Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
September 3, 2015

Christian Conservative “Counter Logic”: That Kim Davis Photo and God’s Law

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Kim Davis refuses to grant same sex marriage licences because she answers to a higher law. You can see in this video clip that she calls it “God’s law,” but her gesturing betrays the fact that ultimately this decision comes down to her. This is about what Kim Davis believes. I’m sorry, sir. You’ll have to go somewhere else. There’s nothing she can do.

If Davis has become a national symbol of religious stubbornness when it comes to same sex marriage, it is partly because she embodies a real sense of embattlement felt by Christian conservatives. More than just a stylistic divide, the broader culture is coming at them from all angles, so the narrative goes. They’re the ones being attacked by a hostile media, a secularist government, and of course, those always-in-your-face gays. God only knows what would spill over if it weren’t for this wall of separation someone put here.

People are calling out thrice divorced Davis as a lousy advocate for the sanctity of marriage, saying who is she to decide who God’s law applies to. But hypocrisy charges miss the point, because owning up and taking possession of a problem always requires some difficult soul-searching. In Davis’s countenance, we can see what happens to a person in the moment of being caught off guard by their own reflection.

You see, at the historical origin of Davis’s Protestant Christianity is the idea that each individual person should be allowed to interpret the scripture for themselves and answer directly to God based on the dictates of her or his own conscience. Because it affirms the principle that every human being is equal in the eyes of God, it’s also the cornerstone idea behind modern liberalism and the notion that each person stands in an equal relationship to the law. In that case, this photograph of Kim Davis denying gay people equal treatment under the law by appealing to the dictates of her own conscience is a picture of the snake eating its own tail. This is, as the saying goes, what confronting the logical contradiction inherent to liberal democracy looks like.

Meanwhile, given the photograph’s strong formal references to civil rights era sit-ins at lunch counters, we are being encouraged to notice how subjects of equal rights advocacy change over time while the confrontational elements of democracy remain intact. What also carries over from then to now is evidence that securing a seat at the table in a straights-only establishment is, as it was back then, helped along by the persistent technology of public observation.

— Phillip Perdue

(photo: Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo. caption: Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office’s refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Although her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, Davis still refuses to issue marriage licenses).

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