A Lesson From Animals About Being Humane

Boots, a Katrina Hurricane survivor, is an almost 13-year-old male Golden Retriever-Chow mix, who socializes 5 to 8 weeks-old motherless kittens at the Arizona Humane Society. Boots’ canineness invites the kittens to rub noses with him, snuggle up to him, and lay beside– and even on top of– him. His inborn, tail-wagging friendliness helps the kittens to overcome their fear and guardedness that comes from abandonment and isolation. (See “Boots, a Hurricane Katrina Survivor, Gives Back as a Kitten Nanny,” By Heather Marcoux, Dogster, Aug. 26, 2015)

These animals have a lot to show us human beings about being humane. Boots does not teach the kittens how to be cats; they already know that! And their adoption of him as their nanny does not make him any less a male dog; he already knows that. It is not about one being required to become like the other to reinforce the other’s rightness, dominance and security.   It is about the other’s emotional security that enables one to be—and to become—all that the one is. The greatly needed lesson for us human beings: Boots does not teach the kittens how to bark, but to regain their inborn naturalness to purr. Caring is about honoring and protecting other people’s right to be who they are, rather than requiring them to be like us. It is about The Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7: 12, NIV)

This is a message that Kentucky Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her evangelical Christian and political supporters need to hear. A Bible-believing—word-for-word– Apostolic Christian, Davis
cpministerresponded to the Supreme Court’s legalizing of same-sex marriage by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Her reported statement: “I never imagined a day . . . when I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate,” she continued, “would violate my conscience. It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment.” (“Statement of Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis,” Liberty Counsel, www.lc.org, Sept. 1, 2015)

To Kim Davis, “God’s definition of marriage” is found in Jesus’ response to Pharisees who “test[ed]” him in asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”   And Jesus responded, “Haven’t you read . . . At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united with his wife , and the two will become one flesh.’” (Matthew 19: 4-5)

Kim Davis “never imagined a day I would be forced to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself.” Here she reveals that her now evangelical indoctrinated imagination is oblivious to the existence, humanness and constitutional rights of gay and lesbian individuals and couples. Her Biblically defined “religious liberty” licenses her to decide which others merit the same liberty. Here discrimination is masked as “religious liberty.” Davis’ profession of “giving God the glory” means giving selective human beings the shaft.

Thus, led by “God’s authority,” Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—and then to any couples, which led two gay and two straight couples to sue her, resulting in U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning sentencing her to jail. As reported in an AP story, upon her release after five days, she “confiscated the marriage licenses” from her office and replaced them with new licenses, “issued not under “her“ authority as county clerk, “but ‘pursuant to federal court order.’” The American Civil Liberties Union stated that the “new licenses bring ‘humiliation and stigma’ to gay couples who receive them, and “asked Judge Bunning to order Davis’ office to reissue the licenses. (“Kentucky clerk could head back to court over licenses, By Adam Beam and Claire Galofaro, Sept. 22, 2015)

Kim Davis’ self-deception is seen in an interview Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She stated, “I have never once spouted words of hate. I have not been hateful.’” And in the next breath she said, “The licenses” being issued now “don’t have her authorization and are ‘not valid in God’s eyes’”– which means that gay and lesbian persons are not valid in her “God’s eyes”—and in her eyes. ”She also said, “I have friends who are gay and lesbians.   . . . We don’t agree on this issue, and we’re OK because we respect each other.” (Ibid) Sadly, her new-found sanctification is another’s invalidation.

Actually, Kim Davis is violating “a central teaching of . . . Jesus.” Mark 12 records that Pharisees and Herodians tried “to trap him in a statement,” asking, “Teacher . . . is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar or not?” And Jesus answered, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (verses 13-17) Kim Davis was elected county clerk to serve all the citizens, whose taxes pay her salary, including the taxes gay and lesbian persons “render to Caesar.”

Ms. Davis, like anyone else, can believe whatever she wants, but the freedom to act must be regulated for the protection of everyone in society. (For a legal case on this issue, see William E. Alberts vs.  Donald T. Devine and Others, 395 Mass. 59, Oct. 5, 1984-June 4, 1985) A present threat to that protection is the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which is being interpreted to legitimize discrimination against LGBT persons in the name of “religious freedom.” The Act states that “governments [state and local] shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion . . . without compelling justification.” (“Full Text of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” welcomehome.org) Here, one person’s “religious freedom” can be another person’s “burden.”

“Religious liberty” to Kim Davis—and to her supporters– is actually a matter of selecting accommodating Bible verses that justify oneself and the imposing of one’s assumed true religion on others. Or, symbolically speaking: licenses one to require a cat to bark like a dog.

Kim Davis is on more shaky Biblical ground. According to The Washington Post, she” has herself been married four times to three different men,” which is not uncommon, as “over 9 million Americans have been married three times or more.” (“Millions of Americans have been married three times or more,” By Christopher Ingraham, Sept. 3, 2015) She is not a hypocrite for having been married four times.

Most people who have been divorced just once, and there are countless many—never mind four times– know the unhappiness involved in such a separation. The same is even more likely true for Kim Davis, who has possibly experienced much emotional pain herself. Her published statement contains an understandable personal testimony. “Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfil her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ,” she said. “I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven, and I love the Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.” (“Statement of Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis,” Ibid)

Her self-deception– which some may interpret as hypocrisy– is not that of having been married four times, but her selectively choosing Bible verses to deny same-sex couples their constitutional right to marriage. Before finding “grace” and “forgiveness” in “Jesus Christ,” she herself violated a professed “central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage.” As Jesus is recorded as saying in Mark 10: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (verses 11, 12)

Unfortunately, the “grace” and “forgiveness” Kim Davis experienced did not inspire self-reflection and identification with others. Rather, her guilt and doubts about her worth were soothed by a religious appeal that offered acceptance and certainty in exchange for absolute obedience to intolerance-serving Bible verses that require the negation of self-understanding, imagination and empathy.

“Grace” and “forgiveness” are about sin and guilt, which certain Christian denominations emphasize to manipulate, control and subjugate people– for the advancement of their particular sectarian brand of Christianity. They are about the business of “transforming” the world into their likeness, rather than transforming their sectarianism and serving the alikeness that is in every human being—everywhere.

Those who rescued Hurricane Katrina victim Boots– including Susan Juergensen who then adopted him– only wanted to see him regain his health. Unlike the evangelical Christians caring for Kim Davis: saving her “soul” depended upon her giving up her mind and heart in obedience to a narrow Biblical definition of divine love. Sadly, it has confined her power to imagine what life and integrity are like for other human beings.

The Bible should inspire people to empower others, not gain power over them.  Boots’ instinctual caring for the kittens reveals that unconditional love is what being humane is about. The universality of such love is expressed in all kinds of relationships. Boots and the kittens—and gay and straight people everywhere in the world– reveal that love is love.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.