In addition to our regular weekly episodes, we're starting a new series where we discuss a few current cultural issues that are in the news — and also answer some listener questions.
This week, we discuss:
- Kim Davis' legal fees
- Enforcement of Texas abortion law, particularly around children with birth complications
- Listener Question: Balancing the head & the heart
- Listener Question: Should churches be involved in politics?
Let us know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sean: Welcome to the Think Biblically weekly cultural update where we analyze current events with cultural significance through a Christian worldview. We will also address some of the questions you have submitted from previous episodes. This Friday episode is in addition to. and not replacing, our weekly podcast episodes. I'm your host Sean McDowell.
Scott: And I'm your co-host Scott Rae.
Sean: And this is Think Biblically brought to you by Talbot School of Theology Biola University. Scott, this is fun; really exciting venture we're kicking off this year. We did this one time earlier. This is our second episode, but the official first of 2024 in which we look at kind of cultural issues through a biblical lens, take listener questions. Are you ready to rock and roll?
Scott: I am ready to roll. I've been waiting to do this for a very long time and I am thrilled that we're finally getting to launch this.
Sean: Well, let's start off with a story that you sent me which frankly really surprised me. I did not see this story coming and then reflecting back on it, I think it makes sense. But here's the title from thehill.com. It is quote, "Former Kentucky clerk in gay marriage case must pay additional $260,000." Now, before we jump into this article, remind us what first happened in 2015 with Kim Davis.
Scott: Yeah, this case is almost 10 years old. She made national headlines. She is the county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. It's a small county in Eastern Kentucky and she's a very committed Christian. And the county clerk is the office that issues marriage licenses. And after Obergefell was passed in 2015, which made same sex marriage the law of the land, her office was instructed to begin issuing same sex marriage marriage licenses. Based on her Christian conviction, she refused to do that. In fact, in order to be equitable across the board, she directed her office to stop issuing marriage licenses to any eligible couple, same sex or opposite sex. The same sex couple that originally had applied for the marriage license sued to be able to get the marriage license that was there right under the law and it wound through the court. And it was originally decided in 2017, where she owed $100,000 in damages, 50,000 to each of the two men in the same sex couple. She appealed and then it wound its way through the courts. And just recently, just in the last few days, in the early part of 2024, the court in Kentucky ruled that she owed an additional $260,000 in legal fees to compensate the couple for legal fees that they had incurred. In addition to the $100,000 in damages, which gives you the grand total of what she owed of $360,000 for her failure to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. So that's basically the story.
Sean: Okay, now before you jump in and give you thoughts, my understanding was that this same sex couple was still able to get their license as were opposite sex couples eventually. So, they weren't completely denied. It was a temporary denial for all people to get.
Scott: That’s correct.
Scott: Yeah, and I think the reason she did that is because she did not wanna be liable for discriminating against same sex couples. And so she had said, across the board, we're not issuing marriage licenses.
Sean: Okay, interesting. All right, now give me your thoughts on this. What's your analysis?
Scott: Well, I admit, I'm a little bit mixed on this and this maybe wouldn't be something to start off the new year with something that we actually disagreed about, which may be the case. One of the chief functions of the county clerk's office is to issue marriage licenses. And so she refused to do the job that she was hired to do, or elected to do. as the county clerk. Now, I think she had a handful of options in this case. One is she could have resigned and followed her conscience and just left her position saying, "I can't do this in my own conscience." She could have instructed the couples to get a marriage license in a different county. That would have been a possibility. It was not as though getting a marriage license was not a possibility at all. I do think the couple in view that brought the suit was trying to make a point. But it's not clear to me that she was entirely in the right by refusing to do the things that she was elected to do. So, I think the option she had would have been to resign and just say, "In my conscience, I can't do this. So, I'm not gonna hinder the office from doing what illegally it's supposed to be doing, but I can't participate in that personally."
Sean: Okay, now was she elected before this ruling went down? That was my understanding.
Scott: Yes, she was.
Sean: And so really she wasn't elected to actually give a marriage certificate to a same-sex couple. She was elected on an understanding of marriage that's been in the history of our country and arguably largely the history of the world. We have this radical ruling and we come up with this tension where she's the first one who is caught in the hair, so to speak. So, I guess here's where the tension is—you're right, there could have been other options like going to another county or maybe she doesn't give it. Maybe there's another individual who does. Like, I understand that—
Scott: My understanding is that she was the county clerk.
Sean: She was the only one—
Scott: For this county. And whether she does or somebody else, I think she would say is probably a moot point that the office that she's associated with is still doing something that she considers immoral.
