When I was a radical, immature Bible College student I took a job on campus as a late night snack sales clerk in the dining room making and selling pizzas. I was taking a course on Christian ethics that semester in which the point was made that we should do jobs that benefit others, not ones that hurt others–a convincing argument. I don’t recall now whether my concern was selling food to overweight students (and so supporting their sin of gluttony) or whether it was rather a stewardship concern (snack buying was a sin of indulgence when that money could support the hungry). Perhaps it was both. As an act of moral integrity, I quit the job.
Kim Davis is not taking this simple approach to integrity. I can only conclude that her intention is not primarily to protect her own integrity, but to challenge cultural mores and legal decisions. There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach, and she has shown personal courage in facing prison in an effort to challenge these laws, but I think it is disingenuous for anyone to pose this as an issue of religious persecution versus freedom of conscience. She has perfect freedom to leave her job and so save her conscience. Even such conservative voices as the National Review do not stand by her in this After suggesting various compromises she could have taken to keep her job and save her conscience a National Review staffer wrote: “What, one has to wonder, is her ultimate end here: Is it to protect her conscience, or to nullify the law?”
I think this approach to combating the law is misguided, and I am not sure what end is envisioned. Kim no doubt wishes for others to join her in defying the laws that conflict with their morals… as long as their morals agree with hers. It is unlikely that she would approve of Muslim government officials denying voting rights to women or Hindu FDA officials forbidding the sale of beef. Individuals over-riding the law with claims of personal moral conviction sounds like chaos. She would no doubt claim we are a Christian country (even though the founding fathers refused that path, having been burned badly by the church-controlled government of England). If we are to have a “Christian” nation, whose Christianity is the true Christianity and who decides? After all, many liberal Christians find it morally incumbent on them to fight for LGBT rights. Some conservative Christians are so disturbed by current moral trends in America that they wish for a revolution… but if they got all they wished for, how would they organize the new government? Instead of a democracy (in which a majority of current citizens would likely vote for gay marriage), would they set up a church hierarchy to decide moral issues like the state church in old Europe?
Power has the seeds of corruption, so the early church reaction to an immoral society was not to fight it, but to separate from it, leading to the monastic movement. Independence from immoral power structures is a sound means of protecting one’s conscience. Many traditional communities such as the Amish still follow this route successfully in this country. “Come out from among her and be ye separate” used to be a rallying cry for fundamentalists in my youth. I’m not sure what happened to that strain of moral direction, but I fear for any spirituality that tries to enforce its morals on those who disagree, especially over those outside their own religious community.
Perhaps we need a discussion on how to live with one another in the context of conflicting moral visions. How do we make room for everyone’s moral conscience to be freely exercised without interfering with the conscience of others?