Why should we value separation of church and state?

Todd Seifert


The media circus surrounding Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year, continues to grow.

In the latest news, lawyers for Davis, who has been in jail since being found in contempt of court on Sept. 3, announced they plan to argue that she should be released from jail, and the county should make accommodations so she can do her job – of which the issuance of marriage licenses is but a small part. Some people continue to celebrate the fact that a woman is sitting in jail because she is holding true to her beliefs. Others are outraged that a person standing up for her religious rights has been placed behind bars.

Truly, there are no winners in this fight. A woman is sitting in jail for doing what she believes is right, and we are a nation divided on an admittedly hot-button issue.

Yes, Kim Davis has had problems in the past. She has been married multiple times, not exactly the intent for marriage shared in the Bible. But she reportedly found her faith since living through those circumstances. If Jesus could forgive the Samaritan woman at the well, who apparently had gone through five husbands and at the time was living with another man, in John 4:5-19, who are we to judge if Kim Davis has turned her life around?

The challenge for me comes with the concept of separation of church and state. Davis is free to live her beliefs just as all of us are. But when she agreed to uphold the laws of her county as an elected official, she agreed to draw a line between her beliefs and the laws of her county, state and nation.

I know. Some of you reading this are already saying, “Follow Jesus' teachings over man’s law.” True enough. But I struggle with that explanation for two reasons.

First, Jesus is never recorded to have spoken about homosexuality in the New Testament. Perhaps He did and simply nobody wrote it down. That very well could be the case. But He also may not have addressed the issue directly.

Second – and this is the bigger one for me – is as Americans, we should value the separation of church and state because it allows us to better understand our society versus our personal beliefs. We don’t have to agree with same-sex marriage. We do, however, have to respect the rule of law and acknowledge that this action is now legal in society. The state does a lot of things we don't necessarily agree with, but we don't stand up to voice our displeasure as much as has happened in this case.

That doesn’t mean pastors should be required to officiate same-sex marriages. Our laws allow for secular proceedings for a reason. Davis works in that secular realm with the issuance of licenses being part of her job. A justice of the peace can perform the "ceremony."

Here’s why separation of church and state is so important: Right now, our country still sways more toward the Judeo-Christian belief system than others. But what happens if, say, 100 years from now, the United States is more Muslim in nature? Or Buddhist? Or some other faith system that we haven’t even heard of yet?

It is during such a time that we, as a society and as Christians, would value the state handling the affairs of the state and the church handling the affairs of the church.

So Christians can support Kim Davis’ willingness to willingly not adhere to the law. But as Americans, we should be thankful that the law is holding her accountable. We would want the same to be said if Davis was of some other faith belief.

As this issue continues, I encourage everyone to adhere to something that is very well documented to have been addressed by Jesus. In Matthew 22:36-40, he replies to a question by saying the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He goes on to say the second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

What a great world this would be if we would pay less attention to the issues that divide us and pay more attention to these important words meant to bring us all together.

Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference. The opinions expressed in his blog are his own and may not be representative of the conference or the worldwide United Methodist Church.