As you know by now, Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis was released from the Carter County Detention Center on Tuesday following a six-day imprisonment. Citing a religious objection, the recent Christian convert had declined to issue same-sex marriage licenses – despite a federal judge ordering her to do so.
Her freedom, of course, is very good news. But the bigger concerns surrounding this case are far from resolved, and it serves as a warning to the 244 million people (according to Gallup) in the United States who believe the Bible is God’s Word for humanity.
It’s easy to get buried in the details of this evolving story, but here is the bottom line:
In the last week, an American citizen was imprisoned because she attempted to exercise her freedom of conscience. Think about it, a woman wound up in jail because of her deeply held Christian beliefs. That’s startling. Our first freedom as Americans, Christians and non-Christians alike, is the right of conscience, which includes religious liberty. Our nation has always protected religious freedom.
It’s this tradition that separates the United States from so many other nations. And it’s also this rich tradition that now hangs precariously in the balance.
The Christian community’s response has been varied. Some applauded her resistance; others wondered why she didn’t just resign. Kim Davis’ strategy of engagement may not be yours, but the deeper theme of freedom is what is at stake. As our friend and former Focus Board member Dr. Al Mohler wisely points out, “There is no automatically right answer to these questions. Each can be rooted in Christian moral argument, and any one of these options might be argued as right under the circumstances.”
We’ve arrived at an historic moment in this nation’s history. Now, more than ever before, Christians across America are having to decide how to follow their conscience at a time when the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution increasingly conflicts with Holy Scripture. Kim Davis in Kentucky decided that her Christian convictions outweighed the burden of a court order. But how will you decide?
Great writers from Augustine to Chuck Colson have eloquently wrestled with the reality that as Christian believers, we’re citizens of two worlds, the secular and the heavenly. So, what do we do when those worlds conflict? Many believers in Jesus Christ are now having to face related decisions within their sphere of family and friends, including whether to attend relatives’ same-sex “weddings.”
It begs the question: Might a pastor’s freedom to preach the totality of the Scriptures be in jeopardy someday here in the United States?
The clash in Kentucky is just the tip of the iceberg. If you think I’m overstating things, just consider the fact that many of our brothers and sisters in public service are facing the same predicament regarding a conflict between their faith and their professional roles:
A judge in Oregon.
A Texas clerk.
An estimated 10 to 15 Alabama judges.
And 30 North Carolina magistrates.
In addition, one other Kentucky county clerk has cited religious objections and declined to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
All of these individuals are having to ask themselves what matters more – their careers or their faith. Should anyone in America be forced to make this decision?
We’ve also seen how many Christian merchants – bakers, photographers, and florists among others – have been financially threatened, hurt or destroyed because they refuse to compromise their faith. And remember, these cases were not about turning down a homosexual customer, these merchants served them. The problem surfaced when the customers asked them to participate in their “marriage” ceremonies. That is the line that is crossed for many people of faith.
The Way Forward?
I was recently talking about these exact challenges with a friend of mine who is a pastor in the most multicultural city in the world. He made the interesting observation that in his city, a Hindu couple would never request a Muslim caterer to supply food for their wedding, and vice versa. He stressed this wasn’t due to prejudice but rather out of deep respect for the other’s traditions. From his perspective and mine, this is a positive way to peacefully coexist in a pluralistic society. Sadly, so many of the clashes we’ve seen could have been avoided if the same spirit existed between those of different faiths or ideology. Instead, there has developed a “gotcha” mentality that isn’t healthy on many levels, not the least being the protection of our religious freedoms.
I’ve been regularly reminded about the true cost of discipleship having served in Focus’ international outreach through the years. In some parts of the world, declaring one’s Christian faith is tantamount to signing a personal death warrant. Around the globe, the price of following Jesus is steep. But then again, the Bible is replete with examples of believers encountering persecution for their faith. From Jesus’ teaching that “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11) to the martyrdom of the apostles and many members of the early Church, there are consequences to our Christianity. Yet, it’s well worth the price, as the Apostle Paul so eloquently reminds us:
“What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:8).
Most American Christians are familiar with faith-based persecution only in theory. However, now that many of the cultural elites no longer applaud (or even accept) Christian teaching, all of us have to carefully consider these verses. In fact, many within the American culture have a very real disdain for convictional Christianity.
Are we ready to take Jesus at His word? Are we ready to accept the consequences of our faith and act accordingly?
In order to answer these types of questions, we must consider weighty issues:
Do we fully appreciate the consequences of our Christianity? Are we willing to sacrifice security and reputation for our faith? Are we willing to adhere to our convictions without malice toward a world that does not know Him?
These questions are especially important to Christian parents, whose job is growing increasingly more challenging. After all, the world doesn’t hate us because we’re “nice” (Matthew 10:22). It hates us because we’re a peculiar people whose primary allegiance is to follow Jesus. We need to help our children understand that. Writer Trevin Wax puts it this way:
“We want our kids to get used to being different.
“We want our kids to have a strong sense of identity in Christ, to know who they are and whose they are.
“We want our kids to be okay when they are in step with the kingdom and out of step with the world.
“We want our kids to model the characteristics of the beatitudes, to be salt and light, people who breathe out forgiveness and grace to everyone around them…
“Why do we do some things and say no to others?
“‘Because we follow Christ not the world, kids.’”
Indeed, more than male or female, black or white, rich or poor, we are Christ-followers. It’s my hope that our identity in Christ will bind us together and give us the unity Jesus asked the Father for. It’s my prayer that God will give us the grace to “live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received”(Ephesians 4:1). Think of what God can do through a bold and loving people in the midst of these challenging times.
Are you ready?
I welcome your thoughts.