An Open Letter to Kim Davis

09/08/2015 06:57 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2016
Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis speaks to a gathering of supporters during a rally on the steps of the Kentucky State C
Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis speaks to a gathering of supporters during a rally on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort Ky., Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Davis spoke at the rally organized by The Family Foundation of Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. The crowd of a few thousand included churchgoers from around the state. Davis has been sued by The American Civil Liberties Union for denying marriage licenses to gay couples. She says her Christian faith prohibits her from signing licenses for same-sex couples. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Dear Kim,

In light of all of the attention being focused on you and your family at the moment, there are three things I would like to say to you.

The first is that I am impressed by your ability to stand by your own beliefs and convictions. I absolutely do believe you when you say that this matter is not about holding ill will against anyone but that it is about God and God's Word. And I can identify with the reassurance you have felt and received when you joined your church four years ago. That kind of forgiveness is no small thing and I'm glad that you have found such peace.

The second is related to your strong convictions: I am so terribly sorry that you have received such horrible reactions from people, including death threats, and that you have been under such intense scrutiny by many news outlets, which has brought out the less pleasant sides of many people. Rude and harmful behavior is never appropriate or justified, in my opinion.

The third thing I would like to say comes from my own convictions as an educator. My area happens to be biblical studies, which means that the Bible is so important to me that I spent nine years in graduate schools learning more about it. In my twenties, I spent a great deal of time memorizing biblical passages, so that I had them with me at all times, and encouraging others to also become a follower of Christ.

It is because of my own background that I can say that I do understand why this matter is not about what other people think or say; it is truly about God's Word for you. And that is why, as an educator, I would like to ask that you take a few moments to think about the way you read the Bible.

For instance, when you read a passage such as Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13, do you ever stop to think about why that was being said? It is also noteworthy that it is in the midst of an incredibly long list of people that men were not to have sexual relations with -- none of which seem to need to be said (all women he would see at a family reunion).

What I do not hear people talking about when they reference Lev 20:13 is the why. For a group of people who had been promised they would outnumber the stars having children, and lots of them, was pretty important. Notice there isn't a parallel command to women. Back then people tended to believe that all that was needed for a child to begin gestating was the male's sperm. The woman was perceived as an incubator. Thus, there are three passages that warn men against "wasting their seed." (Gen 38:8-10, Lev 18:22 and Lev 20:13). Those passages are not addressing two men in love; they are addressing sexual relations that cannot lead to children.

Many people refer to Genesis 19, the Sodom story, in this conversation, as well. The thing is, if you read that passage slowly and carefully, and try to imagine what music you would put in the background if you were filming it, you are likely to notice that what the men of Sodom had in mind, regardless of the recipients, was harm. When Lot offers up his two virgin daughters to take the place of his visitors he is simply trying to turn the intention of harming someone away from his visitors. The idea that the men of Sodom were going to have sex with the two visitors is misinformed, in part by the wording in the story itself.

"Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them" (NIV, Genesis 19: ]5).

The Hebrew verb there is "to know," and we do see this used as a euphemism for sexual relations. The thing is those men did not want to have consensual sex; they wanted to rape the two visitors. Perhaps the people who wrote down this story had not stopped to think about the difference, but I assure you that there is a huge difference. Sex is about pleasure and certainly it is entered into consensually. Rape is about power and often about shaming or humiliating the other person.

In the story, the actions and intentions of the men of Sodom would have been no less harmful if Lot had succeeded in handing over his two daughters to them. Notice that in 19:9 the men say, "Now we will deal worse with you than with them," implying that they would like to inflict harm on Lot, instead. The Sodom story is sending a message that God wants His people to be kind and hospitable.

When people look at Genesis 2:24 and say, "See! There is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," I do understand why. This is the first couple discussed in the Bible, and of course it is a man and a woman. The tricky thing about this verse, though, is that it is not even talking about marriage. It is talking about the human tendency to want to pair up and strike out on our own, away from our families of origin, to start our own families. The use of "wife" in 2:24 is a choice by our translation committees. It can just as easily say "woman," instead, just as it does in the previous verse, "this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."

Many people also look at Genesis 1:28 and claim that couples are meant to be able to procreate, since God commands the two newly-formed-humans to, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." I understand the focus on this verse, but again, the story was initially written to a small group of people who had been promised they would outnumber the stars. Today we have an overpopulation issue on this planet, do we not?

Additionally, I do not see people claiming that the very next verse still needs to be upheld. "God said, 'See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food'" (Genesis 1:29). But if a person has to endorse procreation as essential for couples, then it seems to me that you also need to be a strict vegan. As self-proclaimed "hillbilly types," I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you are not vegans.

I understand that the Bible is central in your life and that you are committed to upholding what you read there. Thinking about how we read the Bible is just as important, it seems to me. It was those same convictions that led me to seek education about the Bible. That education, in turn, led to me teaching many courses on the Bible, and to writing a book that presents important basic information about the Bible on topics such as this one.

Nowhere in the Bible does God say that two men or two women who love each other are going to hell for it. Nowhere. What the Bible does say about marriage and sex is at times rather startling. I think it would be in your own best interest to be fully informed on them, given your stance regarding marriage licenses.