I want to write you this letter to express my sincerest and heart-felt thank you for what you are doing, but not for the reasons you might think. I am quite sure there are many opponents of Marriage Equality who are writing you letters supporting your willful insubordination to the duties of your office in the name of Christ. To many Christians you are taking a stand for “righteousness” and, even if you are jailed or forced to resign from your office because of your actions, you will be celebrated through this country as a martyr for Jesus Christ. No doubt you will be offered a book deal, be invited on news broadcasts, and go on a nationwide speaking tour. The name “Kim Davis” has already been associated with the “Tank Man,” the brave man who ironically and defiantly stood against government oppression by using his body to block the column of tanks rolling through Tiananmen Square in 1989. To many you are a freedom fighter, a veritable patriot opposing government tyranny. You have taken up your cross of righteousness and willingly bear it for truth.
Except that you are the government. You hold an elected position as clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. Upon taking your office, you took an oath to support federal and state constitutions and laws. You are not the “Tank Man,” Ms. Davis; you are the Tanks. You have not taken up your cross; you are the Roman legions nailing innocent LGBTQ people to the cross of your faith. The power you hold as clerk is power you willingly took to yourself when you ran for and were elected as county clerk. It is power that, if your conscious is truly stricken because of your deeply held religious beliefs, you can and should willingly lay aside.
So why am I, an openly gay Episcopal priest, thanking you, a brazenly heterosexist Christian? Because your actions have offered me a challenge to excel in love as the Gospels command us, and I love a good challenge. “Love your enemy,” Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel. “Pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” I willingly admit that it is quite easy to love people who agree with me, who hold my beliefs, who pray like I do, and who believe in the ever expansive and inclusive truth of God like me. It is harder for me to love people who take the Gospels of Jesus Christ and apply them recklessly and without love and, as a result, do spiritual and emotional damage to the very people we are called to love and serve.
I know all too well the debilitating pathology of myopic religion. You view the world in deeply divided absolutes. Right and wrong. Black and white. In and out. Righteous and wicked. Good and evil. Those are your beliefs. As with all religious beliefs, they work until they don’t. The problem with the way that you view the world is that you have effectively cut yourself off from relationship and community with many other people. If God is found “where two or three are gathered,” you have chosen to limit your options to encounter the holy. In your sharp demarcation of creation, you miss the God who swirls at twilight or moves at the margins. You miss God in poor man Lazarus outside the Beautiful Gate, or in the Samaritan Woman at the Well, or in the community of lepers outside the city.
And yet the Gospels compel me to create room for you even though you would not create for me. My invitation to the table obliges me to set a place for you, even though you’d let me starve at yours. I am compelled to take the high road of love, which makes me carry your name in prayer, not that God would change you, but that God would support you and nurture you in all goodness and love. I am compelled by this Gospel to which I am a prisoner in chains to tear down the boundaries of my heart and to welcome you in, even though I would be refused the same hospitality in yours. You would willingly dehumanize me. It is my meet, right, and bounden duty that I affirm your humanity. Like our Lord who willingly offered himself in love to those who could not or would not return it – I am duty-bound to do the same. Why? Because creation will know that we are Christians, not by the way we argue right versus wrong, but by the way we love one another. That’s my journey towards what Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun, calls the “unboundaried heart.”
Prayer is a practice we engage in, not so that we can change God or change other people, but so that we can change ourselves. Including you in my prayers is not so that God will change your heart, but so that God can change mine. The process of conversion implicit to the spiritual life is the process wherein God overthrows the temples of our hearts, removes all the idols and false gods that we have raised upon our small altars, and enthrones himself as Lord. Through that process we learn to see as God sees, not through eyes of division and darkness, but through eyes of love and welcome. Enlightenment, Ms. Davis, does not come through raising walls around our hearts, but by tearing them down and exposing them to the God who comes to us over and over, day after day, in unexpected ways.
Some will attack your appearance. Other will attack your past (though I do find it hard to rationalize your serial remarriages with your desire to uphold the sanctity of marriage… but that’s an aside). I will try to do neither, though I do ask for you patience as God ain’t through with me yet.
Instead I will pray for you. Not in the polite, passive-aggressive, “Bless her heart” Southern meaning of “pray for you,” but really pray for you. I will hold you in my words until I can hold you in heart because when there is space enough to hold you in my heart, that will be the evidence I need to know that God is real and that God is still in the business of conversion and transformation. My initial response to your actions have revealed a darkness in me, and my choice to pray for you is an invitation for the love of God to break this heart of stone.
Until then, I offer my wounded, broken, and fortressed heart on the altar of God’s love and pray that God will transfigure me with the light of Jesus Christ until I shine with his glory.
In the meantime, I pray “Gracious God… help me not be an ass.” Yep, that seems like a good place to start.
Your Brother in Christ,
Fr. Marcus Halley +