Sean: Okay, so this really is an interesting case when you frame it that way. Now, I guess I have huge sympathy for her because she's caught in the hair of this, so to speak, amidst this massive ruling. And when you look at some of the people like Justice Roberts and his critique of this ruling, he's like, who do we think we are to do such a massive shift? So yes, she could have resigned, but she got the job under certain premises as a Christian able to live out her convictions. And then, all of a sudden, the fundamental law within itself, not a secondary law, shifts. And so I don't, we can look back and say she should have responded differently. But now that this same-sex couple is married, does she remotely owe $360,000 in damages? That seems like massive, massive overkill to me.
Scott: And this is where my sympathy for her kicks in unreservedly. Because I think the amount of damages, the legal fees that she had to reimburse, both of those are out of the ordinary. And the amount I think was designed to be particularly punitive for her because she didn't support same-sex marriage. And so I think the, even though I think she could have handled this differently, and I do think there's a part, even though the rules change, you're still obligated to do the job that you were elected to do. And if you can't, then I think you have the responsibility to resign from that position. But I do think this is, especially this additional ruling, I think is incredibly harsh and punitive. And I think it amounts to something akin to being persecuted for your views.
Sean: Oh, so you would still say it's a level of being persecuted for your views.
Scott: I would. I think you're right. The amount, I think, is completely disproportional to the offense that was created for this couple. And I actually don't think they were particularly inconvenienced. I do think they were trying to make a point. And they succeeded in making their point, it seems to me.
Sean: Are you aware if this can be pressed even further and she can petition it? The article seemed to say that this case is not done.
Scott: No, I think it's pretty clear. I think that she will appeal this further. And this, who knows how far this will go. My guess is it probably will go to the Kentucky Supreme Court and may stop there.
Sean: Okay. It is interesting that now, are there certain jobs that Christians cannot do on their conscience in the government? And this clearly seems to be one of them.
Scott: I think this may be one of them. This may be one of them.
Sean: I think she deserves some credit for at least resisting this, not taking the easy route out and violating her conscience and saying, “I cannot sanction something that I don't think is marriage within itself tied to my deepest convictions.” I have huge sympathy for her. And in some ways, I think it's heroic to stand up and not just take the easy route out. Looking back, whether she would do things differently or not, I don't know the answer to that. We have kind of hindsight now to reflect upon it.
Scott: Of course.
Sean: But things were crazy with that ruling. And I think most people just would have gone along with it to save their job. And she was at least trying to follow her convictions, which I think there's a lot to be said for that. And I guess the other thing to throw out there is we're often told when it comes to marriage, we just wanna get married like other heterosexual couples. We just want tolerance. And then you turn around and punish somebody so strongly who won't celebrate this kind of union. That tells me something else is going on here—
Scott: Yeah, this is payback, not tolerance.
Sean: Yeah, and I don't think there's any other county I'm aware of anywhere where same-sex couple is not going to be able to get this. So, I think, yeah. All right, fair enough. That's a really interesting story. We'll follow it and we'll come back to this.
Scott: This will not be the last time; will not be the last time we'll see this.
Sean: Agreed. Okay, so let's go to the second case you sent me. Now this is one that's been on my radar, but I'm really interested to get your thoughts on this. And this is an article that appeared and the title is “Kate Cox's Case Reveals How Far Texas Intends to Go to Enforce Abortion Laws”. Now this came out in December, but this story continues. Tell us kind of what happened in Texas, 'cause here's where we see the tension between the ending of Roe and we have state laws, and then an individual case pushing against this asking how far these state laws can go.
Scott: Yeah, this is, for one, this is one of those cases that is totally heartbreaking and incredibly tragic. Just a little bit of background for our listeners that may not be familiar with this. Kate Cox and her husband have been trying for a while to get pregnant, they finally did. And shortly into her pregnancy, as a part of a routine examination, she was diagnosed, her baby was diagnosed with a disorder called Trisomy 18, which is a pretty debilitating genetic abnormality where on spot number 18 in the DNA, you have three chromosomes instead of two. And it makes for a wide variety of complications, particularly problems for the heart and lungs, but there are also neurological complications, too. Most kids who have this disorder don't live past the first two weeks to a month. They're often stillborn. Although there are some, we have anecdotal evidence of kids that live to be nine, 10, 11. In fact, when I looked up some of this in a little bit more detail, the oldest living person with Trisomy 18 is actually 40 years old.
Sean: Holy cow!
