By now, everyone knows that Kim Davis is the face (behind bars) of anti-marriage hatred. Everyone also knows that she’s a hypocrite of the first order. Davis has been married four times (twice to the same man). Two of her divorces were separated by just two years. Just to up the Jerry Springer component, she was pregnant by her third husband while still married to the first. She gave birth to twins just five months after she married her second husband, who adopted the kids even though he wasn’t the biological father.
Now, for most reasonable people, Davis’s past would pretty much disqualify her as posing as the Saint of Rowan County. How much hypocritical can you get than proclaiming yourself the defender of marriage when you have a track record as a serial bride and adulterer to boot?
If you didn’t understand the way the religious right thinks, you might wonder if they aren’t just a wee bit put off by Davis’s past. Of course, you take your fundraising windfalls where you can find them, and Davis has certainly breathed financial life into some moribund outfits, like the National Organization for Marriage. But by most standards, Davis is a mighty flawed figure to be representing a cause.
But not by the religious right’s standards. The very things that make most people see Davis as a hypocrite is exactly the reason why conservative Christians love her.
The clue is in Davis’s statement about why she’s taken it upon herself to disobey the law. A lot of it is self-serving, but the most interesting part is her conversion story, which is a key component of the believer’s narrative.
“Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish,” Davis said. “There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.”
I am forgiven. That’s why Davis is such a heroine to the religious right. There is nothing in your past that can disqualify you once you have repented. All your sins are wiped clean. In fact, that Davis once violated the sanctity of marriage with abandon actually makes her even a better heroine in the eyes of conservative Christians. She’s seen the light, proving that nothing is impossible if you only believe.
It’s the same kind of attitude that animates the ex-gay movement. The biggest prize is the penitent who recants his past. The prodigal son is the one who gets the feast. And if the penitent falls back into bad habits — well, you can always get forgiven all over again, and the bad habits won’t count.
Take, for instance, what her right-wing evangelical lawyer said in response to charges of hypocrisy:
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel insisted her marriage and childbearing history is “not really relevant” to her decision to protest the law by denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her multiple marriages are “something that happened in her past,” he said, and that when she converted to Christianity “her slate was wiped clean.”
“She was 180 degrees changed,” he said.
For a lot of people, this sounds a bit like a theological stain remover that rewards the sloppy eater. After all, anyone who has been through even one divorce, especially when it involves children, know that while it is a decision that sometimes must be made, it can be ugly and traumatic, and there is no “clean slate.” It reverberates for years after the actual separation. In fact, this is often the religious right’s main argument against divorce: It harms children.
But for the world that Davis inhabits, it’s just another contradiction to sweep away. Her past doesn’t count against her because she is forgiven, no matter how much damage she has done. In fact, it makes the grace of God that much more powerful because it saved a sinner of her magnitude.
Of course, there’s a fine line between piety and sanctimony, and Davis hurdled past it a long time ago. Don’t think that any more revelations about her past will slow her down, though.
After all, they’ll only prove that she’s an even bigger heroine to her fans.