As I write this column, America has a figurative martyr in the making. She is Kim Davis, a Rowan County, Ky,. clerk of court who went to jail for five days rather than issue a marriage license to a couple of gay men.
Because of her defiance of the law, Ms. Davis leapt from comparative obscurity to becoming a national, if not international, news item, a footnote in the social history of our time.
Ms. Davis contends that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates her religious conscience. She could have avoided jail time by merely resigning from her post or heeding a judge’s order to issue the license.
In the end, Ms. Davis carried the day. She is back on her $80,000 a year job and she still doesn’t have to issue marriage licenses to gays. She just delegates that personally distasteful task to her subordinates.
While Ms. Davis is entitled to her personal convictions, she is not performing her full duties and, consequently, she should resign as chief clerk.
As is usually the case in such circumstances, it’s difficult to discern between Christian conscience and non-Christian prejudice.
To what extremes can our personal prejudices take us? Say an official might decide to deny a license to a blue-eyed person seeking to marry a brown-eyed person. So, is the couple to go about the land seeking a clerk of court who doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about the color of eyes?
Religion can lead us down confusing, conflicting and sometimes even amusing paths.
One summer, I was headed down the mountain above Mt. Airy with a car load of apples and female relatives when a tire went flat.
I pulled into a service station. The women went into the air-conditioned station to escape the intense August heat. All but Cecile.
She kept hanging around as the mechanic changed the tire, ignoring my repeated suggestions that she go inside.
Finally, in exasperation, she snapped, “I’m not going inside. They sell lottery tickets in there, and I sure don’t want the Lord to come and find me hanging out in a gambling den!”
“Listen,” I responded, “don’t you think that if the Lord should come now and catch you in there, he’d know you were there to keep cool, not to place a bet?” My reasoning fell on deaf ears.
When my family learned more than 57 years ago that I, a lifelong Baptist, planned to marry “outside the faith,” some of my kin were concerned. That was before they met and were charmed by my intended.
To my folks, the problem was that she, a Methodist, had been baptized by being “sprinkled,” rather than “put under” or immersed. After all, they reasoned, Jesus was totally immersed when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.
A favorite childhood pastime was going with my buddies down to Snow Creek near our home to watch the baptizing that culminated the summer “revivals” at nearby churches.
From our hiding place, we frequently witnessed the mini-drama in which the minister struggled with lowering overweight women under the water and bringing them back up coughing, sputtering and frantically clinging to the preacher as he carefully escorted them back to the creek bank.
In retrospect, I think “sprinkling” a few drops of holy water on a convert’s head may be the safer and more practical way to commemorate someone’s affirmation of salvation.
Several of my relatives visited the River Jordan. Some were actually re-baptized in it. A couple of them presented me with small vials of water from the Jordan.
I once asked the late Rev. W.W. Finlator, Raleigh’s iconic minister at Pullen Baptist Church, what I should do with my River Jordan water.
“First, put a pan of water on the stove,” he said. “Add the Jordan water and then boil hell out of it. The River Jordan is one of the world’s dirtiest rivers.”
Sorry, I digressed to illustrate the diversity of religions, diversity that in the extreme sometimes boggles the mind.
For example, I read recently that deeply devout ISIS soldiers pray before and after they rape the young women whom they have kidnapped.
So, Ms. Davis, free to return to her job while assistants issue licenses to same-sex couples, has told the law and the courts to go chase themselves. Her Christian conscience supersedes even the authority of the Supreme Court.
Had African-Americans or other minority couples been denied a marriage license there could have been marching in the streets. The time for equal rights for gays and lesbians has not yet come. It will.