The Carnival in Kentucky
As one of my friends likes to say, You can’t make this stuff up!
The political carnival surrounding of Kim Davis’ release from custody in Morehead, Kentucky, could have been a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, complete with her husband in overalls and a straw hat straight from the “Hee Haw” costume rack.
Now, the circus has temporarily closed its tent with Davis permitting her deputies to issue marriage licenses without her name on them but questioning that they are valid. The politicians and preachers supporting her have framed her actions as the conflict between her conscience and her job; between the authority of God and the authority of the law as interpreted by through the legal process, all the way to the Supreme Court.
Taking this media sideshow seriously, I remembered a powerful conversation in “A Man for All Seasons.”
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
More get’s it right. The same laws and legal process that prohibits Davis, in her role as a government official, from contradicting the ruling of the Supreme Court are the same laws that protect her (and my) religious freedom. This is not about religious persecution. It is about respecting the Constitution. The Presidential candidates who are using this case to pour gasoline on the fires of bigotry and fear know better.
Honoring the “Hedge” of Separation
Whenever faithful people have tried to tear down the laws in order to defeat the devil, things have turned out badly. The Puritan founders of New England tried it. For John Winthrop, who gave us the image of the “city on the hill,” civil and religious authority were “two twines” that could not be separated. The Pilgrims who came to New England were convinced that they were called by God to establish the New Jerusalem, a distinctively Christian community in which civil authority would fulfill God’s will.
Enter Roger Williams who, because of his profound commitment to the integrity of the faith, called for a “hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world.” Martin Marty says that Williams “drew the line between church and state not out of love of democracy but to keep the church pure and out of the grasp civil meddlers.” (Pilgrims in the Own Land, p. 78)
Williams was banished from Salem by the combination of religious and civil powers who saw him as a threat to their authority. But time was on Williams’ side. One-hundred-fifty-two years later, our forebears adopted a Constitution which begins, not “In the name of God,” but with “We the people…” and in which the only reference to religion is in Article VI which declares: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
I give thanks that my religious convictions are protected by a Constitution that protects every one else’s convictions as well. Three cheers for the Constitution!
Grace and peace,