Religious Liberty and Civil Disobedience


By now you have almost certainly heard that Kim Davis, County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky, was jailed Thursday for refusing to issue marriage licenses since the June supreme court decision back in June that legalized same-sex marriage. While she sits in jail because of her decision, people on both sides have taken to various forms of media to weigh in on her choice and the judge’s ruling. (Here and here you can find two opposing views that I believe are both well-written and reasonable.) In the last few days I have seen her painted as a bigot by some and a hero by others, though I am certain she is neither. She is, however, a woman that found herself in what she believed to be a moral dilemma and tried to do what she believed to be the right thing.

Though it is not up to you or me to determine whether or not she did the right thing, we can attempt to learn from her situation. We will all at one point or another find ourselves in a situation where we must take a stand for what we believe. Tragic and controversial as it is, Mrs. Davis’ situation does bring to mind serious questions in regard to religious liberty and civil disobedience. As I consider this dilemma, I’ve put together a few thoughts that I’d like to share.

  • Religious liberty does not give you the freedom to do whatever you want in the name of religion. Religious liberty is the freedom to believe as you choose, to worship as you choose and to act on your beliefs. However, religious freedom is still a freedom allowed by government and government has the right to moderate and limit it as they see fit. Most of those claiming the government has overstepped its bounds with Kim Davis are grateful that the government steps in to limit the religious freedom of Islamic radicals, the KKK and pedophiles like Warren Jeffs (all of whom are acting according to their religious beliefs). We have been blessed in America with religious freedom, but it is not a free pass to do whatever you want.
  • When faced with a moral dilemma, make sure it’s really a moral dilemma. As a Christian, the Bible should be your standard for what is right and wrong. Before you claim that you are taking a stand for God, please be absolutely certain that you are. There are many strongly held opinions and even some beliefs within Christianity that are not actually biblical. It wasn’t that long ago that conservative, southern evangelicals believed that they were standing up for God by opposing interracial marriage. In Mrs. Davis case, there is great disagreement as to whether or not she really faced a moral dilemma. Beyond the issue of whether or not same-sex marriage is okay, there are questions as to whether or not issuing a marriage license violates biblical commands. After all, she is not the one getting married. Regardless of your opinion on her decision, I suggest that we all make sure that we are basing our convictions on God’s Word and not tradition or opinion.
  • Civil disobedience should be a last resort. I have heard Mrs. Davis compared to the Apostle Peter and the Old Testament’s “three Hebrew children,” but we must understand that in those cases there were no alternatives to obedience. The government required something of them to which there was no alternative. Despite what many are saying, this is not what has happened to Mrs. Davis. Her employer required something of her and she refused to do it. Only then did government step in to require her to either fulfill her duties or face the consequences. Remember, you have the freedom to choose what you believe and where you work. You do not have the freedom to insist that your employer accommodate you. Imagine a recovering alcoholic accepting a position at a beer distributor and then insisting that they not force him to handle alcohol because of his condition. That seems silly, but in fact that is exactly what Mrs. Davis is doing. No one is being thrown in jail for believing that homosexual marriage is wrong. Mrs. Davis was jailed because she insisted upon being paid for a job that she refused to do. As Christians we must make sure that we are not selfishly demanding that the world accommodate us. There may come a time where you will be forced to “choose to obey God rather than man”, but I think those occasions are rare. Most of the time we can choose to sacrifice in a way that doesn’t require disobeying the authority over us. Though inconvenient, God will certainly honor this willingness to suffer for righteousness sake!
  • When choosing civil disobedience, graciously accept the consequences. If you believe God’s authority is requiring you to disobey a human authority, please quietly and graciously accept the consequences. In her defense, I believe that this has mostly been Mrs. Davis’ attitude and I respect that. Even when the government is allowing or condoning actions that violate God’s law, they are still His agents for order. We should respect our civil government even when we must violate its law for conscience sake.

Though there is a great deal of political and social confusion right now, one thing that seems clear is that the relationship of American culture to Christianity is in a new phase. It is yet to be determined how that relationship will turn out, but it should not surprise us if we do lose some of the freedoms we have enjoyed to this point. It is not my desire to stir up controversy or to discourage true Christians from acting upon their beliefs. It is only my desire that we would wisely choose our battles through the guidance of scripture and that we would make showing Christ’s love a priority even when we must disagree with or even oppose our culture. I am still learning as well, so your thoughts are appreciated. Please be kind and respectful in your comments.


photo by FJM88NL (Own 3D creation) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


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