Kim Davis -- the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky who was recently taken into custody after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because God told her not to -- is no friend of mine.
But had I not taken a sharp queer turn after my fundamentalist Christian years, she very well could be.
Like Kim Davis, I once counted myself a member of the Born Again club. During the summer after my ninth grade year, an older family member sent me for a week of Young Life Camp, a fun place in the Colorado mountains dedicated to the concept of friendship evangelism. We sang popular songs with words slightly altered so that there were All About Jesus, ate really good food and engaged in activities that required trusting our fellow humans in order to prevent dying a gruesome death. We climbed a series of small cliffs, we rode horses to an outdoor sunrise breakfast, we rappelled down a cliff and rafted through a canyon filled with whitewater level rapids.
Thanks to some unfortunate family happenings I was even less trusting of human beings than the average 14-year-old and had not been exposed to any of these kind of mind-expanding (and usually expensive) activities, so the camp challenged me to the core. Plus, we were surrounded by beauty not usually available in Hartford, Wisconsin; "God's beauty," the staff called it. And the counselors! They were so goshdurn friendly. So friendly it's almost as if they were um, trying to convert us.
Hmmm, well, I guess it's not particularly surprising that's how something called "friendship evangelism" works.
And any rate, it certainly worked on me.
On Thursday night, my Favorite Cool Counselor asked me if I wanted to go for a walk and we ended up in a cozy room off the camp's main kitchen. It had a couch. She sat next to me, arm around my shoulders and asked if I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.
The offer she described was pretty stupendous, even if the logic left a little to be desired.
According to my Favorite Cool Counselor, we were all sinners. We all did bad things.
I don't know that I would have used a heavy-handed word like "sin," but yeah it did seem like human beings managed to do bad stuff all the time, even when we were trying to do good stuff. I agreed with that.
And -- according to my Favorite Cool Counselor and the Bible passages she had underlined and pointed out to me -- because we were all sinners, we all deserved death, and eternal suffering in hell.
That sounded like both a bit of a divine overreaction and terrible news. But before I could object, my Favorite Cool Counselor explained that God had a workaround. Instead of us dying for our own sins and suffering forever in hell, he asked his own Son if he would consent to be killed to take our place. And -- you aren't going to believe this part -- his son said yes.
That sounded like some pretty messed up family dynamics but if it was going to save me from an eternal lake of fire (marshmallow roasting prohibited), who was I to judge that relationship? And besides, my Favorite Cool Counselor smelled like Dial Soap and pine needles and had her arm tightly and sweetly around me and kept saying that God LOVED me and Jesus LOVED me and she LOVED me.
It was all too much for my 14-year-old heart to take. I confessed my sins (not all of them, just generally), asked Jesus into my heart and got saved. And at that moment, I believed that if I died, I was going to heaven. Anyone who wasn't saved like me, if they died? Well, they were going to hell. Not a lot of gray area in Born Again Christianity.
What's amazing about that level of black-and-white thinking is that it feels fantastic. What could be more ultimately satisfying than getting up every morning and knowing that God, the creator of the universe and his poor Son who died for you (and was resurrected, by the way) is 100 percent on your side? That you know the way to heaven and everyone else is going to hell? That every single one of your daily choices is governed by The Big Cheese himself?
This is why the mass of internet commentary generated by the LGBTfolk and progressives about what they call Kim Davis' "stubborn" refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples is all from the same small town of MissingThePointville. Davis isn't stubborn. She isn't refusing to issue licenses in the same spirit that I refuse to eat anything made of kale or use hair conditioner or wear clothes that make me look an adult female instead of a teenage boy.
Davis believes God is on her side, that she owes him one because of that whole not going to hell thing, and it's her way of doing him a solid. Listen to what she says about her Thursday night at Young Life camp experience:
I owe my life to Jesus Christ who loves me and gave His life for me. Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. 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.
We have to fight back against Davis and her actions and her ilk, but we also need to understand her because there are so many people in the United States who believe the same way. It doesn't matter that she's been married multiple times (she's been forgiven, remember) and that her fashion sense leaves so much to be desired. She thinks she is doing God's holy work. Even the most clever jpegs about someone's vast and unrelenting frumpiness seem like a petty and mean weapon when used against someone's deeply held religious beliefs.
Being Born Again feels deeply existentially awesome (it took a conversion to Catholicism and being a nun before I got it out of my system) and until we understand the reason folks are drawn to any kind of fundamental religious experience, we're simply creating metaphorical martyrs (and fundraisers) for the far religious right.
I've been that person trying to reach non-Christians at the mall with a carefully applied tearful song, a strongly worded pamphlet about hell or (I shudder now to think of it) an extemporaneous convertifying puppet show, so I know Born Again folks can be stupefyingly annoying. But if you consider yourself progressive, have a chat with your local fundamentalist. At first the conversation might be hard, but you'll warm up. They'll invite you to church, you can invite them to a gay bar and you can meet at the overlap which is, of course, the potluck.
Maybe it's too much to ask that we all join hands in a circle and sing Kumbaya followed by The Christians and the Pagans, but it might be an okay place to start.
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