A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Letting Our "Yes" Be "Yes" and Our "No" Be "No:" Some Thoughts on Christians Taking Oaths and Choosing to Break Them #1

I've been watching and listening to and considering all the various opinions flying back and forth over Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky, who is now in jail for refusing to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. I haven't written anything on it as of yet because I like to reflect and ponder before I "jump the gun" and write too soon. Would it be that others did the same. But as I have been reflecting on how to think about this as a Christian and NOT as a modern liberal or a conservative, it occurred to me that perhaps Scripture has something to teach us here, particularly Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

 'Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, "You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord." But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be "Yes, Yes" or "No, No"; anything more than this comes from the evil one (Matthew 5:33-37).
In this first post, I will not be addressing Jesus' words here specifically, but it seems to me that they must be relevant in some way to the Kim Davis situation, since she did take an oath and she is a Christian. The question before us in this passage is if Jesus seems to rule out Christians taking oaths at all, why has no one even raised taking any oath as problematic for Christians? In the current debate, I have yet to see any Christian raise that point. In order to answer that question we will need to take a deeper look at this passage, but that will have to wait until the next post. In this post I want to simply make some observations concerning the current situation.

First, in this series of posts, I am only addressing Christians, not because I don't care what non-Christians think, but because I think Christians should have a different set of lenses through which they see today's moral issues; and that is precisely what I continue to find so disappointing. Instead of trying to bring our rich theological tradition to bear on this matter attempting to think through it as followers of Jesus, Christians have simply parroted the same talking points about rights, religious freedom, and whether or not it is OK to break laws that some consider unjust. I have said before and I will say it again-- for the life of me I cannot figure out what is decisively Christian about being either a conservative or a liberal/progressive in today's political context-- that is, how do Christian convictions make one conservative or liberal/progressive? I find it next to impossible to see how Christian conservatives and liberal/progressives are any different from their secular contemporaries when it comes to their moral views, except that both sides proof-text certain portions of the Bible to give their perspective a thin veneer of acculterated Christianity. Their secular contemporaries seem to have the same morals without the need for God, and certainly without the need for Jesus. And because of this, as with so many issues, Christians have nothing of significance to offer when moral conundrums are before us.

Second, it also seems clear to me that both sides are arguing the way they are because both Christian conservatives and progressive/liberals have a stake in maintaining America as a form of Christendom, at least as they understand it. This is why issues like this, when they arise, are cast in the language of rights and freedom. I have said before and will say again, that I have no stake in maintaining the entity known as Christendom. Christendom exists only because of the unfaithfulness of Christians throughout the centuries. The sooner it dies the sooner the church of Jesus Christ can get back to its rightful kingdom work. Too many Christians are into nation-state politics up to their proverbial armpits because they have more interest in being in power forcing themselves upon everyone else like their secular counterparts instead of being in service to the world by being the church. (And yes, Christian liberal/progressives are just as guilty of this as Christian conservatives). Just like James and John, today's Christians on the left and the right want the seats of power, just as "the Gentiles lord it over one another" (Matthew 20:20-28).

Third, if Kim Davis wants to be a faithful Christian and live by her convictions, she has one of two Christian options-- sign all marriage licenses in the county because she took an oath to uphold the law of the land, or resign her office if she cannot in good conscience sign certain marriage licenses. Refusing to sign same sex couple marriage licenses is not a faithful Christian option. She took an oath as a county clerk. The faithful thing to do is keep that oath or quit her job so as not to break that oath. And her oath does not recognize an exemption in lieu of a subsequent change in the law after she took it.

Fourth, for all those on the left who are insisting that Kim Davis is not above the law and should keep the law, then you have become hypocrites if you support sanctuary cities that have willfully refused to enforce immigration law. I dislike many of our current laws on immigration, but you can't have it both ways. If Kim Davis must abide by the law, even though she dislikes it, so should those who dislike our laws on immigration. And let me say to those on the right who are applauding Davis' refusal to obey the law-- you too lose your moral footing when you criticize the left for failure to enforce the law. Would you support a Muslim who refuses to issue driver licenses to women because women drivers are against his religious principles? Would you support a vegetarian or a vegan who works at a store that sells licenses for guns but refuses to issue them because it goes against her convictions that animals should not be killed and eaten? You can't have it both ways either. The hypocrisy on both sides is so glaring, it is amazing that there are those who cannot see it. But what happens all too often is that instead of admitting to the hypocrisy, both sides get into a moralizing pissing contest to prove that their side is justified in their hypocrisy and that their heroes and martyrs for their cause are not like the so-called martyrs of those on the other side. It is all so predictable, it has almost become boring. It must be that log sticking out of the eye that keeps us from seeing our own deception. Jesus warned us about such self-righteous moral blindness (Matthew 7:1-5).

Fifth, when it comes to marriage, the church has no moral standing to dictate what marriage should be to others. Whatever your position on gay marriage, the church itself has not protected the so-called "sanctity of marriage," and the church allowing for or prohibiting gay marriage will not change that fact. Carl Trueman writes,
If the "I am a Christian" strategy is to carry any force at all, churches need to start taking marriage seriously. They need to start taking pastoral and, if necessary, disciplinary action against adulterers, against spousal abusers, against trivial divorces. Only then will the statement "I am a member of a church so have a high view of marriage" start to appear plausible to the outside world. And in a week where an evangelical superstar is back in a role of ecclesiastical influence within weeks of being defrocked for adultery and filing for divorce, and others have fallen after playing with fire on the Ashley Madison site, it is clear that churches find it a lot easier to talk about the importance of marriage and fidelity than to uphold them in practice.
We already have nothing to say to secular people on this issue because they are not listening anyway. If we continue in practice to treat marriage abuses and breakdowns as of little more moral significance than a parking violation or a spot of jay-walking, we will continue to have nothing to show them either. The world is no fool.  It knows cant when it hears it.
Sixth, for both Christians on the left and the right, I am tired of hearing about how tolerant you are. You're all intolerant. You want your way and you will destroy anyone who gets in your way. You sound more like Caiaphas and Pilate than Jesus.

Seventh, and finally, once we get past all this nonsense, perhaps we can begin to think about this issue as Christians first,  foremost, and centrally... and not just as Americans. And the central issue for Christians is not first and foremost and centrally about the law; it is about telling the truth and the character needed to speak and live the truth without having to swear to do so.

And I think Jesus can help us with that. More on that in the next post.


Earthmover said...

The best and most reasonable Christian account I have read regarding Ms. Davis.

I'm particularly enthralled by your reference to the Sermon on the Mount. I was beginning to think that Christian pastors had forgotten about the Gospels. I was recently reading a book on Spiritual Warfare, and went through several chapetrs, filled with Bible references, but not a one of them was from the Gospels

I understand that the rest of scripture has value. But we call ourselves Christians. Shouldn't the words and deeds be at the center of any of our study and theology?

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your thoughts.

We Christians need to start seriously reflecting upon what makes our Christian convictions unique from the modern liberal/progressive and conservative options.