So, Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same sex couples, went to jail. And many political conservatives and religious fundamentalists praised her faith — as if she’s the first person ever jailed for following her convictions.
In fact, everything happened just as it should have happened. American democracy worked.
The people spoke through one of our three branches of elected government. Kim Davis found a religious objection to one of the many decisions our government makes. She did what she has a religious and American right to do: she practiced civil disobedience to express her disagreement. And the government did what it should have done: it arrested one of its employees who failed uphold the law.
It happens every day.
More than 1,100 people, including many members of the clergy, were arrested in North Carolina last year for protesting what they believed to be immoral decisions by the North Carolina General Assembly, because those decisions denied basic rights of employment and health care and education and access to voting to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Where were Kim Davis’s outraged supporters then, bemoaning the intrusion of government into our religious lives?
Hundreds of people are arrested every year, impassioned by their faith to protest injustices of environmental degradation, sexual discrimination, economic exploitation, the abuses of military expansion. Where are the protests of social and religious conservatives to the abrogation of freedom in those cases?
Thousands of people were arrested during the civil rights movement, when African Americans and a small minority of white Americans protested the ungodly practices of segregation and discrimination. But in that sad day, these practices were the law of the land. And they were, sadly, praised by a conservative Church. But that is how secular democracy — and, in this case, bad religion — works.
A secular government makes its decisions, not based on religious law, but on what it believes at the time to be the best decision for the common good. And the citizens of that land, religious and non-religious alike, have a right — in fact, they have a responsibility — to respond to their government.
Ironically, Mike Huckabee, the ex-Southern Baptist preacher and presidential wannabe, believes freedom was the victim in Mrs. Davis’s case:
“If you have to put someone in jail, I volunteer to go. … Lock me up if you think that’s how freedom is best served. … I am willing to spend the next eight years in the White House. … But I want you to know I’m willing to spend the next eight years in jail, but I’m not willing to spend the next years in tyranny under people who think they can take our freedom and conscience away.”
How has Mrs. Davis’s freedom been taken away? How has her conscience been oppressed? Led by her conscience she protested, as guaranteed by her rights — and the country has heard her voice more loudly than it would have heard it in any other nation of the world. Isn’t that a victory for freedom, and for that conviction, central to Baptist life, called “liberty of conscience”?
I believe Mrs. Davis is wrong — and the former preacher turned politician, too — but they both have a right to their voice in this great but messy and often-frustrating democracy.
I believe this is how God works in this world: through religious people, those who occasionally get it right, and those who too-often get it wrong. And through secular governments, which also occasionally get it right. And through the collective voice of a people who, somehow, miraculously though torturously slow, are wending their way to a future that looks like what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God.
So bless Mrs. Davis for her conviction. But as we say in the South “bless her heart.” Once again religion has blinded the religious from seeing that God has “more truth yet” to shine on us (John Robinson). And thanks be to God for a secular democracy — unbearably slow though it sometimes is.
As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” — even when clerks and politicians and preachers stand in the way.