Scott: Now, to to say that's an outlier, that was a big understatement. But the kids, they need pretty much round the clock care. It's incredibly burdensome. To say that she and her husband were heartbroken is the huge understatement. And my heart goes out to them 'cause I wouldn't wish this on anyone. There are, however, organizations that are there to support the parents, specifically of Trisomy 18 kids. So, anyway, in Texas, in the aftermath of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, Texas, I think, has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. And, specifically, they have criteria under which an abortion is considered legitimate and an exemption to their prohibition on abortion can be granted. The main one concerns that if the life of the mother is seriously jeopardized or if her ongoing health is seriously jeopardized by continuing to carry the pregnancy. And in this case, with Trisomy 18, there was debate among the various parties involved as to whether continuing to carry the child would constitute a risk to the mother's health. It was not considered a risk to her life. With the Trisomy 18 baby, the head is somewhat misshapen, making normal vaginal delivery really difficult. So, a C-section would have been in order, which is a bit more risky, but those are done routinely all the time. So, she brought a legal action to apply for an exemption to Texas law, which was granted by a lower court. The attorney general of Texas then stepped in and said, "No, this does not meet the standard." And it went all the way up to the Texas Supreme Court who agreed that it did not meet the standard for an exemption. In the meantime, Kate had gone out of state to end the pregnancy, which she did just prior to the decision of the Texas Supreme Court coming down. So, this is the collision of, I think, a very restrictive abortion law and a heartbreaking case that runs right into the middle of that.
And I think what they've done here, I think, is sort of similar to the previous issue about marriage. They left some pretty serious questions unanswered. In the marriage situation, the question is, what is a marriage? That question was never asked. That's right. Here, I think the question they've left unasked is what kind of a thing is the unborn child? And if it's true that disability makes someone less of a person with less a right to life, that really is a central issue more so than the life or health of the mother. Though if the life of the mother is threatened, that, in my view, is a trump card because if you lose the mother, you're gonna lose the baby also—in almost every case. So, this one, I think, what I'd wanna be really clear about here is that from a biblical, from a Christian worldview, a person is something that you are intrinsically not something that you are able to do. And we need to make sure we don't get the philosophical cart before the horse because what you do does not determine whether you are a person or not. What functions you can perform doesn't determine that. Because you are a person, you are able to do the kinds of things that persons normally do. And capacities that go unactualized due to genetic abnormality are no less possessed by the person. They're just biological reasons why those capacities will never come to fruition.
So, this is a really heartbreaking case, but I wanna be really careful that we don't presume that disability and unhappiness necessarily go together—because that's simply not true. And we also wanna be careful when we talk about the burden of raising the child, the burden on the parents is one thing, the burden on the child for continued living is another. And those are two separate things that often get brought together in hard cases like this.
Sean: Okay, Scott, so is it fair to say that this is an emotionally heart-wrenching story? It's difficult emotionally. I remember hearing Kate Cox, I believe it was on the Daily, the New York Times update did an episode if I'm remembering correctly. And of course they were very sympathetic to her perspective and her take. And there's this emotional card of this mom who's saying, I want to have other kids and this is a massive burden and change in my life. I mean, you feel for her. So there's an emotional—
Scott: Oh, you do; it's completely heartbreaking.
Sean: It's an emotionally difficult one. So, Christians approaching this with compassion and with kindness and with care and sensitivity is a biblical response right out of Romans 12. But in terms of whether or not this unborn has a right to life, it's not logically and scientifically a difficult case that this individual has a disability, could die five days out, could possibly live to 40 and to intentionally go end the life of an individual human being is a grave wrong. Is that how you see it?
Scott: That's precisely how I see it. What we found is there's a similar severe genetic abnormality called anencephaly where the child is born with just a functioning brainstem, still a person, but is basically born terminally ill and imminently dying. And couples who choose to go through with those pregnancies often report, even if the child lives just a few days or a few weeks—they report significant satisfaction in being able to hold their child, even if it was for just a small duration of time. And I think most of them do not regret the decision to bring the child to term as opposed to going and ending the child's life.
Scott: I remember discussing that in class with you, I took an ethics class as an undergrad, not in the Masters of Philosophy program. And you asked us about anencephaly. At that point, I remember saying something like, “Well, if the child's going to die anyways, I don't fault the mom for an abortion.”I've thought about that lots back and I thought one, well, we're all going to die anyways. So, that argument itself is not great, even though it's more imminent here, but does that justify taking the life into your own hands? I now view it as a tragic situation, but it's not morally permissible to go in and do an abortion to intentionally end the life of the child. Now, if a mother's life is in jeopardy, that's different. And the purpose of the procedure is not to end the life of the child. We would try to save the child's life. It's to protect the mother. So, those distinctions need to be kept clear.
Scott: I think one place where we see this happening, maybe a little bit more routinely, is what are called ectopic pregnancies, where the embryo implants in the fallopian tube instead of in the uterus. And that's fatal to both. And if the embryo, what physicians normally do is they'll just snip a little opening in the fallopian tube and allow the embryo to basically fall out and it's absorbed by the body and naturally miscarries. But if you don't do that, the mother's gonna die and the just blossoming embryo will certainly die as well. And so, in my view, it's better morally to save one life than to save none at all.
