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.

When the simple things fall through the cracks…

Full Article

Picture from the article…

In Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, state budget cuts have allowed the medical examiner’s office to bury only half the number of bodies that need to be buried each year, according to Albert Samuels, chief investigator for the office. Mr. Samuels said he has about 185 bodies in storage.

Once Mr. Samuels uses up his annual budget of $30,000, he has to stop burials. “Bodies are still coming in,” he said. “I get into a hole after a while.”

So Mr. Samuels struck a contract with a local crematorium allowing him to cremate an additional 50 bodies last year. The cremations cost $170 each, compared with $750 for a burial.

Meanwhile, he is working to submit the paperwork to the state for five corpses that have been in his morgue since 2008.

The article has several other cities mentioned. What does it say about society when the dead don’t get buried? What is the value of life, or the recognition of what being a human is, when the remains are treated in that manner? What is the old line about how you treat those who can’t stand up? Same week as this story at the other end of life about late term abortionist Kermit Gosnell (Grand Jury Report, Newspaper, Slate – William Saletan)?

Look, I’ve never been particularly romantic, but both of these stories about helpless folks are about how society encourages, condones, enables and turns a blind eye. That seems to be a change.

Even if society didn’t find value in a specific person in life, it usually found value in them as a human being – a carrier of the image of God. And that image would be respected. Can we really say that about our society today? Even Jefferson would write that famous phrase, “all men are created equal, endowed by their creator…” The equality there is not something that comes from ourselves, but outside ourselves; the image of God broken as it may be. When a society decides this is the way to treat the dead and the yet unborn, can we really believe those words; or do our actions tell more about us?

Tiger, Tiger burning bright…the audacity of evangelism

There are actually two background stories to this post. The original story is the Tiger Woods saga. No expansion necessary I presume. The secondary story is Brit Hume, the Fox News Analyst and former anchor. Mr. Hume had audacity to publicly practice Christian evangelism. Here is a great round-up of that background from getreligion.org, a blog dedicated to looking at the coverage of religion in the press.

The net is that Mr. Hume on live television gave the advice to Tiger Woods to look into Christianity because it is a religion of forgiveness, it is a religion of sinners. Mr. Woods is thought to be Buddhist, which Mr. Hume correctly noted does not have a concept of personal sin nor of personal redemption.

The central teaching of Buddhism is “you suffer because you desire.” The central prescription of Buddhism is “purge yourself of all desire so that you won’t suffer.” It is fascinating that in Tiger’s case this is true. (No “great religion” would be that if it wasn’t a true description of a large part of the human experience.) Tiger desired many different women (all of them apparently who look like Barbie). Tiger also desired a pretty wife, kids and family core. Tiger’s desires led to his suffering. But here is the rub. To avoid suffering, the Buddhist teaching is not just to avoid letting your lust run but also to let go of the desire for the nice stable family life. It is your desire that causes suffering. There is no judgment made on the goodness or badness of the desire.

The Christian teaching is not that desire in itself is bad. The Christian teaching is that mis-ordered desire acted upon, otherwise know as sin, is what leads to suffering and eventually death. God created the cosmos to function in certain ways. Roman Catholics would call that natural law. In the Lutheran tradition is is all part of the Kingdom of the Left which is governed by the law. It is when we make choices that operate outside of that law that we sin and bear the punishment for that sin. The orthodox christian teaching goes further than that. It says that our desires after the first sin known as the fall are by their very nature mis-ordered. Natural man, if not constrained by some other force, would every time choose to exercise his desire contrary to God’s law. Without the grace of God we could not choose correct desires or restrain bad desires.

That horrible condition known as original sin is man’s predicament. As St. Paul would cry out, who will rescue me from this body of death. (Romans 7:24) Under no obligation to do anything, it was man who chose to sin, God chose grace. And that grace was something very specific. It came through a specific people – the Children of Abraham, the Jews. It comes in a form that our natural man would despise – a powerless peasant tortured and killed. God out of His grace sent His son Jesus who atoned, made restitution, payed in full our sin. He experienced in full all of our due suffering. And he did that while never making a choice that went against the desires of God. Jesus suffered without a mis-ordered desire. And the Father would not let that be the final judgment and raised him from the dead and placed him on the throne.

Buddhism, if all you know is the law, is attractive. Under the law, the best you can do is minimize suffering. One break with the law and you bear its full penalty. But the law is only half the story. The law is only a teacher. It points us toward the one who by grace has restored us. It points us to the one who desired a people and actively came to call one out of the wreckage.

Christians, that people called by God, are sinners who have been made saints by the grace of God. Brit Hume was right in what he said. If Tiger wants to have hope of something beyond the suffering produced from his desire, He needs the gospel. Natural man doesn’t desire grace. He wants to save himself, even is all he can do is avoid more suffering. God through his Word and Spirit offers grace and forgiveness. And only in that Spirit can we be saved from this body of suffering and death.