Kim Davis case divides ‘religious freedom’ advocates

Kim Davis in a candid moment.

Kim Davis in a candid moment.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis cries out after being released from the Carter County Detention Center, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Grayson, Ky. Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, was released Tuesday after five days behind bars. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis cries out after being released from the Carter County Detention Center, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Grayson, Ky. Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, was released Tuesday after five days behind bars.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) โ€” Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis has become a hero to many conservative Christians who see her refusal to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage as a litmus test for religious liberty in an increasingly secular culture.

But lost in the uproar are the voices of Christians, some equally conservative, who disagree with Davis’ stance and worry that holding Davis, the Rowan County clerk, out as a martyr will ultimately hurt the cause of religious liberty.

“I think she’s wrong on the merits, wrong theologically and her stance is harmful to Christians both in the religious liberty debate and in trying to present Christianity to the watching world,” said Peter Wehner, a Christian commentator who served in the last three Republican presidential administrations.

Many religious conservatives have shifted their focus in recent years from trying to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage to carving out protections for those who object to it on religious grounds. A Washington florist who was fined over her refusal to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding is celebrated by conservative Christian leaders across the U.S. who point to her story as an example of government overreach they fear will only grow.

But Davis’ position as a government official has some of those same conservative leaders warning that she may not be the ideal figure to rally around. As Rod Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, put it in a recent essay, Davis’ case is “not the hill to die on.” Rather, a line in the sand should be drawn “when they start trying to tell us how to run our own religious institutions โ€” churches, schools, hospitals, and the like โ€” and trying to close them or otherwise destroy them for refusing to accept LGBT ideology.”

Both Dreher and Wehner have expressed concerns that Davis’ case will drive away support for religious liberty by stirring up anger at a public servant who refuses to do her job, let a subordinate do it, or resign.

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