Let’s just set aside whether, according to the Constitution, Kim Davis may ignore the Supreme Court’s legislation from the bench concerning gay “marriage.” If you’d like to explore that, I suggest this article, which offers something of a summary.
The issue today is how Christians view a person’s role in the government when the government tells him to enact or participate in laws that are contrary to nature, that is, unjust.
Christians have no problem obeying the civil authorities when it comes to anything not harming their faith. So the drinking age is basically mandated to be 21 by US Congress through a kind of blackmail of funding. But this doesn’t bother the Christian, since it doesn’t harm his faith not to drink.
But when it comes to being told to disobey God, well, no one should disobey God, neither a Christian nor a heathen. God forbids everyone to disobey him, not just Christians. The Scriptures also teach that the rulers of the earth are to be instructed by God (Psalm 2).
Now, imagine that God actually exists. I mean, I know you all believe God exists, but half the time most people don’t actually think that means anything. If God exists, then he is actually working, not merely alongside the government and other institutions, but through them. This means that, for example, when a country wages a just war, it is God who is waging that war for the country with a righteous cause. Similarly, when an executioner puts a murderer to death, God is not merely a spectator watching alongside something he set up but has no part of anymore. God is swinging the ax. God is injecting the needle. God turns on the electric chair. The government is an agent, a servant (Romans 13) of God, who actually is the one punishing the criminal.
Now let’s look at marriage. God marries people. He joins a man and a woman in marriage. “What God has joined together…” (Mark 10:9). But just as God works through agents, through means in accomplishing our salvation, so also he works through means in governing our bodies and his institution of marriage. What agents does he choose? He chooses those who have authority over the man and wife who want to get married. This has in time past been the parents of the couple, while the government ruled to protect the man’s and wife’s rights as husband and wife. Over time, the government’s protection of marriage took on the sanctioning of marriage. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, though the lack of parental rights in marriage is a sad thing, in my opinion. In fact, it is good for the government to act as God’s agent in joining a man and a wife together.
Along comes the Supreme Court and legislates that a man can marry a man and a woman can marry a woman, and that the Constitution guarantees them this right. Now, again, let’s just forget for a moment that the Constitution obviously doesn’t guarantee them such an absurdity. Let’s pretend that it’s actually legitimate.
This is what we call the “positive law.” The positive laws are the laws that governments make. They should generally reflect the natural law, since that is the law that God actually wants government to enforce. In fact, the entire reason God institutes governments among men is so that the natural law can be defended and protected. So all of our states and our country have laws against murder. Here the positive law reflects the natural law. But all of our states and our country allow abortion. Here the positive law rejects the natural law.
What happens when you are a Christian who is working for the government and are told to enforce a positive law that is contrary to the natural law? In other words , what happens when you are told to disobey God? Whom should you obey? Let’s put it another way. God tells you to obey the government. The government tells you to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. God and natural law both say, “Wait, what? No, that’s silly, no, not silly, gross, and…why? Stop that! Icky!” So whom should you obey?
I think most Christians would say with the apostles, “We should obey God rather than man.” (Acts 5:29). Nevertheless, there are many who say, “It’s just a piece of paper. It doesn’t mean anything. Gay marriage doesn’t exist, so they’re just playing along with the charade.” This, my friends, is the outgrowth of Gnosticism. Gnosticism believes that the body is bad, or doesn’t matter, and the spirit is good. In fact, many gnostics even deny that the body is real. Do you see the connection? Saying, “It doesn’t matter” in this situation is saying our actions and what we do with our bodies ultimately have no bearing on anything. But God governs our bodies, and he wants the government to govern our bodies, to restrain us from evil and encourage us to do good.
It’s really simple. God doesn’t give any government the authority to marry a man to a man or a woman to a woman; therefore, they have no authority to do it. God is actually real! He actually instructs Kim Davis not to give a marriage license to two men or two women because it’s wrong. It matters. In the same way, if an executioner knows a man on death row is innocent, he may not execute the man. He can’t say, “The government told me to do it.” Even Americans understand that from the Nuremberg Trials, where soldiers weren’t allowed to claim innocence on the basis of their obedience to the positive law.
But here is where the enlightened Christian thinker comes along, who understands things just a little bit better than some hick Pentecostal from Kentucky, and sagely and soberly advises the executioner to resign from his job rather than put the innocent man to death. That way, he can save his conscience, and someone else can do the dastardly deed. Now wait just a cotton-picking minute. In order to save his conscience, the executioner leaves his job. So he saves himself from doing something bad, right? Wrong. The Law doesn’t just require that we refrain from evil, but that we do good. It is as we Lutherans teach in the meaning to the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” So the task of the executioner is not merely to step aside for someone else to murder an innocent man. It is to put himself between the innocent man and the intent to murder.
This is exactly what these Christians are doing when they tell Kim Davis that she should resign. They are denying the requirements of the law of love written in nature and on men’s hearts. It is her duty not only to refuse to do evil, but also, insofar as she has been placed by God through the government into her position, to resist evil and oppose it. I have heard people actually impugn her with the motive of wanting to keep her nice job instead of resigning so that someone else can do what is a flagrant mockery of marriage.
Those Christians who criticize Kim Davis need to stop and consider why it is they are doing so. Is it because they actually believe that Christians should obey a law that is contrary to natural Law? Is it because they believe that a Christian shouldn’t participate in the government, as the Anabaptist sects in Europe and America taught (Richard Nixon notwithstanding)? Is it because they think a Christian shouldn’t resist evil when he is in the position to do so? Is it because they believe the government has the right to enforce unjust laws that defy the very One who gave them their authority in the first place? Is it because they believe that Psalm 2 doesn’t apply to our “secular” government, when David writes,
“Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”
I honestly don’t know. In any case, those pastors and other Christians who do not defend Kim Davis have, whether they know it or not, joined with the lions in the den to which she has been thrown. I pray God would close their mouths.
Here’s a prayer to pray in this situation:
6. Thy truth defend, O God, and stay This evil generation; And from the error of their way Keep Thine own congregation. The wicked everywhere abound And would Thy little flock confound; But Thou art our Salvation. Amen.
from Dr. Luther’s “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold” of which a nice version can be found here.