Like you, I’m reading and listening to people who don’t understand why a Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs. This is a clash of worldviews. Some see their religious liberties being violated. Some see their rights, as upheld by the Supreme Court, being violated. Some see this as religious intolerance and evil. Others see it as intolerance of religious beliefs and long-held values.
My brother-in-law (who describes himself as “anti-religious” and may be surprised that I describe myself the same way) recently asked some questions on a Facebook post that I have considered seriously and am trying to use good reasoning and biblical insight to answer, at least for myself. Before I get to those questions, I want to encourage my Christian friends to do the same. We absolutely must listen to those who are asking questions about what we believe and why. We must try to respond with both love and truth. We must be humble and caring in our communications. I see a lack of that from some of my fellow Christians today. To my non-Christian friends and family members, I’m sorry for all the unkind rhetoric that’s out there. I don’t believe it represents the hearts of true Christ followers. Please try to differentiate between the “religious” people and real followers of Jesus.
The Initial Questions
One of the questions my brother-in-law asked was this: “Does she issue marriage licenses to religions that she doesn’t agree with such as muslims and jews? Does she not sign off on divorce papers?” I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I do think the questions are legitimate. Where do government employees draw the line in regard to where their biblically based beliefs conflict with the nation’s laws and the contemporary culture? I don’t have answers for those questions, but I also don’t believe it is our primary role as Christians to hold rallies and constantly fight against our governing authorities. We can transform society through the power of God by helping people know him and believe in Jesus. Christians, please read Matthew 28:16-20 again. That’s our mission.
The BIG Question
My brother-in-law asked another great question in his post that I think is the main issue: “Is this what Jesus would support?”
Let’s tackle that one from the Bible and with sound thinking.
I’ve seen social media posts recently quoting Peter and the other apostles in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” That sounds like a good reason for the county clerk to refuse to issue marriage licenses, doesn’t it? But that’s what we call proof texting, that is, finding a Scripture verse to prove our point of view and then twisting it or taking it out of context. But as always we must use good biblical interpretation. Peter and the other apostles were not responding to a government edict here. They weren’t refusing to do what the Romans were telling them to do. The group they were in conflict with were the religious leaders, specifically the Sanhedrin and the high priest. So this biblical instance would be more akin to a Christian today being told by a head religious leader such as an elder or the Pope to refrain from preaching about Jesus. That’s not at all the case for Kim Davis.
So let me get back to the main question: Is this what Jesus would support? In other words, what would Jesus tell Clerk Davis to do? I don’t want to guess on this. I’d like to go to the source and see what Jesus actually did in situations like this.
Two Examples from the Life of Jesus
I can think of three times when Jesus dealt with people who worked for the government: Levi (Matthew), Zacchaeus, and the Roman centurion. Jesus treated all three men with great love and respect. I’ll look at the first two of them in this post. Both Levi and Zacchaeus were tax collectors who worked for the Romans to collect taxes from their fellow Jews who lived in Roman territory. Let’s look first at Levi and what we can learn from his situation to answer this question.
Jesus saw Levi sitting at his tax booth and simply said, “Follow me!” The tax collector responded immediately: “Levi got up, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:28). The next thing we read is that Levi threw a party and invited Jesus, all the disciples, his tax-collector friends, and other “sinners.” They all were eating a banquet meal together. Jesus was building relationships with them. I imagine him laughing with them and telling stories . . . with “sinners.” The fact is Jesus was the only non-sinner in the place. I don’t see judgment here. But I see lots of grace. This was Jesus’ way. Just then the religious leaders showed up to spoil the party. They just couldn’t understand why Jesus, a rabbi, was hanging out with these people. Jesus explained that this was why he came to earth: to love and to call and to reach out to those who need him the most.
Seems to me like this scene is being played out today. But what about the issue of marrying same-sex people? This wasn’t the issue for Levi, of course; his issue was extorting money from his fellow Jews for his own gain. Nothing is mentioned in this passage about what Jesus told Levi about how he should conduct his business. All we know is Levi left his tax booth behind to follow Jesus. Jesus changes us from the inside-out when we decide to follow him.
Perhaps the other taxman, Zacchaeus, can help us out here (see Luke 19:1-9). He was not only a tax collector, but the chief tax collector in the region of Jericho and a very wealthy man. For whatever reason, he wanted to see Jesus, and more importantly, Jesus saw him, and invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. Again, don’t miss the relational aspect here. Zacchaeus decided to become a follower of Jesus too, and during dinner, he stood up to tell Jesus he would make everything right. He’d give half of his possessions to the poor and repay up to four times what he had cheated people of. This passage does not say Zacchaeus stopped being a tax collector. Unlike Matthew, apparently he continued working for the Roman government, carrying out his legal duties, but he did so with integrity as a follower of Jesus.
One Application for Kim: Two Choices
What can we make of these two biblical cases in relation to Kim Davis? Here’s my application. If she can continue to carry out her legal duties as a government employee and Christ follower, she should do so. But she then must do what her job description entails. If not, she can quit the job, because her duties conflict with what she believes is the right thing to do as as Christ follower who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. I believe those are her only choices.
I think Romans 13:1 applies in this situation: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” (see also Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-14). If you work for the governing authorities, you are subject to their laws and rules. If you cannot in good conscience carry out those rules, it seems to me that you leave the job, which itself can make a statement about your priorities.
One Vital Question for the Rest of Us who Follow Christ
The big question in all this is, How do Christ followers live in a culture that is increasingly based on beliefs other than the Bible? Christians live with a specific standard for truth: the Scriptures. But much of our culture does not. Truth is relative, not absolute, in the minds of many people. We are living in a society very much like that of the early church, which means our beliefs are no longer the vast majority view. We live as they did as “foreigners and exiles” on earth (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13), looking forward to “a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).
While I live in this world, in this culture, I believe my purpose is to live for God and to allow him to make an impact through my life. As a follower of Christ, who humbly modeled for us how to live (read Philippians 2:1-11), I want to extend as much grace to others that I can. I want to speak God’s truth in love.
My prayer is that God can change each of us, from the inside out, to reflect his love for the world. He lovingly wants what is best for humankind; and I believe that’s why he has provided his truth through the Word. People don’t need the law; they don’t need for us to correct them. They need God’s unconditional love, which transforms lives.
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