On Christian Triumphalism and Kim Davis

Above, drawing of the Crusades, beginning in1095, in which the church fought to regain the Holy Land back from Islam

I realize that most every Christian blogger in the internet universe has written something on Kim Davis (Kim is a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples based on her Christian morals — story)

I just had a few thoughts that I wanted share (or air out) on this whole situation, because, while I believe that homosexuality and gay marriage does not reflect the teachings and morality of Christianity, I feel that this entire controversy has brought out some wrong-headed stuff within Christian circles: namely, Christian triumphalism.

What I mean is that there is this thought within western, American Christianity, that America is a Christian nation. Or that it should be. Or that it will ever be.

The reality is that America is not Christian (debate still broils over whether it has ever been Christian). America is a pluralistic country. It houses all sorts of religions, worldviews, peoples, ethnicities, etc. To pretend that America is Christian is to miss the reality of America as a pluralistic society; that it gives rights to each and every perspective. That it desires to house each perspective in a peaceful manner.

While many hail Kim Davis as a martyr, the reality is that she is not. No one is forcing her to reject Christianity, or to deny Christ, or to stop worshipping him. She is an employee of the government, who was asked to give marriage licenses to gay couples.

And while I agree that she should not have licensed their marriages (different conversation), I seriously disagree with the way she handled the whole situation. Why? Because the action she took in response to the new marriage law was to shut down her office, deny marriage licenses to everyone (not just gay couples), and do it on the basis of obedience to God. 

Placed in this perspective, Kim Davis was not the persecuted, but the persecutor. She not only refused to give out licenses, but she leveraged her governmental position to enforce Christian standards of morality on un-Christian gay couples. To me, that is a power grab if there ever was one.

Now you may say: “Well, she wasn’t meaning to leverage her position to enforce Christian morals — she was trying to obey God rather than man! What else was she supposed to do?”

I simply ask: Why didn’t she just resign? Or, why didn’t she seek help from the courts to allow for gay couples to receive licenses without her involvement? Why did she shut down business? 

The only answer I can surmise is Christian triumphalism. The idea that America should be Christianized. The idea that Christianity was never meant to be a small, persecuted, misunderstood body of Jesus worshippers, but an institutionalized religion which everyone must follow. To me, it’s a new kind of crusade: let’s take America back again!

Under this vision, persecution mutates from “deny Christ!” (which, by the way, really happened during the early church, and does today in the east) to “you can’t just deny gay couples marriage licenses!” That is not persecution. That is simply a loss of privilege. The reality is that gay couples now have the right to marry, just like Christians have the right to worship Christ. No matter how much we may disagree with this ethic (and I do think homosexuality is sin), we will not win the culture wars by shutting down county clerk offices.

Whether America was at one time “mostly Christian”, is to me, irrelevant. Is a Christianized America the vision of the New Testament? Are we crusaders fighting to get back “our country”?

I really don’t think so: Jesus never promised a Christian country. He promised a kingdom, over which he alone was King. And it was a kingdom in which he envisioned his people would be a minority among the kingdoms of this world until his return. He envisioned a kingdom in which his people would be destined to suffer with their broken Messiah.

Even beyond this, I simply do not understand when persecution has become something that is unexpected, unwelcomed. Tertullian once said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. Paul said that we are heirs with Christ “if we suffer with him” (Rom 8:16). The early church was persecuted heavily at the beginning of her conception. Christians burned at the stake, used as lanterns in Rome.

Why do we feel exempt? Why don’t we believe the blessing from our Lord?: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Mt 5:11). Blessing comes upside down within the kingdom of Christ!

My estimation is that we should stop feeling so persecuted at this Kim Davis deal, stop trying to be a Christian nation, and start being the kingdom of Christ.

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15 thoughts on “On Christian Triumphalism and Kim Davis

  1. I think an argument can be made that she is being persecuted if the choice she is given is “violate your conscience or lose your livelihood.” It’s not quite as bad as “violate your conscience or lose your life,” but it’s still bad.

    That being said, I agree that she should not have shut down the whole office. I think she was honestly trying to obey her conscience and make the point publicly that Christians should not have to choose between their consciences and their jobs. But to refuse to issue licenses entirely was not her call to make. And besides, if she’s not doing what she’s paid to do, then how is she earning her paycheck? So I think you’re right, the thing to do would have been to work within the system to find a way of getting the work done without violating her conscience. Maybe they could have transferred her to another position.

