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Kentucky Clerk Didn’t Follow Christianity Before Converting To It


Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene wrote on Facebook this week:

Today one of my college student members told me how one of her profs recently asked the class how many of them knew the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two kids raised their hand, one of whom thought it referred to the time Jesus spoke to the woman by the well. The professor corrected her and then told her it was the story where the beggar was at the side of the road and the Pharisee passed by. “A pharisee” he told the class “was like a governor.”

So remember, Christians, when these folks tell you that it’s not against your religion to bake a cake for a gay wedding, you can trust them. They’re experts.

I should pause to explain, in case any journalists are reading this, that the parable of the Good Samaritan is completely different from the story of Jesus speaking with the woman by the well. And “a pharisee” was not “like a governor.” Not “like a governor” at all, really, but a member of a Jewish sect known for its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices and adherence to oral laws and traditions.

This note from Pastor Fiene touched a nerve with Christians on Facebook because stories like this are so common. Yesterday the media were ecumenical in their ignorance, first completely messing up a story about some papal declaration.

Leaving aside the complex particularities of Roman Catholic limitations on what can and can’t be forgiven by priests (as opposed to bishops), the general point of all Christianity is forgiveness for our sins. And it’s not some newfangled thing. We’ve been preaching the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus for, what, 2000 years? Or check out this doozie:

It’s so obviously not true that you have to wonder just what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is going on at MSNBC that no one in the chain of command realized their mess up. Though it did inspire this satirical response mocking MSNBC:

It’s oft-joked that the media treat abortion like a sacrament, but that joke had a bit too much truth to it, as seen in media responses to the Pope’s letter.

Confusion about forgiveness of sins abounds in the media. A breathtaking example of that is on display with current media figures expressing their hostility and anger at a Kentucky civil servant whose views on marriage law are different from most journalists. She’s in the middle of a legal battle over her decision to stop issuing any and all marriage licenses since the Supreme Court claimed the U.S. Constitution required states to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. I’m a vehement defender of religious freedom, even for civil servants, but I disagree with this woman’s legal arguments (Marriage scholar Ryan Anderson has a good explanation of how her case differs from other religious liberty cases.). Even though I disagree with her, however, I respect her right to make her case both in the courts and the court of opinion.

Now, if you disagree with journalists on the marriage topic, you should be prepared for them to go after you. They are still taking their time investigating almost any angle associated with Planned Parenthood’s harvesting of organs from aborted children, mind you, but they wasted no time doing a deep dive into Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ past. Perhaps the most interesting thing about her past, given that she’s waging a (losing) religious liberty battle, is that she is apparently a recent convert to Christianity — her conversion took place “about four years ago,” according to her legal counsel.

Keep that in mind. She converted to Christianity about four years ago.

In case any journalists are reading, I should explain. The ol’ dictionary includes the following definition for conversion:

a change of attitude, emotion, or viewpoint from one of indifference, disbelief, or antagonism to one of acceptance, faith, or enthusiastic support, especially such a change in a person’s religion.

So a conversion is a change from one thing to another, from indifference or hostility to a teaching to enthusiastic support. Good to know!

Now let’s look at a story that ran in U.S. News & World Report headlined headlined “Kentucky Clerk Fighting Gay Marriage Has Wed Four Times.” The article is written by a journalist named Steven Nelson. Here’s the lede for his story:

The Kentucky county clerk facing potentially stiff penalties for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses has been married four times, raising questions of hypocrisy and selective application of the Bible to her life.

You might be confused right now why it became OK for the media to slut-shame someone. Usually they’re complaining about it, such as when some well-meaning woman tells college co-eds to watch their alcohol intake before heading over to an out-of-control frat party. It’s good to remember, however, that slut-shaming by the media is permissible — welcome, even — so long as the victim is a political opponent.

And opposing the redefinition of marriage is pretty much grounds for instant excommunication in our elite religion. As a result, Nelson has all the gory details about her supposed “hypocrisy” and “selective application of the Bible to her life.” So did each of these divorces take place in the last four years? It wouldn’t actually be a sufficient proof of hypocrisy if each of these divorces took place since 2010, but it would be a necessary requirement for them to take place within the time period she was Christian.

Roll the tape, Nelson:

“The marriages are documented in court records obtained by U.S. News, which show that Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis divorced three times, first in 1994, then 2006 and again in 2008.”

Wait, what? Hunh? But I thought she was a total hypocrite! And it’s not like Nelson is unaware of the recent nature of her conversion. It’s buried deep in the story, and completely undermines his lede (and activist tweeting) but he quotes her legal representative on her conversion taking place “about four years ago” and has him saying of her, “She was 180 degrees changed.”

Now, any personal failings on her part are actually irrelevant to her legal argument, however much fun the media has in slut-shaming her. But I am hard-pressed to understand how she can be a hypocrite for failing to perfectly adhere to teachings of a religion she wasn’t even part of! Hypocrisy isn’t failing to practice what you preach. Hypocrisy is pretending to have beliefs that you don’t actually have. Or, as one of the few sane reporters responding to the story put it:

Compare that with Nelson, the supposedly impartial reporter:

He also retweeted this, charmingly:

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 2.00.04 AM

I’ll not even mention the media figures mocking Ms. Davis’ appearance or modest dress and only those who think Ms. Davis’ should have known she would become Christian some day. These include figures from the Huffington Post, Daily Beast, Washington Post and New York Times, among others.

And I could go on and on and on, but you get the point. It was this tweet by New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum (actually its retweet by New York Times political reporter Trip Gabriel) that brought my attention to the phenomenon of journalists declaring a woman a hypocrite for failing to live as a perfect Christian prior to her conversion to Christianity.

I went off a bit on Twitter about how bad the New York Times is on religious matters (it’s an old concern of mine. See: “Will Someone Explain Christianity To The New York Times?,” among others.). One person responded:


Listen, I don’t know if Ms. Davis’ argument is that the Supreme Court’s decision is constitutionally illegitimate or that redefining marriage to include same-sex unions is simply an ontological impossibility. But even if Ms. Davis had always been a Christian, and had particular sins associated with marriage, that wouldn’t actually have anything to do with her legal argument. As such, her marriage history is frankly irrelevant. That she is only a recent convert to Christianity, however, makes this slut-shaming and hypocrisy-hunting downright incoherent.

The inconsistency of this journalistic approach is also telling. There are many instances of the media deciding against even mentioning a state or federal judge’s sexual orientation in cases dealing with redefining marriage. That’s a fine policy, in my view, but it’s a good idea to be consistent about it lest you appear to be a hack.

Finally, while I agree with Ryan Anderson that marriage culture has been irreparably harmed and was eventually redefined as a result of widespread divorce, I don’t trust any of these reporters to understand Christian teachings on divorce. I’m fairly extreme in my religious opposition to divorce (you ain’t getting rid of me, Mr. Hemingway!), but Christian arguments against divorce are actually quite different from Christian arguments against same-sex marriage. Jesus himself roots marriage in a natural understanding of male and female sexual complementarity. And Jesus himself talks about how rarely divorce should be accepted. He does it in the same chat with — wait for it — Pharisees (see here).

Yes, Mr. Appelbaum, Ms. Davis has a record of Biblical transgressions. So do we all. She will continue to sin in the years to come. What she has found in her conversion to Christianity, however, is forgiveness of sins. Regardless of the media’s strong views in favor of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, it would be nice if they took the time to at least understand this central teaching of the Christian faith before attempting to report on it.