The gal pictured above is Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis. She is in the news a little bit this morning because she is refusing to sign the marriage license for a same-sex couple, even after the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land, even after her appeals were denied by every court in the land including the Supreme Court, and even after a same-sex couple (and a horde of camera crews) have staged a sit-in at her office.
I understand that several people hold different views than I do. I understand that this issue is complicated and nuanced. But as I've been reading the news coverage of this story this morning, the one question that has been in my head has been "how does this end well?" Sadly, I don't think it does.
There are so many things at play here that there's no way that we could cover them all in a single blog post. But here are some thoughts off the top of my head that we should all consider:
1. The Question of America as a Christian Nation is more complicated than anyone thinks.
Last year I had a class in which we tried our very best to answer this question: Is America a Christian Nation? After 10 weeks of study, discussion, and one of the largest reading loads I've had in my seminary career, we came away almost united in the answer "It's complicated." The views of the founding fathers were actually murky at best, and the way we have run with the ball they handed to us only made things worse. Suffice it to say, I don't know that a county clerk (i.e., a representative of the government) is able to make this stand based on the conviction that this is a Christian nation. I'm not sure she isn't. But leaning on that as a defense is shaky ground.
2. The Battle between Conviction and Grace
I think the Church in general needs to take a real hard look at this. On one hand, there are indeed firm absolutes in faith. I have a deeply held conviction that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the grave after three days of being completely and totally dead. I'm not sure anyone could sway me in a different direction on that one, even with the most reasoned and passionate argument. There's just too much that I've seen and experienced to fight against.
But I also carry with me a large amount of grace towards those who see the world differently than I do. Those who don't believe in Christ are not objects to be beaten into submission in my view. My own journey to faith came with plenty of false starts and wrong turns, and the grace of those who taught me was what brought me to where I am today. We carry conviction and grace in equal measure, never favoring one over the other, because without grace we would be helpless and alone.
Is there a way that grace could increase in this situation? I am skeptical, because it would appear that no one involved in the situation is interested in offering grace to anyone else. But while things may seem bleak for anyone caught up in this to be offering grace, those of us watching things unfold need to carry an awareness of how much grace we are offering others, up to and especially including those who disagree with us.
3. The perception problem
I believe we are all aware at this point that Christians have a perception problem. When asked what they think of us, most non-believing Americans (especially millennials) think that we are unforgiving, bigoted, and focused on power and money. This episode is unlikely to help with any of that. While again I understand that there are convictions to be held to, I wonder how the way we display our convictions can help or hurt our evangelistic goals, to ultimately allow others to know the good news of Jesus Christ.
And that's where I don't see this ending well. If ultimately Ms. Davis succeeds, and does not allow marriage licenses for same-sex couples, then the Church will be seen as heartless and cruel. I know she has said a few times today that this is not her intention, but it's going to come off that way. If she does not succeed, as I suspect will be the case, then we look like the kid on the playground who lost a battle and whines about cheaters. Neither option is appealing, but sadly that's the boat we're in now.
I wonder what it would take for Christians to get in the news for something we could be proud of. I wonder what it would take to show the world what's going on in local communities, to see how the Gospel is winning against the darkness of our world, to see people healed, to see divisions set aside, to see forgiveness in living color. I wonder how long we have to wait before the Church is more readily recognized for our Savior than we are our dogma.
And so I wait for the ending...and hopefully better endings in the future.