For a week I’ve wanted to write about Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and forbid her deputies from doing so and was jailed for failure to comply with a federal court order to do her job. I wanted to write about the hypocrisy of invoking religious freedom to defy the First Amendment’s establishment clause that confers that freedom on us all. I wanted to rail against the abuse of religion as an ideological tactic, as in the instance of her supporters calling her a martyr and she pridefully playing the role of one, jailed for her religious beliefs, even though her beliefs had nothing to do with it: she was jailed for breaking the law. She was and is free, as are we all, to believe as her conscience dictates. Our laws do not limit our beliefs, they limit our actions and this for the sake of our freedom. She is no martyr. Martyrs sacrifice their lives rather than forsake their beliefs. Ms. Davis wasn’t even willing to sacrifice her job. She wants to sacrifice others.
What I wanted to say was that if Ms. Davis wanted to exercise her religious freedom she could have resigned her position rather than comply with its mandate. What is at stake here is not Ms. Davis’ religious freedom, but her refusal to bear the cost of that freedom.
All this I have been scribbling anxiously and glibly, fighting with my own smugness and so unable to write. I was too full of my own righteousness, too keen on overturning tables and chasing out moneychangers. Truth is my indignation is a wall I was using to keep my disappointment on the far side of the moat. Truth is I am sad. I am grieving for Christianity.
I am a pastor of a small congregation. On a good Sunday we will have 40 in worship. They are a fine and humble people. They are continually on lookout for excuses to be generous and the assurances of belonging. There is a woman who has stitched together over a thousand dresses from discarded pillowcases. She sends them to girls in Haiti so that they’ll be presentable enough to attend school. These are my people and I love them. Mostly older, widowed, on walkers, or raising children or grandchildren alone. Most live alone. They are striving to keep their independence and to this end they seek a community of trusted friends among whom they are safe enough, supported and needed enough, to belong to the racing world without being terrified of it. And they long for this so that they might give such belonging as they’ve found to others.
They want to know who Jesus is, what he meant by the strange things he said and did, why he died, what it reveals about God and any hope it might betoken. These are my people. They are Christians not merely because of what they believe but because of what they long for.
I know that more and more of the people who drive by my church every day, if they register its presence at all, see the cross on the weathered wall facing the street and roll their eyes or snort dismissively or are reminded of the knot of resentment they carry at the church Kim Davis represents, or at Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz who exploit Ms. Davis’ story to elevate their poll numbers. They think of hateful words spewed at gays and lesbians, Muslims, immigrants, President Obama, the unwashed and uninsured. Those who know a little about Jesus wretch at the hypocrisy and those who don’t don’t care to know more. What stands for Christian in their eyes is repugnant to the better angels they long to follow and find belonging for.
My forty people are being tarred with the hypocrisy and craven hatreds of Kim Davis and her co-religionists. More and more people will never give my forty people a chance. I am sad because I am embarrassed to tell people that I am a minister. I am ashamed to be thought of as one of those Christians who are crucifying Jesus now, using his name to crucify who he was and what he died for.