Thanks, Tanks, and Transformation: An Open Letter to Kim Davis

Kim Davis

Dear Sister in Christ,

I want to write you this letter to express my sincerest and heart-felt thank you for what you are doing, but not for the reasons you might think. I am quite sure there are many opponents of Marriage Equality who are writing you letters supporting your willful insubordination to the duties of your office in the name of Christ. To many Christians you are taking a stand for “righteousness” and, even if you are jailed or forced to resign from your office because of your actions, you will be celebrated through this country as a martyr for Jesus Christ. No doubt you will be offered a book deal, be invited on news broadcasts, and go on a nationwide speaking tour. The name “Kim Davis” has already been associated with the “Tank Man,” the brave man who ironically and defiantly stood against government oppression by using his body to block the column of tanks rolling through Tiananmen Square in 1989. To many you are a freedom fighter, a veritable patriot opposing government tyranny. You have taken up your cross of righteousness and willingly bear it for truth.

Except that you are the government. You hold an elected position as clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. Upon taking your office, you took an oath to support federal and state constitutions and laws. You are not the “Tank Man,” Ms. Davis; you are the Tanks. You have not taken up your cross; you are the Roman legions nailing innocent LGBTQ people to the cross of your faith. The power you hold as clerk is power you willingly took to yourself when you ran for and were elected as county clerk. It is power that, if your conscience is truly stricken because of your deeply held religious beliefs, you can and should willingly lay aside.

So why am I, an openly gay Episcopal priest, thanking you, a brazenly heterosexist Christian? Because your actions have offered me a challenge to excel in love as the Gospels command us, and I love a good challenge. “Love your enemy,” Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel. “Pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” I willingly admit that it is quite easy to love people who agree with me, who hold my beliefs, who pray like I do, and who believe in the ever expansive and inclusive truth of God like me. It is harder for me to love people who take the Gospels of Jesus Christ and apply them recklessly and without love and, as a result, do spiritual and emotional damage to the very people we are called to love and serve.

I know all too well the debilitating pathology of myopic religion. You view the world in deeply divided absolutes. Right and wrong. Black and white. In and out. Righteous and wicked. Good and evil. Those are your beliefs. As with all religious beliefs, they work until they don’t. The problem with the way that you view the world is that you have effectively cut yourself off from relationship and community with many other people. If God is found “where two or three are gathered,” you have chosen to limit your options to encounter the holy. In your sharp demarcation of creation, you miss the God who swirls at twilight or moves at the margins. You miss God in poor man Lazarus outside the Beautiful Gate, or in the Samaritan Woman at the Well, or in the community of lepers outside the city.

And yet the Gospels compel me to create room for you even though you would not create for me. My invitation to the table obliges me to set a place for you, even though you’d let me starve at yours. I am compelled to take the high road of love, which makes me carry your name in prayer, not that God would change you, but that God would support you and nurture you in all goodness and love. I am compelled by this Gospel to which I am a prisoner in chains to tear down the boundaries of my heart and to welcome you in, even though I would be refused the same hospitality in yours. You would willingly dehumanize me. It is my meet, right, and bounden duty that I affirm your humanity. Like our Lord who willingly offered himself in love to those who could not or would not return it – I am duty-bound to do the same. Why? Because creation will know that we are Christians, not by the way we argue right versus wrong, but by the way we love one another. That’s my journey towards what Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun, calls the “unboundaried heart.”

Prayer is a practice we engage in, not so that we can change God or change other people, but so that we can change ourselves. Including you in my prayers is not so that God will change your heart, but so that God can change mine. The process of conversion implicit to the spiritual life is the process wherein God overthrows the temples of our hearts, removes all the idols and false gods that we have raised upon our small altars, and enthrones himself as Lord. Through that process we learn to see as God sees, not through eyes of division and darkness, but through eyes of love and welcome. Enlightenment, Ms. Davis, does not come through raising walls around our hearts, but by tearing them down and exposing them to the God who comes to us over and over, day after day, in unexpected ways.

Some will attack your appearance. Other will attack your past (though I do find it hard to rationalize your serial remarriages with your desire to uphold the sanctity of marriage… but that’s an aside). I will try to do neither, though I do ask for you patience as God ain’t through with me yet.

