An old Indian proverb tells the story of six blind men examining an elephant. One touches the elephant’s ear and tells the others this animal is “like a fan”. Another man touches the trunk and concludes, “no, it is just like a snake.” A third blind man examines the tusk and tells them the elephant feels like a spear. The man who touches its leg concludes it is like a tree, the man who grasps the tail says a rope and the one who feels the belly concludes the elephant is like a wall.
This story has long illustrated the difficulty of relating the Truth you understand to others. All of us have limited perspectives and all of us communicate those perspectives from our own limited experience. All of these men are right in what they observe, and all are wrong when they say their conclusion is the entirety of what an elephant is.
This is the difficulty of many things modern society argues about. It might be a Muslim boy bringing a homemade clock to school, a police officer shooting a teen at a suburban party, a military hostage who might have deserted, a President’s birth certificate or Donald Trump’s hair. Everyone has a perspective on all these things and depending on which angle you are viewing these issues from, the results will differ greatly.
I’m not telling you anything new. But allow me to show how important it is to reserve judgment until you have taken time to examine all the facts and opinions.
In this case, I want to use the Blind Men’s Elephant story to re-examine an already well-hashed-over issue: That of Kim Davis the county clerk from Kentucky. Here is essentially what happened. The Supreme Court declared that gay marriage is legal. Kim Davis is an elected official whose signature needs to be on all marriage certificates. She refuses to sign the certificate for same-sex couples in her office. The courts order her to fulfill her duty as the County Clerk. She refuses to sign them, citing only her Christian belief in marriage as between a man and a woman as the grounds for her refusal. As a result, she is thrown in jail..
Several days later, she was released from jail and told to do her job or allow her co-workers to do her job. She agreed to allow her deputies to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as long as her name is not on any of them. For the moment, this ends the most dramatic part of the story, though I’m sure comedians and political pundits will continue to make hay with this issue.
I am bringing it up for a completely different reason than most people. In order to get to my point, let me look at some of the Blind Men viewpoints that have been expressed about Kim Davis.
First, Kim Davis’ viewpoint. Here it is in her words, given through her attorney last week:
In addition to my desire to serve the people of Rowan County, I owe my life to Jesus Christ who loves me and gave His life for me. Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.
I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word. It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
She claims that this is a Heaven and Hell issue for her. (She never clarifies this, not noting whether she means the couples she would be marrying are going to hell or that she would go to hell if she issued the licenses). In her mind the issue is simple: If she issues the license, she is violating a “central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage“.
There are some who agree with her viewpoint on marriage who point out that she could have just resigned her post and it would have accomplished the same thing. She claimed that would have been a slap in the face of those who elected her. Please note: She could not be fired since she was elected, not hired.
This is Kim Davis and her perspective. Obviously, the same-sex couples wanting to receive a marriage license from her see her differently. They see her as a religious bigot who tries to prevent them from doing what they are legally allowed to do. Their position is just as clear as Kim Davis’ position in the matter. Few people can misunderstand either Kim Davis or the couples wanting to have their marriage recognized, regardless of which of these you agree with.
Enter, everyone else! The rest of us observe all of this and have our own slant on it.
First, there are the preachers, teachers and religious leaders of various denominations. To them, Kim Davis becomes a symbol. For the preachers who believe gay marriage is a violation of the Bible, Kim Davis is their spokesperson. She is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Or, at the very least, she is a sacrificial lamb being hoisted upon a misguided Supreme Court decision.
There are other preachers and teachers who are in favor of gay marriage who see Kim Davis as a caricature of Bible-belt conservatism, of Kentucky Bible-thumping. They are saying that Kim Davis and others like her are a dying breed and that their brand of Christianity is now completely marginalized and should be abandoned.
In this circus of opinions, you will always have the clowns. These are the ones who mock what they disagree with and treat every social issue as an opportunity to rip others apart. Primary among these are the late-night talk show hosts and their ilk. Every host took a shot at Kim Davis and every one of them used her as their whipping girl in one fashion or another. The Social Media jury also weighed in, creating several different memes. One of the most popular was the “Still Did Their Job” meme.
