Dear Kim Davis,
I read about your decision to go to jail rather than issue a marriage license to a gay couple. Having spent some time in jail for my own convictions, I keep thinking of you, wondering how you’re doing and what sense you’re making of your experience. Jail can be a lonely place. I want you to know I’m praying for you.
Clearly, you are a woman of conviction. Across the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina, I was taught by women like yourself who ran both the local Sunday schools and the public schools. Those women loved me and made me memorize Scripture, for which I will always be grateful. They instilled in me a faith that persecution cannot crush. When I think of their conviction, I doubt jail alone will do anything to change your mind.
But because I learned Scripture from women like you, I also know that people of conviction can change. I remember learning about Saul, that Pharisee of Pharisees, who was absolutely certain that the early Christians were an abomination to the Lord and a threat that must be eliminated. He was on his way to round up the early Christians when Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, knocked him off his horse, and showed him a better way.
God’s Movement always needs people like Saul.
Some of your supporters have compared you to Rosa Parks. But the difference between Ms. Parks and yourself is very much like the difference between the early Christians and Saul. Ms. Parks and the early church had conviction without social power; you (like Saul) have conviction backed by a position of power. (That other powers are currently challenging your authority simply means that you live, like all of us, in the world after Babel where God’s grace permits no one absolute power.)
Saul became Paul, an apostle of Jesus, when he realized that his social power had, in fact, imprisoned him. He was freed from the chains of fear by the good news that God’s grace is for everyone—male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. The law was no longer his master, he wrote from prison. Paul found a freedom that the world didn’t give and the world couldn’t take away.
Whatever your religious conviction about gay marriage today, the sad truth of American politics is that the same powers of control and fear that tried to silence Rosa Parks sixty years ago are exploiting the fears of conservative Christians in America to try to hold onto power. You are in jail today, dear sister, because you have been taken hostage by authorities who not only despise gay people but also you and me. They cynically believe they can maintain absolute power by pitting us against gay people, poor people, undocumented people, and the good earth that the Lord God made. Sadly, they know religion can help them do it.
They know this because it is the history of religion in America. When slaveholders sought to justify their use and abuse of black people, they turned to Scripture. When the Ku Klux Klan sought to destroy black leadership after Reconstruction, they quoted Scripture. When white men refused women the right to vote, they appealed to God for justification. The people who jailed Rosa Parks were good Christian people. The critics Dr. King was answering in his letter from jail were Christian ministers.
But these are not the only people of conviction in our history. Faith also inspired abolitionists, black and white, who created an Underground Railroad while they worked to end the vicious practice of chattel slavery. Faith stirred rich and poor to work together for labor rights in the early 20th century. Faith fueled America’s freedom movement and sustained hope that beloved community is possible despite the money and the meanness of those who consistently oppose it.
What is the difference between faith that divides and faith that builds up community? “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, ” wrote Frederick Douglass in 1845, “there is the widest possible difference.” It is the difference between Saul and Paul, the difference between Rosa Parks and you. It the difference between conviction that is held hostage to power and faith that is free.
Dear sister, we do not have to be slaves to fear. We have already been set free to love our neighbors and let God judge. God’s Movement always needs people of conviction like Saul and yourself. Some of the best abolitionists were the sons and daughters of slaveholders who learned that they were free to work for others’ freedom. Some of the white people who worked with Dr. King and Ms. Parks were the children of Klansmen. But they saw the light on their own Damascus Road and found the better way.
God’s movement always needs people like Saul. We need people like you, Kim Davis. So do not be deceived. Yours is not a Birmingham jail cell, but it could well be a house on the street called Straight where the scales might fall from your eyes. This is my prayer for you and for all the sisters and brothers emersed in the Christianity of this land whom you represent.
Your brother in the Christianity of Christ,