I’m seeing some posts on Facebook which speaks about the letter a Baptist pastor (Russell Williams from Florida) wrote, calling the Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, a hypocrite for her stance. Since a judge took a heavy-handed response against her (normally one impeaches or recalls an elected official), this woman has been viewed as a hero in some circles and it is natural some would like to attack her credibility. The problem is, the letter uses a lot bad reasoning that does not prove its point.
Williams gives three reasons why he rejects the praise for this woman, but they’re bad reasons. Let’s look at them.
First: This is not a case of the government forcing anyone to violate their religious belief. She is free to quit her job. If she quits her job to honor God surely God would take care of her.
Yes, she is free to quit her job, and perhaps she will reach a position where she should quit her job. But Williams is way off in saying that this dilemma is not an attempt to force someone to violate their religious rights. Whether the person is coerced by the loss of a job, lawsuits or jail time unless they comply with something, that is an attempt to force someone to change their beliefs or leave so someone more malleable can take over. What Williams does not answer is the question, “Does the government have the right to change the definition of right and wrong and force elected officials to defend it against their conscience?
If so, then no religious belief is safe. If the government should become radically Islamic, Communist or Nazi (the big boogey men today), then a person has no right to refuse their orders either. No, I’m not comparing “same sex marriage” with these things. I’m just saying that one can use the same argument to say “go along or quit” in these cases too.
Next, Williams argues:
Second: This is not a case of someone trying to uphold the sanctity of marriage. If she wanted to uphold the sanctity of marriage she should not have been married four different times. If she is worried about her name being affixed to a marriage license that goes against a biblical definition of marriage, she should not have her name on the last three marriage licenses given to her.
Being a Catholic, I belong to a religion that rejects the possibility of remarriage if the first marriage is valid. As such, I do not condone these actions. But Williams is committing a tu quoque fallacy. Her behavior on divorce and remarriage has no bearing on whether her behavior on signing marriage certificates is right or wrong.
Then, he says:
Third: This seems to be a case of someone looking to cash in on the religious right. Churches all across the south will throw money at her to come and tell congregations how the evil American government put her in jail because of her faith in Jesus.
If that was her intention, then yes, it would be a shameful action. But, that is something he has to prove to be true. Even if she does receive speaking fees, this does not change the issue: Did the judge do wrong to imprison her for refusing to sign these marriage licenses? That is independent of what Kim Davis or the different denominations do.
Finishing his three points, he goes on to say:
This is why we are losing.
This is why people have such disdain for evangelicals.
Not because we disagree but because we don’t take the bible seriously. If ever there was a case of “he who is without sin cast the first stone”, this is it. If ever there was a “take the log out of your eye” moment, this is it.
We must stop looking to the government to make America a Christian utopia. Our kingdom is not of this world.
I think he is missing a major point here. Yes, our kingdom is not of this world. But we are called to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth. When the world does wrong, the Christian needs to stand in opposition to the wrongdoing. Nations and governments are made up of human beings. Those human beings can enact just laws or unjust laws. When they enact laws unjust before God, those people sin and must be corrected. We don’t have to turn America into a Christian nation. But when the people of a nation vote or governments govern to do wrong things, we have to bear witness, even up to the point of martyrdom.
Then he says something which is jaw-dropping appalling:
We must abandon all thoughts of fixing others and let Jesus fix us.
To which I say, What in the hell do you think the Great Commission calls us to do? In Matthew 18:15-17 tells us of the obligation to correct those in error. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands His disciples to go out into the world to baptize and to teach all He commanded them. The entire history of Christianity was about converting nations engulfed in wickedness. Yes, we cannot do it without God’s grace. But we believe that God does give us both the grace and the commandment. We must witness by our word and by our actions.
He concludes by saying,
If we want sanctity of marriage then stop cheating, stop having affairs, stop looking at porn, stop getting divorces. That is the way for the church to stand up for the biblical definition of marriage, not by someone martyring their self-righteous self.
I agree these things are evil, and Christians should reject them. But here is the problem. Williams is creating a false dilemma. It is not a case of doing either one or the other. We do the first, and if people jail or sue us for taking a stand, then we suffer for the faith.
Ultimately, whatever sins and personal flaws exist in her life, those things are not relevant to the question of whether a judge jailed her with the intention of coercing her into doing what she believed to be wrong. People who believe that the government neither has the right to redefine marriage nor coerce people with Christians to quit or go against their beliefs are not hypocritical in this protest.
Ultimately, while the letter is popular (over 126,000 shares on Facebook at the time I went there), this letter is not helpful. It gives people who want to attack Kim Davis specifically or Christians in general ammunition to use, but ignores the fact that Christians of good will can see what was done by a Kentucky judge to be a travesty and believe that a line needs to be drawn.
No doubt there are good things to say to prevent the Davis case from being politicized or from the Christian faith being exploited…but this letter didn’t have them.