Numerous people across cyberspace have been positing similarities between Kim Davis and Rosa Parks. Creating this compare and contrast list has been an interesting exercise because I have found many more differences than likenesses. Kim Davis is no Rosa Parks.
- Kim Davis is the elected clerk and public servant for Rowan County Kentucky.
- Rosa Parks was a seamstress and private citizen in Montgomery Alabama.
- Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.
- Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man.
- Kim Davis is an elected official who disobeyed a Supreme Court ruling and several District Court orders.
- Rosa Parks was a private citizen who disobeyed a bus driver and a local bus segregation law.
- Kim Davis’ civil disobedience came as a result of a Supreme Court decision which overturned State and local laws permitting marriage discrimination.
- Rosa Parks’ civil disobedience contributed to the Civil Rights Movement which overturned State and local laws permitting racial discrimination.
- Kim Davis justified her disobedience by claiming personal religious rights.
- Rosa Parks justified her disobedience by claiming basic human rights.
- Kim Davis refused to enforce federal law because she considers the law to be immoral.
- Rosa Parks refused to obey local law because she considered the law to be inhuman.
- Kim Davis is committed to resist legally sanctioned marriage equality.
- Rosa Parks was committed to resist legally sanctioned racial inequality.
- Kim Davis believes that Divine authority should trump the Constitution.
- Rosa Parks believed that the Constitution trumps local laws.
- Kim Davis and Rosa Parks are both decent, good-hearted people willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause.
Here is the part that gets me: the sacrificing oneself for a cause. It’s been interesting to hear the Conservative pundits cast Davis as a martyr in the tradition of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. It’s been interesting to listen to the Liberal outcry against that characterization. But there is a very real sense in which Kim Davis is a martyr for a cause.
I’ve wondered why she won’t resign and let the other clerks in Rowan County do their job. The understanding I have come to is that Davis truly believes her cause is just and her actions are justified. If Davis believes in this cause so much that she would ‘die’ for it, then it’s reasonable she would use whatever power she has to try to influence outcomes. Holding on to the job in order to push the issue makes sense when I see her as a zealot with a cause and a little bit of power.
I’m watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War on PBS and I’m struck by the comparison. People living in the South truly believed their cause was just and their actions were justified. Their commitment to a cause led to the sundering of America and to the horrific deaths of 2% of the entire population of our nation.
This commitment to a cause continues to influence our social fabric all these years later. Confederate flags still fly above some government buildings. Some school textbooks re-frame the history of the Civil War in order to teach that the cause was just and the actions were justified. The states of the old Confederacy often vote as a block and continue to rally around passionate cries for states rights.
Allegiance to a cause can be a powerful motivator.
Blind allegiance to a cause can be toxic.
Cynics are quick to say Kim Davis is betting on a book deal or some high dollar speaking engagements. Maybe. But I see one unpretentious woman who has found herself thrust into the middle of a national debate that has become ugly and brutal. I see a modest woman with a simple faith who truly believes she is doing God’s will and who believes her eternal salvation is at stake.
I see a blind allegiance that has twisted the truth, perverted justice and created yet another ungodly, unworthy cause. I hate the cause that led the Confederacy to nearly destroy our nation. I hate the “I’m right and you’re wrong” arrogance (or worse, the “I’m right and you’re stupid” disdain). I hate the cause that denies equality and dignity to our LGBTQ fellow citizens. I hate the hatred. Nevertheless I feel sorry for Kim Davis; she is a pawn.
A Christian blogger colleague, David Henson, says it well:
Instead of railing against Davis, mocking her education, her marital history, or her speech patterns, perhaps we could do better by redirecting our energies to the folks pulling the strings behind her.
He goes on to name several of the “cultural forces” that manipulate the passion of decent, good-hearted people and use them as props and puppets. It is not the Kim Davis’ of the world who are the problem, Henson says; it’s the Mike Huckabees and the Ted Cruzs “peddling a tired blend of bigotry dressed up as faith…” It’s the Jerry Falwell-styled lawyers “torturing every religious angle … and pushing their legal agenda to discriminate.”
I agree. If reasonable people are going to nudge this nation toward its ideals of liberty and justice for all, then we need to tone down the rage aimed at all the various Kim Davis’ out there and increase our outrage over the manipulative powers that cast injustice as a just cause. We need to expose and confront the cultural forces that seek to divide and conquer us. We need to push back without becoming like that which we dislike.
One more compare and contrast:
Just in case you want to read David Henson’s blog on Patheos (I recommend it):
Just in case you haven’t read enough stories about Kim Davis:
Just in case you are inspired to read more about Rosa Parks or listen to an interview:
The History Channel: 10 Things You May Not Know about Rosa Parks
See here the Academy of Achievement website with a video interview with Rosa Parks.
Rosa Parks Biography — Academy of Achievement. (February 26, 2010). Retrieved June 3, 2014, from http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/par0bio-1
This article has been edited thanks to feedback and comments.
Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequently shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.