MRBlog | Then They Came For The County Clerks: The Martyrology of Kim Davis (and Mike Huckabee for President)

Former Arkansas Governor Huckabee addresses the third session of Republican National Convention in Tampa

By Thomas J. Whitley

First they came for the Bakers, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Baker.

Then they came for the Florists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Florist.

Then they came for the County Clerks, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a County Clerk.

Then they came for me — oh, wait, never mind.*

No one was surprised Wednesday evening when a gaggle of GOP hopefuls expressed their support for Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis. Many were surprised, though, at the form that this support took and the comparisons drawn by some of the candidates. Rick Santorum compared Kim Davis to the long-debunked story of Cassie Bernall’s martyrdom at Columbine High School in 1999. [NB: Do yourself a favor and read Elizabeth Castelli’s “Religion as a Chain of Memory: Cassie Bernall of Columbine High and the American Legacy of Early Christian Martyrdom.”] Lindsey Graham used the opportunity to pivot to the usual fear mongering about “Islamic websites” and dropped this wonderfully xenophobic gem: “Young men from the Mideast are different than Kim Davis and we’ve got to understand that.” But this was the Kid’s Table debate, you might say. Well, there was plenty of Kim Davis praise to go around during the main event.

Perhaps the most interesting Kim Davis riff came from Mike Huckabee, who thought an apt comparison to Kim Davis’ persecution was that Muslim detainees cannot be forcibly shaved, or something like that.

We made accommodation to the Fort Hood shooter to let him grow a beard. We made accommodations to the detainees at Gitmo — I’ve been to Gitmo, and I’ve seen the accommodations that we made to the Muslim detainees who killed Americans.

You’re telling me that you cannot make an accommodation for an elected Democrat county clerk from Rowan County, Kentucky? What else is it other than the criminalization of her faith and the exaltation of the faith of everyone else who might be a Fort Hood shooter or a detainee at Gitmo?

As has already been pointed out, the Fort Hood shooter did not receive a religious accommodation and Kim Davis did not ask for a reasonable religious accommodation. Huckabee, who offered to go to jail in Kim Davis’ place — though suspiciously only after she was released — thinks that Kim Davis not being able to use her position as a government official to force others to comply with her particular religious beliefs equals the “criminalization of her faith.” That the Kim Davis brouhaha seems to instead be an example of just why we have the Establishment Clause in our Constitution is apparently lost on Mike Huckabee.

His juxtaposition of this with the grooming habits of the Fort Hood shooter are only the latest example of the proliferation of the Evangelical Persecution Complex. How is it fair, Huckabee opines, that a bad Muslim gets to grow a beard for religious reasons but Kim Davis can’t deny others their constitutional rights for religious reasons? This is clearly an example of the “exaltation” of Islam at the expense of Christianity.

The comparison makes little sense outside of certain circles. Yet there is a very real fear among many evangelicals in this country that it will soon be criminal to be a Christian, or at least their type of Christian. This comparison was not an accident. In picking the Fort Hood shooter as his parallel, Huckabee picked an obviously bad guy in hopes of making obviously good Kim Davis’ “persecution” seem even more egregious. That the Fort Hood shooter was Muslim is also no accident, for those to whom Mike Huckabee was speaking — and make no mistake, it was not people like me who watched the debate in order to compose snark-infused tweets — will have heard the dog whistle loud and clear: “Muslims get enough accommodations already. Even those Muslims who are killing us are getting accommodations! All the while Christians are being thrown in jail just for standing up for what they believe.” Actually, on second thought, Huckabee didn’t so much use a dog whistle as he did a bullhorn.

The problem here is that Muslims (supposedly) get some accommodations while Christians are not getting every accommodation. It is not clear, though, what sort of accommodation Huckabee would like to see for Kim Davis, especially at this point, after she has been released from jail (which she was in because she violated a direct court order), is back at work, and does not have to personally issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She has already received reasonable accommodation. Mike Huckabee knows this.

By taking up the mantle of “persecuted Christians” everywhere, Huckabee is working to galvanize evangelical Christians. For this is what martyrologies do. The persecution need not be real to accomplish this, as Candida Moss showed in The Myth of Persecution. Even if Kim Davis was being persecuted (she wasn’t) and no longer is (she still isn’t), Huckabee must continue to present her as such. Martyrologies are a cohesive social force. The fear they instill in in-group members acts to bond the members of the group tighter together against the (real or perceived) outside threat. And if Kim Davis’ story alone wasn’t enough, Mike Huckabee is making sure you know that you could be next.

The question is, who’s next? Is it your pastor? Is it your Christian school administrator? If you don’t bow down to this amazingly new and hastily put together definition of marriage, then does that make you a bigot? Does that make you somebody who is going to be pushed by the court and sent to jail? We’ve already seen the first person go to jail over it.

Kim Davis’ story, especially when juxtaposed with that of the Fort Hood shooter, is being used by Mike Huckabee to bring evangelicals together on common ground: their distrust of Islam and their fear that they might be next. If they happen to come together behind Mike Huckabee for President, well, that’d be alright too.


*This is a parody of the famous poem by Martin Niemöller.