Here are two examples of this buffoonery:
Then, the politicians got involved. Senators, a Governor, several Republican presidential hopefuls all traveled to the jail where Kim Davis was being held to show their support and encouragement. When she was released from jail, many of these politicians stood there and held up her hands, applauded her and told the world how proud they were to be associated with her. Not surprisingly, now that her issue has died down, they don’t book any more flights to Kentucky. She may never hear from any of them again.
Civil Rights and Gay Rights groups continue to pummel Davis. Conservative Christian groups are inviting Kim Davis to come and speak at rallies, conferences and churches. We all can see that no matter what Kim Davis is doing right or wrong personally, all of these groups are using her to further their own agenda. That is not surprising or news but it does bring up an issue for all of us who read, listen to or watch the news.
The wrong thing to do is to jump on the bandwagon for or against anyone too early. The wrong thing to do is probably to jump on any bandwagon. And with the Internet, that is getting harder to resist doing every day.
During the week of 9-11, I was taking a class in Creative Writing from a local community college. Two days after the twin towers were demolished, we sat stunned in the classroom trying to make sense of it all. Our professor, a noted poet laureate and wise woman had a caution for us that morning. She warned us not to write about the event itself for a long time. “This is the kind of thing that will prompt you to fiery diatribes or cries of indignation. Try to resist writing down any of those thoughts for now” she offered.
Instead, she urged us to write down what each of us was feeling inside. If we were wrapped up in anger, grief, pain, confusion, racism, revenge, sadness, etc., those were the things she counseled us to focus on. Not to put too fine a spiritual point on what she said, this is similar to what Jesus said to his closest friends on the night he was betrayed. He told them to watch and pray so each one of them would be able to stand firm in the disaster that was coming. He didn’t wax eloquent on the injustice of the moment. He didn’t give them reasons to be indignant, reasons to be sad, reasons to be hopeful. He instructed them to deal with their own stuff.
I did write about how I felt during that season. I had the additional pain of my brother-in-law’s death, which happened two days after 9-11. All of that grief and pain ate up my mind during those days. Writing helped me to put it all in perspective. I waited two years before writing my feelings about what happened when New York, Washington, D. C. and Pennsylvania were attacked on 9-11. Those two years opened my eyes to so many things, most of which I never would have seen in the first week after the attack.
Let’s bring this around to Kim Davis. Every person who takes a position on what she is doing has a part of the equation correct. Kim Davis is trying to live out her faith. She is not living up to the Law. She could have resigned. She is not doing her job. She has a right to protest a law she does not agree with. Davis is allowing her subordinates to issue marriage licenses.
But those are always going to be the surface issues here. There are much deeper ones involved and they are not obvious. Let me give you an example. In her lawyer’s statement to the press, she says this:
Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.
Kim Davis has been married four times and divorced three times. There are many bible-believing Christians that would say every time she divorces and remarries, she commits adultery. Many of the same preachers that say homosexuality is sin also say divorce is sin. So, when Kim Davis went to church four years ago and surrendered her life to Christ, it was because of the message of grace and forgiveness that led her to God.
Does that same grace and forgiveness extend to her job and the people she believes are sinning? I can’t say, and I can’t say what that would look like. There are some who would say that it is hypocritical of her to take a stand against gay marriage but not against serial divorces. If she acknowledges that her sins can be forgiven, does she also acknowledge that the sins of the same-sex couples can be forgiven?
I am not proposing what is right or wrong in this situation. What I am encouraging my readers to do is to always take every news story and ponder it before jumping to conclusions. There are hundreds of issues we may be attracted to and count ourselves part of. Most of the time, we take the position that fits with our worldview at that moment. Or, we adopt the position of the news outlet we most often view. Or, we form an opinion based on the position we already hold.
Instead, perhaps we should reserve opinions on the actions and inactions of others until we have thought about and meditated on the entire issue. This is wisdom. It also helps keep us from dying on every mountain and championing causes that will be here today and gone tomorrow.