Don't Get Me Started on Kim Davis, Let's Talk About the Word of God

While the internet conversation is alive and well concerning Kim Davis--the Kentucky clerk who has been jailed over refusing to issue a marriage license to a gay couple--I want to focus on a key issue that seems to be a stumbling block for many Christians I know... The Word of God. To set the stage, I'll give the floor to Kim Davis (or at least to a portion of her public statement):
"..I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.
I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God's definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God's Word..." -Kim Davis (emphasis mine)
To put my point simply, the "obey God's Word" framework does not work without caveats.
I doubt that Kim Davis or others in her camp would hear me on this, but I do hope that laying out some issues with this phrase and with this logic will be helpful to those who do have ears to hear.

Here are four reasons why Christians should hesitate to cite the Word of God as their guide for decisions of any kind:

1) Interpretation
Following the Word of God actually means "defending my subjective interpretation of specific passages of Scripture." 
Like all texts, the Bible is subject to interpretation. Whether it is an individual, a group, or a tradition doing the interpreting, the Bible simply cannot be read and applied without it. I read the same canon of Scripture as Kim Davis, yet my understanding of what the Bible has to say about marriage is very different. Approaches to Scripture vary from the "narrative" to the "historical," and include those who think the Bible can very simply be read "literally." What a "literal" reading of Scripture actually allows is for anyone to think whatever they want about whatever translation about whatever portion of Scripture they happen to have in front of them. That is subjectivity at its finest. If it is the literal reading as prescribed by some tradition, the least a person of faith could do is situate themselves in that context, for example: "According to so-and-so's interpretation of Jesus's statement in the gospel ascribed to "Luke" that has been translated by these modern-day Americans who belong to this branch of Christianity, I am led to believe X, therefore I will do Y." That is a much more honest way to read and apply Scripture, albeit way less sexy. Point being, there are many layers of subjectivity and interpretation between us and sacred texts, and we see what we want and are trained to see. If only we would pause to reflect before we rashly cite Scripture as our rationale for something.

2) Disambiguation
The Word of God is a multi-faceted phrase in Christian theology and requires disambiguation. 
I think it's pretty clear from Kim Davis's statement that when she says "God's Word," she means the Bible, but the phrase alone means much more. It could mean Jesus. It could refer to a personal experience where God speaks to someone. It could be a specific passage of prophecy, as is the case in the Hebrew prophets. When someone cites "the Word of God," I wonder, are they talking about the Bible, Jesus, God omnipresent, a personal experience or all of the above? Using the Word of God as a catchall is confusing as it is misleading. 

3) Pluralism
Scripture itself contains pluralism. It does not showcase one monolithic viewpoint, but many viewpoints spread across great gaps of time and circumstance captured in many different forms!
The Protestant Bible is a collection of 66 discreet works, collected together through time and decisions based on politics and tradition. There are different literary forms and very different opinions presented throughout. There are four gospel accounts that share common elements, yet each paint the person and history of Jesus in a different light. Details of history and their theological meanings vary from author to author and book to book. History recorded in Samuel and Kings is redacted and modified in Chronicles. The book of Isaiah talks about the restoration of the temple, while the book of Ezekiel describes God's presence departing from the temple. Proverbs presents ancient Hebrew wisdom collections while the book of Job critiques it. Within the Bible you can find ammunition for a just-war as you can find calls to piece. Just as the readers interpretation cements their conclusions, so do their choices of texts. The Bible is not simple and it does not have only one viewpoint. I happen to think this is one of the best things about the Bible, but whether or not you share my perspective, Biblical pluralism is a fact.

4) Attachment and Projection
By referencing God/Jesus/the Word of God, you are explicitly projecting everything you say and do back to God. If conservative-leaning Christians hear nothing else in this post, I hope you hear this. Whenever you reference God, everything you say and do gets attached to the projection of God in the minds of everyone who hears or sees you. While I believe that God goes beyond my concepts and descriptions, what I say and do reveals my image of God to other people. I hope that my words and actions give people a sense of hope and invite them to trust. When people encounter me, I hope they see the love of God. If Kim Davis was to be the sole spokesperson for the Christian faith, what would people see? What would their stories of God be based on that projection? God is anti-gay. God is angry. God is hypocritical. 

I hope Kim Davis serves as an example for how Christians ought not to be. I hope that conservative-leaning Christians can see how ridiculous she is and rethink some of the worn-out lines many of us grew up hearing. I hope you can think more deeply about how you relate to Scripture. I hope that what is communicated from your fold is a love for God and for people. 

You might not be ready to rethink gay marriage in relationship to your faith, but maybe you can start by rethinking your relationship to the Bible and how that is affecting your relationship with people.

I believe God loves Kim Davis. Regrettably, she is also a person who justifies her bigotry by referencing the "word of God." Christian brothers and sisters, please don't follow in her footsteps.
Benjamin FaderComment