Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Kim Davis and Theology of "I Cannot Be Washed Unless I Define You As Unclean"

As David Badash asks after listening to Kim Davis complain on ABC's "Nightline" yesterday evening that she is the real victim, as she denies constitutionally guaranteed rights to LGBT citizens, "Has she ever shown an ounce of empathy for all the people she's hurt?"

What I think many people overlook, as they follow the Kim Davis story, is the theological basis for her behavior. When Paula Faris asked Davis, in her series of interviews with her, how she can possibly deny LGBT people the right to marry while citing as her basis a bible that forbids divorce, adultery, and remarriage, she responded that she herself has been "washed clean." The implication of that statement is that LGBT people have not been "washed clean," indeed, cannot be washed clean if they ask for the right to marry, since their choice to marry is (in the mind of Kim Davis and those who share her theology) an in-your-face proclamation that they are not, simply because they were born gay, dirty and sinful human beings, but have every bit as much right to loving, committed, stable relationships as do the Kim Davises of the world.

Davis's theology requires that, for her to feel "washed" (the word she used in this interview to justify her three divorces and four marriages with adultery in between one of them), someone else be tagged as dirty. What appalls her and other Christians who buy into this theology is the claim of gay folks that we are not dirty — that we do not need the "washing" Davis and her kind want for us. What Kim Davis and her ilk have committed themselves to is a theological crusade that centers around doing everything in their power to humiliate those who are gay, to force them back into societal definitions of homosexuality as sick and sinful, because these crusading Christians have built their entire theological edifice around such definitions of those who are gay. Their theological worldview depends on using their LGBT brothers and sisters in this way.

They have built their sense of (self-) righteousness around defining gay folks as unclean, and it drives them crazy — it pulls away the foundations of their theology of sin, justification, and grace — when gay people refuse to buy their definition of those who are gay as dirty, needing to be "washed" simply because they happen to have been born gay.

And then (related to the above) there's also Davis's smarmy, condescending statement to Paula Faris that she feels "sad" that the gay people she demeans need a "piece of paper" (i.e., a marriage license) to prop up their dignity. What this statement really wants to communicate is that gay people are wounded, confused, defective, to be pitied — unlike her, who evidently needs no "piece of paper" to prop up her dignity.

Though the "piece of paper" she wants to deny to gay folks to teach them to be dignified without pieces of paper, she herself has gotten now four times . . . . And I don't see her proposing to ditch her own "piece of paper" — which assures her all the rights and privileges of any married person — in order to demonstrate that her own dignity doesn't need a "piece of paper."

As Southern evangelical leaders William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of North Carolina's Moral Mondays movement note yesterday in a statement welcoming Pope Francis to the U.S., in their attacks on the poor, on immigrants, on the LGBT community, many so-called evangelicals have sold out the message of Jesus. As Barber and Wilson-Hartgrove point out, "There are more than 2,000 passages in the Bible that speak to the issues of poverty, justice, fair treatment for the vulnerable and the ethic of love."

And yet, even as right-wing evangelical leaders slam Pope Francis for being "political" as he calls for compassion for those on the margins of society, there's this: 

The problem is that many of the evangelical representatives on national news outlets are in fact quite political. They are the frontmen and frontwomen for a far-right extremist agenda, backed by religious rhetoric, to perpetuate a divide-and-conquer strategy. These so-called evangelicals suggest that a political agenda that denies equal rights to immigrants and the LGBT community, cuts taxes for the wealthy and refuses a raise to the minimum wage is in fact "orthodox theology."

The hostile, condescending, self-righteous theology driving the gay-baiting behavior of Christians like Kim Davis is the very antithesis of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That good news, the kind proclaimed by Jesus himself, warns us that when we construct our sense of our own righteousness around demeaning someone else — around the illusion that we ourselves are "washed clean" because we've defined someone else as dirty and unworthy of love — we've built our spiritual life on the most unstable foundations imaginable.

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