Tag Archives: Kim Davis

On Leaders Who Disappoint and How Real Change Happens

francis.jpgIn his speech before Congress Pope Francis managed to rise above the fray.  With no histrionics, he spoke directly and simply, yet profoundly. The speech surprised me; he managed to address the divisive issues that have become occasions for the two parties to shout across the aisle at each other. He spoke in such a way that all of us in this divided house could listen.

Not forty-eight hours later came the report that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone as a way to make a stand for her opposition to gay marriage. Since the news came out, there have been as many interpretations of that visit as there are positions to take. And regardless of the Pope’s awareness and degree of complicity, that meeting has enormous symbolism. I’m not ready to make a personal judgment; however, for the symbolic impact of that visit, I am disappointed.

It’s disappointing to me because Kim Davis is the icon for a brand of Christianity that is disdainful to me. It’s a brand of Christianity that makes our faith more about the rules than about relationship, and especially rules about sex. I wish we could just get off of that. Every time I turn around, someone else is reinforcing the ridiculous notion that the Christianity is mostly about rules, and we’re concerned about the sex rules more than any others. It’s maddening.

While I’m disappointed that the meeting happened, I’m not losing much sleep over it. While I was impressed with the pope’s speech before Congress, I never went over the moon about it. He represents a change of tone from the Vatican, but perhaps not much else. A friend, who is a good Roman Catholic and an astute observer of all things Catholic, often reminds me that nothing of substance has changed.

Leaders inspire us. Leaders disappoint us. Sometimes leaders just downright make us mad. Just ask the members of my congregation.

The whole back and forth saga of the pope’s visit to America — and I have to imagine that it feels the same for both conservatives and progressives — is a reminder that while leaders have influence, real change is not going to happen from the top down. Bernie Sanders (another leader who inspires me and who I’m sure will disappoint me and enrage me) reminded students at the University of Chicago this week that real change, deep change never happens from the top down. It always happens from the bottom up, beginning at the margins and moving towards the center.

Earlier this week, I facilitated a bible study with a group of about 20 women. Part of our study was about the gospel lesson for this coming Sunday (Mark 10:2-16, if you want to read it), a difficult text where Jesus pits scripture against scripture. On the one hand he holds up the inviolability of the marriage covenant; on the other, he cites the Mosaic law which allows for divorce in certain occasions, a legal move which was only available to the man.

The study led us into conversation about marriage, about the difficulty and hard work of relationships, especially relationships like marriage. And it led us into the tall grass of a conversation about same sex marriage.

I fully celebrate that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters can now be legally married. The sealing of their covenantal love is just as holy and just as wonderful a relationship and covenant as heterosexual marriage. I also know that not everyone in the congregation I serve shares that opinion.

The conversation we had yesterday would not have happened a dozen years ago in this place. Partially, it’s a sign of the rapid change that has happened in the larger society.

But I’d like to think that the priority we’ve placed on having deep and meaningful conversation in our congregation has contributed to the change. Over the past dozen years, we have created space for lots of conversations about lots of things. Forty or fifty people meet every week for bible study. We host conversations about the intersection of faith and life. We talk a lot these days about the rapid changes in our society and their impact on the church. Every council and team meeting includes time for conversation and prayer. At any given moment in time several groups, including our staff, are reading and discussing a book together. We have hosted authors to lead us in conversation about things that matter. When space is created for people to listen to one another, space is also created for the Spirit to soften our hearts.

It’s not the kind of change that happens rapidly; it’s not always even visible. But it’s the kind of work that forms and shapes us as the body of Christ, forming us as individuals, and more importantly, forming us as a corporate body, so that our thoughts, words, and deeds are in greater alignment with the work God is doing in the world, so that we are participating with God in bringing about the kingdom.

What If It’s Not about the Rules?

bibleIt’s like that car crash that we can’t not look at. We all want it to go away, yet we keep looking.

That county clerk in Rowan County in northeastern Kentucky has now become the poster child for what some are calling a courageous stand for religious freedom. Her supporters are cheering for her version of Christianity, citing biblical support for her defiance, claiming that she is a righteous woman who is properly obeying God in the face of a law that would require her to sin were she to follow it. Her cause has been picked up by at least two Republican presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz; they appear ready to canonize her as an icon for what they would like this country to be.

Here I sit. An adherent of the same religion, at least in name. A leader in the church. I see her defiance very differently, not as something that brings honor to her faith, but distorts and diminishes the heart of Christianity. She willfully is disregarding the oath that she took when elected as County Recorder. I don’t have so much an issue with that fact that she disagrees with the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. That is her constitutional right. But if her conscience dictates that she can’t do what her job and her oath of office require, then she should resign. Instead she has chosen to grandstand and drag the whole country into this fake debate about religious freedom and a drama that is mostly irrelevant.

It is so striking to me how adherents of the same nominal Christian faith can come to such polar opposite conclusions about her actions, and more fundamentally, about the issue that prompted her grandstanding. Mike Huckabee is an ordained Baptist pastor and was the pastor of a large, successful Baptist church before going into politics. Ted Cruz grew up in the church; his father was the pastor of a large, successful fundamentalist-leaning church. Cruz is graduate of Princeton first, and then Harvard Law School. These are not stupid people.

While I don’t carry the educational credentials of Cruz, I am a leader in the church and called on almost daily to articulate the Christian faith. I come to vastly different conclusions about Davis’s actions, about gay marriage, and I suppose about nearly every other aspect of Christian teaching and Christian life. How can that be?

Earlier this summer, I read The Righteous Mind, a fascinating book by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt is a moral psychologist and the book sets out to describe how persons shape their moral universe. The common understanding is that people find their fundamental moral principles — often in their faith and their own sacred texts — and then arrive at actions and beliefs that are reasoned from their fundamental moral principles. So, for instance, if we are adherents of Christianity, we look at what the bible has to say about moral issues, the voice of the bible leads us to our moral principles, and then we determine our actions based on those principles.

But Haidt suggests that this isn’t the way it works. Using a wide array of theories, research and experimentation, he describes how people intuit moral positions and then go in search of a moral framework to support their position. So, for instance, if I have an intuitive disdain for homosexuality, that decision is made “in my gut” as Haidt describes it, and then I go in search of support for my position. Did you get that? Let me say it another way: we go looking for divine support for positions that we have taken intuitively.

I’m no expert on psychology, and so I can’t evaluate Haidt’s thesis as an expert. But he does make a compelling case. It strikes me as a cogent argument for, among other perplexing questions, why adherents of the same religion come to such different moral conclusions.

But it also shakes religious foundations to the very core. What could it mean if we do not, in fact, base our moral principles on our sacred scriptures, but on our intuitions that have been shaped by our upbringing, our culture, and even our personality? What then, could Christianity possibly be about, if not a moral code for righteous living?

As far as I can tell, Christianity has never been a moral code. it’s always been about a relationship and a calling. It’s about a recognition of our brokenness, a transformation that comes through Jesus and results in a dying to self and a rising to a new relationship with God, and then a calling to be in the world in such a way that you love God and love your neighbor. Morality? That’s something different.

That fundamental core of Christianity is so easy to forget. We want to be the good people. To be the good people requires knowing the rules. Knowing the rules means you have to make the rules. Then you can tell everyone else what the rules are. And if you don’t like the rules, then you make a different set of rules. And then we get to the kind of saga that is getting played out on our television screens and Facebook feeds, such a distortion of Christianity that I can’t even recognize it.

Here’s to believing it’s not about the rules.