Kim Davis & when faith forces you to lose your job

There’s something appealing to watching a person stick with her convictions and suffer for them. It’s the stuff of inspirational movies about inner city teachers and coaches who turn around losing teams and such. And while I’ve admired that gutsy buck-the-system and damn-the-consequences moxie that Kim Davis has shown, there is much about her approach that bothers me.

Do your job. Or quit.

Kim Davis was elected to do a certain job. When a part of that job became onerous to her — namely, issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — she refused to do her job. In the name of fairness, she refused to issue any marriage licenses, including to opposite-sex couples, trying to skirt the gay marriage issue (kinda). But that was a refusal to do the simple duties of her job.

The Supreme Court agreed. Even though she declared that this was a matter of religious freedom, she was told to do her job.

In a similar case of a woman refusing to do her job because of religious principles, Charee Stanley, a recently converted Muslim woman refused to serve alcohol as part of her job as an airline flight attendant. She has been suspended and has filed a religious discrimination suit against her employer.

In both cases, the women came to sincere conclusions that their faiths prohibit them from participating in certain activities required by their jobs. And in both cases, they believe that they should be allowed to forego those odious activities in the name of religious freedom.

In her defense, Stanley says, “I don’t think that I should have to choose between practicing my religion properly or earning a living.”

On face value, that sounds like a legitimate expectation. But the reality is that most of us who are guided by faith make all kinds of decisions about what we will and won’t do on a regular basis. And there are jobs that we reject out of hand without even really considering them because of reasons arising from faith.

Faith has always limited the occupations of those who are among the faithful.

For instance, I have never considered a job as a pornographer or someone who earns a living by bilking the elderly. It’s never even crossed my mind, because the way of following Jesus rejects it out of hand.

The early Church found a number of professions to be unsuitable for those who follow Jesus. The following is from chapter 16 of The Apostolic Tradition, written around A.D. 215 by Hippolytus of Rome:

They will inquire concerning the works and occupations of those are who are brought forward for instruction. If someone is a pimp who supports prostitutes, he shall cease or shall be rejected. If someone is a sculptor or a painter, let them be taught not to make idols. Either let them cease or let them be rejected. If someone is an actor or does shows in the theater, either he shall cease or he shall be rejected. If someone teaches children (worldly knowledge), it is good that he cease. But if he has no (other) trade, let him be permitted. A charioteer, likewise, or one who takes part in the games, or one who goes to the games, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. If someone is a gladiator, or one who teaches those among the gladiators how to fight, or a hunter who is in the wild beast shows in the arena, or a public official who is concerned with gladiator shows, either he shall cease, or he shall be rejected. If someone is a priest of idols, or an attendant of idols, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. A military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected. If someone is a military governor, or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God. The prostitute, the wanton man, the one who castrates himself, or one who does that which may not be mentioned, are to be rejected, for they are impure. A magus shall not even be brought forward for consideration. An enchanter, or astrologer, or diviner, or interpreter of dreams, or a charlatan, or one who makes amulets, either they shall cease or they shall be rejected.

What we have here is a gathering of the practices of the early Church, practices which were seen as originating from the apostles Jesus himself had selected and authorized. And included among these practices was a call for new Christians to cease jobs or optional parts of jobs that were contrary to their new faith.

Faith has a cost. And sometimes that cost is your job, your income.

If Christians truly follow Jesus, we should find it unsurprising that there is a cost to our discipleship. Paul wrote to the Philippians about Jesus, whose example we follow, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6-7).

In a way, Jesus quit his heavenly job and took up a lowly servant job at great personal cost to himself. If he could do that out of love for us, we can give up jobs out of love for him.

And many have. My father-in-law gave up a flourishing business career in order to become a missionary as did my Dad in order to become a Bible school teacher. Following in their steps, I gave up a well-paying magazine editor job to become a pastor. (It’s 13 years later and I still don’t make as much as I did then.) We are among masses who have taken career and financial hits because of our faith. And we’ve done so willingly and joyfully.

Our reward is in offering ourselves, our very lives, to the one who offered himself, his very life, for us. The joy set before him in doing that is the same joy set before us as his followers as we walk in his steps.

We do not expect our employers to change our job descriptions so that we can live out of our faith without encumbrance. No. We expect to modify our lives in whatever ways are necessary and even to quit our jobs to conform ourselves to the image of Christ. That will require painful sacrifice. But that’s OK. It’s a sign of our love for Jesus.

And beyond our sacrifice is exaltation and reward. Our God loves to lift up those who have humbled themselves for his sake (1 Peter 5:6). As Jesus himself said, those who give up things and relationships for his sake will receive 100x in the kingdom of God (Mark 10:29-30). This doesn’t make our faith mercenary; this is all because our God is the Rewarder (Hebrews 11:6), who is abundantly generous.

When we spend all of ourselves on God, we discover that he has spent all of himself on us, leaving us with a wonderfully unrepayable debt.

So, let’s stop grabbing for money and trying to secure our positions and our jobs and our future and get on with offering ourselves and whatever it is that we consider an asset to the one gave it all for us.