Prepareth thyself. The Republican candidates for president, all 700 of them, have anointed Kim Davis as chief officiant for the marriage of church and state. It should be quite a wedding, a religious orgy demanding that the law yield to holy writ, a ceremony delirious with the impassioned squawking of celebrants denouncing the sins of democracy, proclaiming by Scripture their blessed commandment to pull our penitent citizenry back from the fires of hell.
Davis, you’ll remember, is the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky who, in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage, said her religious beliefs kept her from sanctioning such nuptials. In August, gay couples had applied for marriage licenses in her office; she refused them. A district judge ruled that she was required by law to issue the licenses. She continued to refuse, the judge held her in contempt and sent her to jail on September 3.
On September 8, Mrs. Davis was released, fulfilling her inquiet campaign for celebrity status as the Republican right’s Jean d’Arc, its disciple of defiance, of right over wrong, of church trumping state. There is only one authority, she warbled, “God’s authority.” Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, and Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, were the first of the Republican presidential candidates slithering to Kentucky to be photographed with her. After, that is, Rand Paul, the fringe senator from Kentucky.
Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio were among other Republican candidates for president, a constitutional office, hopping aboard the Davis Bible Bandwagon, bumping along a tattered trail of myths, halftruths and white lies proclaiming politics above the law. In their view, church and state are partners, but inequal, with religion throttling the law by a long shot; here anything goes, so long as it is by the blessing of a strongly held religious tenet, or belief.
THIS HAS happened before.
The tradition of summoning the church against the civil authority is as old as Christianity, as old as the church as a source of countervailing power and protection against all the alien, evil exercises in the secular. Thus it is, institutionally, the bulwark against abortion, or same-sex marriage, in spite of the U.S. Supreme Court. We summon the church against whatever it is that our politics deem un-Christian, even un- American; it remained for decades a bulwark against racial integration, the secular threat of what the descendants of slaves might do to middle-class Christianity. It is the bulwark, ultimately, against whatever one’s politics demand.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, once a moderate and now an opportunist, is currently courting the Christian far right. He continues to note that no court has decided “squarely” whether the Kansas constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage is valid. With the Bible his footing, along with fringe Republican majorities in the legislature, Schmidt sides with power, rather than the law.
WE HAVE forgotten why and how our nation, and our town, began.
The earliest Swedish immigrants, following the lead of Pilgrims a century before, fled a state in which the Church – not the people – ruled. Swedes wanted a place in which they, could worship as they saw fit. At the time, many Swedes were joining the Läsare Readers, a Lutheran revival movement whose people sought direct relationship with Christ without the intercession of priests. This revivalism – Pietism – had begun generations earlier in Sweden through the Läsare Movement, defying the National Church which had since 1727 criminalized any religious meeting held without a priest. This was religion in the extreme.
When God is mixed into government, conflict is certain because under holy writ God is perfect. The state is imperfect. To put politics on the level of divine perfection means thousands of people are bound to be clobbered, literally or otherwise.
God’s laws are eternal and unchanging, but man lives by change and so do his political structures. If we try to stop change, we bring repression of man, and a stagnation of society. God gives absolute truth, but in politics there is no absolute truth – not in democratic politics, at least, where we were once taught to respect the faith and opinions of others.
Accord in governing can’t be done with heavenly edicts. Divine peace can’t be ordered by brandishing a sword, and public good can’t be ordered through unyielding statutes.
Kim Davis has defied law, but our religious and political history remains iron-bound, the strongest testament yet for keeping religion out of politics. We can’t write into law the faith by which everyone in the world, or the state, must live.