Kim Davis and the seduction of martyrdom

Print More
Mosaic of St. Perpetua, Croatia

Public Domain

Mosaic of St. Perpetua, Croatia

Mosaic of St. Perpetua, Croatia

Mosaic of St. Perpetua, Croatia

Martyrdom is a seductive thing in the Christian tradition.

Consider the autobiographical account of Perpetua, a young upper-class woman of Carthage who around the year 200 was condemned to death for refusing to offer a sacrifice for the well-being of the Roman emperors. Rejecting the pleas of her father and brother not to disgrace their family and abandon her infant son, she describes a vision of being turned into a gladiator, confronting a horrible looking opponent in her provincial arena.

And we drew near to one another, and began to deal out blows. He sought to lay hold of my feet, while I struck at his face with my heels; and I was lifted up in the air, and began thus to thrust at him as if spurning the earth. But when I saw that there was some delay I joined my hands so as to twine my fingers with one another; and I took hold upon his head, and he fell on his face, and I trod upon his head. And the people began to shout, and my backers to exult.

In actual fact, Perpetua was thrown into the arena, where she was killed by a wild cow and earned sainthood.

By contrast, the worst that can happen to Kim Davis is that she’ll spend a few weeks in jail — but (update) now she’s out! — and possibly lose her $80,000-a-year job as clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. But like Perpetua, she is a Christian convert standing up for her faith, a gladiator in a virtual arena before a shouting public of hundreds of millions, with exultant backers presumably numbering in the millions — including, today, GOP presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee, who would love those backers to cast their primary votes for him.

Embracing what passes for martyrdom in 21st-century America, Davis seems to believe, mistakenly, that no couple obtaining a marriage license from Rowan County without her signature can enter into a valid state of matrimony. Ergo, she is single-handedly preventing same-sex couples from getting married in her jurisdiction.

But though she claims to want the law changed so that Kentucky marriage licenses do not require the signature of the county clerk, I’d say she’s fighting to maintain the same sort of moral norm that governs the sale of alcohol in her part of the country. For the Twenty-first Amendment repealing Prohibition specifically permitted states and localities to decide whether they want to be wet, dry, or something in between.

Rowan County is itself moist — which is to say, dry except for the county seat of Morehead, where alcoholic beverages may be purchased in a package store. Of the adjacent counties, Fleming and Morgan, from which Rowan was created in 1856, are both dry, and so are Bath, Menifee, and Elliott. Lewis is moist, as is Carter — sufficiently so that a resident of Morehead can drive the 38 miles to Grayson and buy drinks by the glass.

In other words, even though there may be people all over Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District sipping mint juleps, particular jurisdictions can establish a public culture where commerce in such spiritus frumenti is not allowed. And so, by Kim Davis’ token, if there are same-sex couples living in Rowan County, so be it: Just don’t require the county to sanction them.

There’s only one problem with the analogy. Under the Twenty-first Amendment, no one has a constitutional right to buy alcohol. Whereas, under the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, same-sex couples have a constitutional right to obtain marriage licenses. No matter how seductive martyrdom is.

  • Ben in oakland

    I suggest that it isn’t martyrdom that is seductive for this woman, thrice divorced, fornicating previously, four times married.

    It’s the always present, always assumed, but completely unwarranted faith in her wholly imaginary superiority as a Christian, a moral person, and a human being that is so seductive. “Oh lookee me. I was a sinner, but now Jeeeeesus has forgiven me, even though I am living in sin.”

    The corollary is: “lookee me! I’n suffereing persecution for my faith. That just makes me God’s BFFF! Ain’t I special?”

  • Larry

    You are not a martyr or acting “out of moral conscience” by denying civil liberties to others. Just being a self-righteous jerk.

    Kim Davis and her supporters demonstrate how immoral the “moral” codes of Christians really can be. Behavior which would never be tolerated against them or any other group is extolled because the actor is of the same faith and shares the same prejudices. Legally this is no different than if she denied licenses to Muslims, Jews and Hindus (which also is in accordance with Christian thinking). If a Christian acts badly to others and can claim some scriptural excuse, all is OK with them.

  • Lisa Kaiser

    If Kim Davis were a Muslim woman insisting that belief in Islam would not let her issue marriage license, there would be screaming about sharia law and she would have been impeached by now. People like Kim Davis think that “Christians” have some special privilege to ignore the Constitution & impose their particular beliefs upon everyone, including when acting as a representative of government.

  • charles hoffman

    not much of a martyr
    she spent Labor Day Weekend in the county jail where she was brought samples of every deputy’s barbcue; she was out after 4 days to the tune of a Rocky movie.

    Had she resigned, she would have done the correct thing; as is, it wasn’t martyrdom, but rather a publicity stunt

  • Courton Voorhies

    What the author is indirectly alluding to is an issue of righteous ego, desirous to control things that are beyond its power. The same would seem to apply to your nasty childish comments as well.

  • Russ neal

    The premise here is that the written constitution means nothing except what the Supreme Court says it means. That is the very definition of the rule of men in opposition to the rule of law. Mrs. Davis is standing for the rule of law and against the lawless usurpation of the federal courts and the American left.