A Thought on Kim Davis, Citizen

Someone on Quora asked me to answer this question: Is Kim Davis morally responsible for the marriage licenses that she certifies?

I answered in the following manner.

That is actually a quite involved question. The writers of the NT were writing to people who were largely powerless. Having a government position just wasn’t on the radar. The first people to start addressing it are later, and then the most comparable questions I would say would be: can a Christian be a soldier? There has always been a strain of Christianity that has said no to that question, although the large majority have said yes. Their reasoning was that the citizen had both a moral duty to the government and the moral duty to the law of God not to kill. These moral duties were in conflict in the vocation of a soldier who was often a conscript. The mainstream of Christian theology absolved – note that this is absolution or forgiveness, not just saying it is not wrong – they were absolved of killing because the greater moral weight would rest upon the commanders and leaders who put them in that position. They too could be absolved under the “just war” conditions. In both cases they were still morally accountable for the killing, but that accountability was not the grave sin it would normally have been due to other duties. This situation is what Luther would quip “sin boldly” about. Whatever we do, we are sinners, so admit that and trust in the greater amount of God’s mercy. That is the same Luther who at Worms in 1521, being told to recant or otherwise follow the law, said he could not because it was against his conscience.

Now to Kim Davis. If she was just a hired person, her moral responsibility I think would be akin to that basic soldier, but she is not a hired person. She holds office. She is elected, so she, however low on the totem pole, is more akin to the commanders. Being a mere clerk her accountability is not great, but it is not nothing. Nuremberg understood this very well. The clerk that affixed his name and handled all the paperwork for the gas chambers was held morally responsible. He could not just say I followed the law. Kim Davis’ request is a reasonable one for a clerk. She is not saying change the law on my account, she is just saying come up with a way that I as a simple clerk do not have my name or the office I run on this. As long as it is her name or her office that issues the certificates, she bears a moral responsibility for them. A higher authority that bears more responsibility has given her an order to do this, but it is still her office, so she is not without moral accountability.

The question then would become what do you do. The easiest way is what many people have said, resign. But the problem there is that the Christian faith has always held that we are placed into circumstances and drug before magistrates often not for our own desires but simply to witness to the truth. A Christian who simply resigned is understandable as Amos would write “the prudent keep silent at such a time, because the times are evil (Amos 5:13).” The Christian who resigns is practicing prudence over courage, both of which are virtues. They might not be the one with the calling to witness. But eventually, all virtues require courage. Someplace the courage to stand will be called for. That is the point of conscience. Like Luther being asked to recant and saying he could not, Kim Davis found that point in herself. Now the question is what do those who have more moral standing do. They can impeach her which would establish a religious test for that office. They can accept the moral responsibility of what they are telling her to do by changing whose name or office issues and making her office more akin to general soldier. They could join her in witness and tell those even higher up (i.e. justice Kennedy) that he has missed the truth. But in any case, Ms. Davis has stood. Right now, even if she was in jail, she might be the most free person in America. A true citizen and not just a subject.