The reports are true. The Left’s favorite pope met with the Left’s most-hated county clerk. The world’s most powerful and influential religious leader met with Rowan County clerk Kim Davis, reportedly thanking her for her courage and telling her to “stay strong.” In so doing he rebuked two narratives that have sadly taken hold amongst many orthodox Christians. First, that Kim Davis was fundamentally out of line when she defied a lawless judiciary and refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. And second, that Davis herself — a rural Kentuckian with a checkered past — is the wrong messenger at the wrong time.
It’s been quite remarkable to see so many even on the right tell Davis to resign or comply with the utterly fabricated, extra-constitutional dictates of the Supreme Court. Yet does anyone actually believe that “resign or comply” is a public servant’s only option in the face of lawless behavior from a higher authority? Or did too many on the right reflexively adopt the Left’s talking points — the same Left that is only too eager to see Christians either salute and follow orders or get out of the path of the sexual revolution? Are there not circumstances where the “lesser magistrate” should instead choose to resist the lawless acts of his superiors?
Protestant Christian tradition certainly says yes. Catholic tradition certainly says yes. American tradition says yes. Just ask the public officials who ignored the Supreme Court’s odious Dred Scott decision. Resign or comply with Japanese internment? Resign or comply with abortion-on-demand? Even in the marriage debate itself, the Left celebrated numerous public officials who disregarded their legal duties and resisted what they believed to be lawless bans on same-sex marriage.
Since “resign or comply” is unsustainable as an absolutist moral framework, the more meaningful debate is whether the principles at stake in Davis’s case are important enough to resist to the point of civil disobedience. Let’s have that argument instead of simply declaring, “Do your job.” But if protesting judicial supremacy and defending rights of conscience aren’t worth a small act of defiance that didn’t actually deprive a single American of a marriage license, then we hold those values cheaply indeed. Pope Francis, however, has sent a powerful message — religious freedom is worth going to prison to defend.
#share#Further, by meeting with Davis, the pope implicitly rejects the argument that she is the wrong woman for this fight. As a pastor, the pope understands redemption, and he knows that our past sins can’t and shouldn’t cripple our present moral resolve. Christian history is full of examples of men and women who were lost in their own sin and depravity yet emerged — by the grace of God — to offer a powerful witness. Just ask the Apostle Paul. He was an accessory to murder. Just ask Augustine, whose Confessions is littered with examples of his own egregious sins.
#related#All too many Christians immediately find fault with their brothers and sisters who are caught up in the culture wars. For 21 years I’ve litigated to protect religious liberty. I’ve heard Christians offer excuse after excuse to justify remaining on the sidelines, and most of those excuses have revolved around the real or imagined faults of my clients. There is never a perfect client. There is never a perfect case. And in those rare cases where clients seemed close to perfect, conservative critics have often attacked them using false information supplied by the Left. In Christian conservatism, the circular firing squad is alive and well, and it’s remarkable how often the criticism serves the interests of the critics — keeping them outside the Left’s crosshairs.
After the pope’s meeting with Davis, it’s time to move past this immediate dispute — past “resign, comply, or resist” — and to the solution that makes the most sense: accommodate. It is a simple matter to fashion state and federal laws that respect religious freedom without depriving any American of a marriage or any other meaningful legally protected interest. Perhaps that will be the true legacy of the pope’s meeting. In a few short minutes, he sent a powerful message. Kim Davis is not an extremist. Her requests are not unreasonable. And rights of conscience are vital enough to go to jail to protect.