Instead I will pray for you. Not in the polite, passive-aggressive, “Bless her heart” Southern meaning of “pray for you,” but really pray for you. I will hold you in my words until I can hold you in heart because when there is space enough to hold you in my heart, that will be the evidence I need to know that God is real and that God is still in the business of conversion and transformation. My initial response to your actions have revealed a darkness in me, and my choice to pray for you is an invitation for the love of God to break this heart of stone.

Until then, I offer my wounded, broken, and fortressed heart on the altar of God’s love and pray that God will transfigure me with the light of Jesus Christ until I shine with his glory.

In the meantime, I pray “Gracious God… help me not be an ass.” Yep, that seems like a good place to start.

Your Brother in Christ,
Fr. Marcus Halley +

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98 thoughts on “Thanks, Tanks, and Transformation: An Open Letter to Kim Davis

  1. You may quote the bible all day long on both sides of the issue and never come to an agreement. The fire and brimstone statements on many of these comments is sanctimonious and judgemental at best. Often the comment of cafeteria Christians. Whether you believe in God or not I believe living by the Golden Rule is the best way to live your life. How would Mrs Davis have felt if the clerk who issued her multiple marriage licenses felt it was against his/her religious belief to issue a license to her.

  2. This isn’t about being a good Christian. This isn’t about what you believe will happen to you after you die, or how the bible instructs you to live your life. This is, above all, about someone who works for the government trying to control other people through the use of religious beliefs. Which – if I’m not mistaken – was one of the problems our founding fathers were trying to correct. Religious oppression is something we have tried to squelch, and people who do this kind of thing (if they get away with it) are bringing this oppression back to life. So please, either do your job or go become a minister in that church of yours. The two things, in this case, ARE mutually exclusive.

  3. Dear Marcus Halley,

    I find a disconnect between your comment, “my invitation to the table obliges me to set a place for you, even though you’d let me starve at yours,” and the action Kim Davis took of refusing to give out marriage licenses to gay couples. She has not in any way “willingly dehumanized” you or any other person. Her actions are the same as me refusing to condone the use of drugs or the drinking of alcohol by an addict. I love the person, but I cannot support his or her actions. Yet it is of an even greater scale because God Himself has defined marriage between a man and a woman.

    The word Jesus used for “sexual immorality,” porneia, refers to all remotely sexual acts outside of marriage between a man and a woman, even so much as looking at a woman lustfully. Therefore we can conclude that his condemnation of porneia extends to gay marriage as much as it does to adultery. However, did Jesus condemn the adulteress? No! He was the only one who refused to condemn her, even though He was the only one with the right to condemn her in the first place. He told the crowd, “He that is without sin among you, cast the first stone.” Afterwards Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The key was not that Jesus accepted her adultery, but that he forgave it and told her to repent from it. THAT is the way in which God loves us, not a blanket acceptance of everything we do; and THAT is the way He commands us to love our neighbors. I forgive you because I love you, but that does not mean I accept everything you do. In His love for is, He declares that there are some things we are to give up because we are better off without them. Yet we are so often deceived to believe that that which is a burden and a harm to us is actually good. Do not be fooled!

    As for the law of the land, no law has been passed that allows gay marriage. The Supreme Court, according to the constitution, has no power to make any law. The Court ruled that gay marriage is constitutional according to a misrepresentation of the fourteenth amendment, but before anyone can be told that they must allow gay marriage, a law must be passed by the legislature declaring them to do so. It is unlawful as it stands for Kim Davis to be jailed for her stance, because there is no law yet that condemns her actions. If such a law is passed, then it would be better for her to resign, but I believe she was right in this particular instance because she was standing not only against gay marriage but against the lawlessness of the government who has (as they have done other times in recent history) chosen to ignore the constitution where it seems convenient to them. Kim Davis was the only official in this whole affair who remained faithful to the constitution, let alone to God.

    Anyway, I will pray for you, as I do for myself, that you may find the light you seek as you appeal to God that you may be transformed into Christ’s image. Remember that though our opinions and ideas and interpretations change, He does not. Though the world will pass away along with its desires, His Word remains forever.

