I know Kim Davis. Not personally, mind you, but I know her. She is my mother, my aunts, the women who yelled at us for being drowsy during long sermons and gave us candies for memorizing Bible verses. I know her.
I know her because I lived in the world she inhabits. She is part of the Pentecostal movement, the movement that raised me. Like my mother, she found Jesus as a grown woman. She probably found Jesus out of some combination of desperation, emptiness and a desire to be in control, while also surrendering control. The surrender comes with obeying all of the many, varied and often ridiculous rules laid out ostensibly by the Bible, but more honestly, by the clergy and the “head office.” The control comes from imposing those same rules, not just on yourself, but on your family, your community and anyone who thinks differently than you. The control comes from being right – not through years of searching and trying, but by reading the manual. Pentecostalism is a bit like assembling IKEA furniture. As long as you follow all the instructions, you’ll get to hëavën.
When I look at her, I see those women. I see the stubborn, closed-off hatred disguised as piety. I see the surety that comes from having a side in a fight, from backing a team that always wins because it sets the rules. I also recognize the fervour of a new recruit. Davis “found” Jesus just four years ago. She’s still fresh. And the fresh ones make the best mouthpieces. They echo because they haven’t done their homework yet.
I did my homework. After believing for years, I started to doubt (mostly because praying felt a lot like talking to myself.) In order to challenge that doubt, I read all the books I could find about what I believed. I read the books Constantine cut out of the Bible. I read works written contemporaneous to it. I read books by biblical scholars and professors and pastors. I attended sermons and services and sleep-away camps. I mainlined god. I searched and researched the way a person should before using their religion to oppress others.
I looked and I found contradictions and problems and lies and hypocrisy and a lot of political finagling. What I didn’t find was an absolute truth. Absolute truth doesn’t come easily, if it exists at all. You can’t go to an expensive building in your best clothes and find absolute truth. No one can hand it to you. Even if they do, that will be their truth, not yours.
In all of my searching and reading and hunting, the closest thing I’ve ever found are four words: First, do no harm. That’s my truth. I will never expect it to be anyone else’s. My favourite passage from the Bible-I-do-not-follow remains, to this day, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
In the end, what I see when I look at the be-smocked and matron-haired woman who resembles my childhood is a person who chose a path that would both forgive all her shortcomings and let her judge other’s. I see someone who thinks that four years of learning means that she has the answers. With those answers she has built an ideological wall that no amount of rational discourse can climb.
So while folks mock Kim Davis, while they rally behind hashtags that vilify or martyr her, I’m remembering an easier time. A time when I knew I was right, without considering all the variables. A time when singing the right songs and saying the right prayers meant a super-hero in sandals had my back. A time when I did not have to consider why people do what they do, because demons and angels were the answer to most of the behaviour of sinners and saints.
It is easy to be holy for eschewing lipstick or mainstream music or signing documents that let others express their love and commitment. It’s easy to be right because a man behind a pulpit says you are.
When I walked away, I gave up self-assurance for self-searching. I gave up the right to judge for the right to choose, the right to love and the right to ask questions. It was not an easy trade and it destroyed a part of me that felt pure, in that it was naive and simple. I think I was happier then. I was happier trying to convert my school friends and shame people whose lives were pointed in a different direction than mine. I was happier as a girl who glowered and judged and wore long skirts and held longer grudges.
I was happier. But I know – I know for a fact – that I did more harm.