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Wed Sep 9, 2015, 12:24 PM

The vengeful god of Kim Davis: The powerful forces we ignore when we fixate on one Kentucky clerk [View all]

The vengeful god of Kim Davis: The powerful forces we ignore when we fixate on one Kentucky clerk

The temptation to lock onto the story of Kim Davis risks ignoring the manipulative figures behind the scenes

Brittney Cooper


I used to be a conservative evangelical Christian. As a teenager, I was obsessed with remaining a virgin until marriage, appalled at the choices of a couple of my friends who needed to terminate teen pregnancies, and obsessed with my “sins” and everyone else’s. So I understand the thinking that informs the asinine and misguided show of (un)righteous indignation that is Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The God of (white) evangelical Christianity is obsessed with the policing of sex –in particular, who has it, how they have it, in what context, and with whom. Though some “good” evangelicals try to reframe these clearly hypocritical rankings of “sin” by insisting that God hates all sin, the truth is that most evangelicals believe that God is primarily appalled by non-normative sexual appetites. More specifically, God hates gay sex, though God may love gay people. God loves heterosexual marriage though, and because of this, God will continue to forgive you for numerous divorces and remarriages, as long as you ultimately end up in a good Christian, straight marriage. Or you stay celibate. Those are your only options.

For many people, this level of moral regulation sounds downright bizarre, not to mention damn near impossible to achieve. And if you are anything like me, such unholy and retrograde thinking causes you to have a complicated relationship to the church, or to reject it altogether.

Such belief systems are driven by fear – fear of God’s wrath, fear of the end of days, fear of divine retribution.

But here’s the thing. There are our moral quibbles with Kim Davis’ belief system and then there are our legal quibbles with it. I have both. Fear (and misguided thinking) can cause one to believe that upholding a person’s basic civil rights amounts to a condoning of their choices. But these moral panics only happen around issues of sexual regulation. We are society that believes that even mass murderers deserve defense attorneys. We do not equate the providing of legal representation with the condoning of crime. It is about the basic protection of rights. The idea that those who issue marriage licenses must agree with the romantic choices of those getting married is patently absurd. There are clear distinctions to be made about marriage as a civil institution, which is open to all, and marriage as a religious institution, which is regulated by individual churches and religious traditions.


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