    Your loving brother,
    Christopher Pride

    1. From my hermeneutic lens, you’re wrong.

      But that’s not the point of the letter. The point of the letter is about loving our neighbor, not lording our religion over them.

      Peace to you, +

    2. Kim Davis ignores the constitution when she asserts that freedom of religion also includes the establishment of a particular religious belief, which is what she has done in this case. If you look at the MANY MANY other instances where Supreme Court decisions had the weight of law without a specific statute passed (normally these involve the nullifying of inconstitutional laws used to exclude or discriminate unduly against a particular race or population) you might not be so quick to attempt your erroneous argument. I get it, it took the National Guard to integrate Little Rock Central High School, but it still happened without state legislative action once Jim Crow was finally struck down.

      As far as scripture goes…we don’t really have as clear a basis as it would seem to go on. The idea of gay relationships that are monogamous isn’t well documented although it appears that some same sex unions were blessed by the church. The reason that most same sex relations wrre lumped into sexual immorality was because the most common manifestations of same sex “relationships” actually were also adulterous, where married men sought out same sex sexual partnersboutside their marriage bed. This was common in Greek society in particular, which in reality didn’t see marriage as having particular value outside of procreation and lineage. This was clearly a point of contention and a part of the culture clash in this region. But it wasn’t the same as today. However, what is real is that we are to embody patience and love as best we can, and we do better serving our neighbor than standing up in what amounts to self-righteous indignation. Talk about needing repentance…there seems to be a need for Ms. Davis to also reflect on what it means not to wear your faith so that she might boast as she shows disdain for others and willingly lifts a stone and points out the speck of sawdust while her own log was thankfully cast out when she found a faith community willing to accept her despite her myriad transgressions. She foundbamazing grace and love but she, like the wicked servant seems to returnnkindness and grace not with kindness and grace but with judgment and fury. I think we need to tread carefully in these matters.

  4. The content of the above letter provides a copious supply of the Pharisaical ABC’s: Apostasy, Boasting, and Calumny. The second greatest commandment is not in opposition to the first; and the entirety of God’s law hangs on both. Christ clarifies the first as being fulfilled through keeping His commands. The Apostle Paul then puts this in practical context, saying that in doing what he does not want to do, he agrees that the law is good. It should therefore become quite apparent how misguided and serious a charge it is to accuse this woman of hatred for loving God to the extent of putting her freedom, and her livelihood on the line in an attempt to keep His command. I don’t know whether Ms. Davis is breaking the law in God’s eyes or not, particularly in this era of rampant lawlessness that extends all the way to the top. Rebellion, especially for a “good reason”, is a Western custom. Nevertheless, I remain confident that she would willingly acknowledge any appropriate conviction and correction; albeit not through the humiliating and self-absorbed writings of one who claims to be her brother, and who elevates an aberrant form of human sexuality (which passes away with this world) into some spiritual metric equal with the Gospel itself in dividing those who love the light from those who do not.

    1. It doesn’t matter whether she’s “breaking the law in God’s eyes or not” because if she can’t put her government’s oath above her religion, she shouldn’t be working for the government.

      1. The matter of marriage is a difficult one. In this age when it is being so bantered about perhaps we should see what Jesus said about it when he was tested on it. Tough words for all, but this is how Jesus believed. In the end he said not everyone can accept this word on marriage; the remaining option is to live as a eunich (enouchos) [alone in bed]. Matthew 19:3-12

        3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

        4“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’a 5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’b ? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

        7“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

        8Jesus said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

        10The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

        11Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it”

    2. Dear Nathan,
      I’m sorry that you feel that my call for Christian love is apostasy. I tried to draw commonalities between factions of Christianity that are too often at war with one another, and in the process many searching souls are losing heart and hope in Christian faith. I can only hope that in the end, the love of Christ, which purifies my heart and yours, will prevail. Peace be with you. +

      1. There is no need to be sorry, Marcus, because it really wasn’t much of a stretch from what you already wrote – more like taking the other side of the coin. It would have been one thing to say Kim Davis made a mistake, but the above writing digs far deeper and questions not only her faith, but the entire concept of obedience to God, even to the point of opposition. Please tell me what you think about this explanation:

        For the benefit of mankind, God identified Himself with a particular nation on a specific tract of land in the Middle East. God also set the times and boundaries of every other nation on Earth (Acts). Scripture describes all dominion, authority, and power on Earth as beginning and ending by divine command (Daniel and I Corinthians respectively).