    It does seem to me that you switch positions in mid-argument: First you argue that she wasn’t undergoing persecution, then you argue that we should expect persecution. That may be true, but I’m not sure why it’s relevant if you contend that it’s not happening.

    In any case, although it’s true that we should expect to be persecuted and slandered on Christ’s account, nevertheless persecution is an evil. The Apostles themselves fled to avoid persecution, as when Paul was lowered in a basket (Acts 9:25; see also Mt. 10:23). There is nothing wrong with trying to avoid persecution, taking action to prevent it, calling it out when it happens, and so forth. We’re called to try to endure persecution when it happens, rather than renounce our faith, but it’s better to avoid being put in a position in which we have no choice but to renounce or suffer, if at all possible. No one has the right to put us in that position, and we have every right to avoid being put in that position.

    • I’m fine with your fine arguing that she should not have to lose her job. I would however say that I know of a few from my home state in AR who went ahead and reigned and didn’t make a whole thing out of it.

      I wasn’t changing my argument toward the end. I was shifting the focus to combat the idea that we shouldn’t be persecuted. Or that it’s this really surprising deal when Christians are. My whole point there was to highlight that Christians have been persecuted for years, and we get a little bit of hostility and cry uncle. And argue for rights. I think it does harm to the biblical witness when we do that. And also to the saints who have come before

  2. I think the norm in the early church was to flee persecution when possible.

    Their situation was also quite different from ours in a modern democracy. They were under a ruler who was basically a monarch or a dictator, more analogous to the Jews under Hitler than Christians under Obama. If outright persecution comes for modern American Christians, it most likely won’t be a sudden stroke, where all we can do is flee. It would have to be the result of a gradual change in public attitudes, and likely would not involve summary executions or torture.

    Most likely, barring the overthrow of our system of government, persecution in a modern democracy is something that we will see coming, and will have a chance to act against before it arrives. And the way you act against things in a modern democracy is by trying to sway public opinion. And the way you would try to sway public opinion is by calling attention to the early warning signs that persecution may be on its way.

    Therefore I don’t think it’s wrong for Christians to call attention to those early warning signs, if that’s how they perceive them. This doesn’t mean they are unwilling to suffer persecution. If their efforts to forestall it fail, they may still be willing to endure suffering and death rather than abjure their faith. But why not try to avoid being put in that predicament in the first place?

  3. I get your point. It’s valid…..However, my stomach turned when Kim Davis was let out of jail: They played Eye of the Tiger, Mike Huckabee held up her hands. “We have overcome” type mentality. My point in the latter part of the post was to highlight how spoiled Christians can be. Persecution has been a norm and will be…hope that makes sense. I am fine with balancing it with your points

  4. I also meant to say that there’s no reason that I know of to think that the ancient Christians would not have tried to forestall persecution in a modern democracy, if they had that option. We can’t necessarily take their behavior in their circumstances as an exact pattern for how we should act in ours, because their situation was far different.

  5. I agree that the Davis thing was not a pretty sight. Frankly I think that she’s a bit simpleminded and doesn’t seem to grasp the idea that other people in a pluralistic society have points of view which they consider just as valid as you consider yours, and that the whole point of a pluralistic society is to try to make room for all of them.

    But at the same time, I think people fail to realize the extent to which the whole notion of a pluralistic society relies on Christian principles. The more we toss those principles aside, the harder it’s going to be to remain truly pluralistic — which really boils down to being tolerant. And you can’t be tolerant unless you first recognize that some ideas are right and some are wrong, at which point you can decide to tolerate the wrong ones — which seems to be something we are getting worse at instead of better.

    But that’s another topic …

    • It is another topic. I dont disagree that the idea that each individual deserves respect and rights regardless of religion is inherently Christian! Dont you find it ironic though, that the more conservative politicians are the more close-minded to this? This has been my experience. That conservative (politically) Christians are more concerned for their own rights than the rights of others! This is inherently not Christian in my view. But this brings me back to my thought that Christian triumphalism, rather than care for the rights of others, takes up the concern of many western Christians.

      • I’m not sure if I agree with you or not. Are you talking about Christian politicians being more concerned about the rights of Christians than the rights of homosexuals, for example?

  6. As a general principle we should support the legitimate rights of all citizens, and if that’s all you’re saying, I’m with you. But perhaps the key word is “legitimate”. Not all claimed rights are legitimate rights.

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