Since the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage this summer, we have heard a great deal from some segments of Christianity that this new law of the land would threaten the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by forcing people to engage in acts that run counter to their beliefs.
Most recently, they point to the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and ordered her staff to do the same, on the grounds that it would violate her religious rights. In the past few weeks though, Davis’ argument has been rejected by a federal court, she has been jailed for contempt of court due to her failure to comply with that ruling, and now been released under the condition that while she herself doesn’t have to issue licenses to same-sex couples, her office must. However, Davis continues to publicly protest that she is the victim in this, that her religious rights are being violated and she is being persecuted for her faith. And many Christian and political leaders are protesting right along with her.
When Davis and those rallying around her claim that their religious rights are being violated though, they almost always speak in definitive, exclusive terms. They confidently claim “their” faith as “ours”–claim to speak for all of Christianity–or at the very least in a way which clearly implies that their version of Christianity is “superior” to any other, or simply the only version and that all others are illegitimate.
That perspective is a troubling one. It easily leads to a religious arrogance which resists interaction and dialogue with those who see things differently than we do, and which is essential to mature faith. It also easily leads to “spiritual blindness”, the inability to see our own religious hypocrisies (or in the spirit of Christian charity, “ironies”). It seems ironic that Kim Davis, who so adamantly refuses to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the grounds that it is in dire opposition to the version of Christianity she and her supporters see as “superior”, has also been divorced several times–something else that version of our faith is in dire opposition to.
Religious superiority is not exclusive to Kim Davis and those who share her interpretation of our faith however. It is practiced by “traditional” and “progressive”, “literal” and “open” Christians alike. But regardless of who practices it, it leads, as author Salman Rushdie put it recently, to one group trying to deny the rights of another while insisting it is their rights which are being denied; victimizing others while claiming that they are the real victims.
And that, in a much more serious irony, fails to serve the very Jesus who is supposedly being defended. Because that Jesus was about justice and equality, not superiority.