        Among these nations was born the West, where individual and intellectual liberties emerged, thus permitting all things to be examined and interpreted in new and abstract ways. Rather than continuing to seek the face of a sovereign God, many in the West began trying to look up His robe instead — only to be disappointed because faith is not found in this way. The formal strictures of the enlightenment brought the Western world as close as it ever came to acting lawfully on its own, yet succumbed as all worldly things do, to the fallen nature of mankind. Over the course of time, postmodernism came to supplant reason with desire, and the mechanics of logic gave way to impressions and perspectives.

        Through this ever-shifting lens, divine authority and decree have come to seem like dark and brooding concepts – the precise opposite of how they were described by the psalmist David, who delighted in the law of God. In the same way, people have come to “seem” mean-spirited simply because they acknowledge the law; as fulfilled in Christ, yes, but also as entirely good from first to last.

        And therein lies the rub: If we do not doubt the reality of our own existence and say God is our creator, how is it that we can say Christ is Lord and King, yet not acknowledge sovereign authority? Although our disobedient nature inhibits us from saying “yes” and “no” (to God) appropriately, what (and that) we call “good” and “bad”, or “of God” and “not of God” reflects our faith and spiritual allegiance. Again, the law and prophets are entirely summed up by the two great commandments, which are like one another and cannot be split. Love for God is obedience, and if a Westerner finds this distasteful then they are going to have a problem with Jesus who said “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”

        As for the article, not many words or images are spared in describing Ms. Davis’s faith as brazen, heterosexist, myopic, a debilitating pathology, reckless, without love, and of all things as mimicking the perpetrators of the crucifixion. Ironically, Ms. Davis’s beliefs of “Right and Wrong”, “Righteous and Wicked”, and “Good and Evil” are presented above as being some sort of problem, yet are themselves subjected to the same kind of examination after all — in order to form the central premise of the article.

        Clearly, the consequence, if not the intent of this writing was to maximally distinguish your faith from that of Ms. Davis; to which I say “Amen”.

        Proverbs 14:12 speaks perfectly to the matter in saying “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

  5. There is nothing in the Constitution stating anything about god, and there’s nothing in the bible stating whether gay/bi/trans/whatever, is looked down upon an dont have the right to marry. What happened to the NO CHURCH AN STATE. Church has no right to interfere with a government law. Davis was in the wrong an should be thrown back in jail and impeached of her position. She IS the government an shes letting her personal feelings against LGBT community get in the way of her jobs duties. She’s made that abundantly clear, Kentucky state needs to kick her where it hurts an throw her under the jail. The LGBT community are people that were born with the same rights as those that are straight, that INCLUDES the right to MARRY. People like Kim Davis are basically saying that LGBT’s aren’t people, that’s the same as saying the sky isn’t blue, or a German Sheppard isnt really a dog. Stop treating the LGBT people like a curable disease because if push comes to shove I have a feeling it’s just going to cause another civil war an its going to be because of the religious bigots like Kim Davis that start it. We as LGBT community are who we are, it’s about time the world, an the rest of the community accepts us.

  6. I am a poor Bible student as far as memorizing chapter and verse but I know the Bible says something about obeying the laws under which you live and recognizing the true and lawful authority of government. You submit to the civil authorities.

  7. Hi again, I lead a ACIM (Course in Miracles ) daily text call… and Rev Reja Joy read your letter …. as an open prayer. I thought you might enjoy hearing your words through her voice…( to me, she sounds like the Holy Spirit) Enjoy and… Infinite Blessings right back at you! Here’s the call:

    Dial 712-775-7039 one digit different from the regular number and same code #974635
    4 Rewind 5 Pause/Resume *6 Fast Forward to about 10:05 to hear it.

    or here:
    Thurs 9/10 ACIM OE Text Conference Call CH 23 III, IV 32-46: https://www.freeconferencecallhd.com/playback_breda.html?n=vONh/dXDzh

    I will get you an mp3… as it truly is a keeper 🙂

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