married man, so as to not cause those men temptation? How would you view a Mormon who decided to deny a building permit to a group of Buddhists who wanted to build a temple for their faith because he can’t support the furtherance of a religion that leads people to Hell? While Starbuck did not openly state that they didn’t want the business of people who believe in traditional marriage, I wonder how you’d view Starbucks if they had openly said they didn’t want the business of those who believe in traditional marriage? You have been divorced multiple times (I have been divorced once), so I ask you this: how would you react if an Evangelical, Christian judge refused to issue divorce decrees simply because she believes that divorce is sin and what God has joined together, let no man (or woman – including a judge) put asunder? Is there any substantive difference between a Christian county clerk issuing a same-sex marriage license and a Christian judge issuing a divorce decree? If you were a county official in Nevada, would you refuse to issue brothel licenses? How would you view a Catholic who refused to rent an apartment to an unmarried, heterosexual couple? How would you view a Christian mortgage broker who refused to help secure a loan to a credit-worthy, but unmarried heterosexual couple for a home they wanted to buy because the broker believes that living together outside of marriage is sin? How would you view a Christian waiter who refused to serve you a glass of wine because he believes that consuming alcohol for non-medical purposes is sin?

What I’m pointing out is that when we, as Christians, act in our “public” role, we encounter sin in a number of different transactions. We don’t always get to “pick and choose” which situations we’ll participate in and which we won’t. It’s not that simple.

It seems to me that if a Christian feels that serving alcohol, issuing divorce decrees, renting apartments to unmarried couples, refusing to issue building permits or business licenses is sin, then that person should consider not serving in that role. Our society will move forward and will do so with increasingly unchristian, unbiblical morals. We can choose to be salt and light and work within the system or step outside of it and let the system deteriorate faster without our presence. But it seems to me that we don’t have the option to take an oath and then violate that oath while saying we need to follow God’s laws.

For the larger evangelical community, I have two considerations for us that Kim’s situation highlights.

Oaths Mean Something

When we take an oath, it is something that is done before God and man, which is why we say “so help me God”. Consequently, God takes our oaths seriously. To violate one’s oath is sin. I don’t find the Scriptures equivocating on this point. Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”. In Kim’s case, she feels that she’s sinning by issuing same-sex marriage licenses. So my recommendation to her would be to resign her position unless she can reach some type of reconciliation between herself and the Lord on issuing same-sex marriage licenses. What she cannot do is violate an oath which she voluntarily took as part of voluntarily holding a public office and yet claim she is following God’s laws. It seems to me that if issuing a same-sex marriage license is sin (which is not clearly taught in Scripture), then surely violating one’s voluntary oath to uphold the laws of the land is also sin (which is clearly taught in Scripture). In other words, marriage theology doesn’t trump oath theology – at least not in the world I live in.

Let’s Opt-Out of Legal Marriage

Yep. That’s not a typo. I believe it’s time for Evangelicals to simply opt-out of using marriage licenses to indicate that we are married. Our public commitment before God and our fellow believers should be enough. It two people decide to commit their lives to each other in marriage before God, why do we need a governmental agency to put their stamp of approval on it? Are not our commitments and oaths before God more binding on us than American law? I would contend that if we really hold God’s laws to be above our laws, then we don’t need government approval for a legitimate marriage before God and our church.

Hence, to restate this idea: I contend that because of the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, it is time for Christians to opt-out of the American judicial marriage system and let marriage be only a religious, yet intensely personal event. Perhaps there are negative tax ramifications of this idea, but when has that had any real bearing on how we follow the Lord?

Now, some may say that we’d be violating the law by not obtaining marriage licenses. I disagree. It’s my understanding that our laws on marriage provide a way for the state to recognize a marriage, but that following the State’s process is not required in order for two people to be married in purely religious terms. It’s obvious that the State takes little, if any interest, in two people who live together over a years or decades. They aren’t violating any laws. If they do this and in their religious framework, they are married, what concern is there for the State?

I think the framers of our laws assumed that they two would always be congruent – state marriage laws and religious marriage beliefs – but this is now no longer the case. We can’t assume congruity between the two. So, it seems to me that because God’s laws are above man’s laws and because our oaths are more binding than man’s contracts, licenses, certifications and so forth, its’ time for Evangelicals to fundamentally change our process for recognizing a marriage by subtracting the involvement of the State in Christian marriages.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the preacher say “Now, because of your submission to God’s authority, I now declare you husband and wife” as opposed to what we do today: “now, by the power vested in me by the State of <insert your state here>, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

From the perspective of the Evangelical institution, this idea may also have the added value of providing a realistic way to focus on Christian marriages that don’t violate our theological and religious beliefs. Lawyers need to weigh in on this, but I’m thinking there is a potential solution that solves a number of thorny problems for Christian and religious institutions. If the institution is not conducing a marriage ceremony that involves the State or violates any laws and that is purely religious in nature, it seems to me that the State would have no interest in the event and discrimination laws would not effect this either. Again, lawyers are needed here for clarification.

In summation, I think Kim’s two choices are clear: either serve the entire public or resign. As for the Evangelical church, I vote to opt-out of State sanctioned marriages entirely and make them a purely religious event before God and our fellow believers.

I welcome your thoughts and responses.

Bill English
Founder, Bible and Business