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.