Sean: That makes sense.
Scott: Now, there's just one more side note on this. That's not the only scenario from Texas that is gonna be heard by the US Supreme Court, in this next year. Kate Cox's case specifically won't go to the Supreme Court, but one related to it will. In fact, when Kate heard about this other case, that's what prompted her to file her own legal action. This is a case called Zoracowy v. Texas. And that is basically asking the Supreme Court for more specific, what's the best way to put this? More specific guidelines for physicians on what constitutes a valid exemption to the Texas abortion restrictions. So, you'll hear that one. The other one you'll hear is the Supreme Court is going to hear a case where Texas has, in its laws, is restricting the import of RU-486, which is the abortion pill. And whether Texas can do that or not legally under the reversal of Roe v. Wade and whether Texas law on that is constitutional or not, will be heard by the Supreme Court sometime in the year 2024. The reason that's important is because now over half of the abortions in this country are done with RU-486 or some derivative of that. And this is what our friend Donna Harrison, who's been on our podcast before, called the do-it-yourself over-the-counter abortion, where you no longer, in many states, you no longer have to have prescriptions or be under a doctor's care to obtain access to RU-486. And the reason after Roe v. Wade was overturned, because you can do this in the privacy of your own home and don't need a physician, the number of women seeking what we call chemical abortions through RU-486 skyrocketed in the aftermath of that. So, that's another one I'd encourage our listeners to be aware of. And that one will be very interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules on that.
Sean: Good stuff. Well, this is gonna give us plenty to keep talking about here. Now that the overturn of Roe v. Wade is being played out in the states, we'll come back and we'll keep revisiting these conversations. Now, we had some more articles lined up to discuss, but you and I could go on and on about these. So, I wanna honor the questions that some of our listeners have submitted. So let's go to some of these questions right now. And I think this one is great. This is probably a little bit more so for me. I'll give my quick take. You can weigh in.
Scott: Go for it.
Sean: And somebody said, "They enjoy listening to the podcast, give some confidence in their faith, but how do we balance the intellectual aspect of apologetics through the way you live your everyday lives? How do you listen to Holy Spirit? What advice can you practically share on how to balance the head and the heart in our lives as believers?" I would say all of us have this tension. We lean maybe towards the head or we lean maybe towards the heart. And apologists are probably going to lean more towards the head as a whole. Well, some of the things that I try to do in terms of my heart is I try to consistently just listen to worship music and just not wrestle with theology, but just listen, there are songs that are just beautiful and they're refreshing to the soul and they center me. I listen to the scriptures and I read the scriptures daily and I intentionally try to not do so through the lens of just, like, analyzing them and picking them apart apologetically, but applying it to my own life, a prayer. I guess I would just say what we have to do is practice the spiritual disciplines. I'm not gonna say I do this perfectly; I don't, I fall short or all the time. But if it's just a head thing and you don't practice the spiritual disciplines, it's never gonna get to your heart. Anything you wanna add to that, being a philosophy professor?
Scott: Well, I think you hit it right that academics live in their heads and sometimes not so much in their hearts and have underdeveloped emotions and can be cut off from that. And I think it takes nurturing. And in my field, ethics, what I've recognized over the years is that people largely don't make ethical decisions based on their reasoning. They make it based on their emotions. And then in many cases use reasoning in order to justify decisions that they've already made on an emotional basis. But that's not entirely a problem either because people are moved ultimately by what stirs their soul and what stirs their heart. I think more so than what resonates with their head. Now, of course, the heart can't rejoice in what the mind rejects—
Scott: I think that's a truism that I think is a long lasting one. But I would not want for academics, like ourselves, to underestimate how important it is to touch people emotionally and move people emotionally. This is why the Psalms are so popular because they speak to people's hearts more so than they do to their minds. And I think there's a place for that. I don't think that's a result of the fall that people are moved emotionally. I think that's part of the way God designed us. And, so. I think that's a good lesson for academics on this. I think for myself, I try to do some of the same things that you do, the music we listen to. What am I exposing myself to that I could count on being moved by? I remember Jim Valvano, the legendary coach who started the Cancer Foundation, said, "It's a good day if you've been moved to tears at least one time during that day."
Scott: “And if you've been moved to laugh at least one time during that day.” I think those are pretty good guidelines. Not that you should go out and look for places to be a basket case on a daily basis, but I don't think we need to be afraid of exposing ourselves to things that are likely to move us emotionally.
Sean: Well said, good word. Let's jump to another question that we've done full episodes on this, but maybe just kind of get your broad thoughts. Someone was reflecting on the interview we did recently with Ryan Burge on his book, "The Nones,” and he made some comments about politics in churches and how many ministers don't touch politics. He didn't remember either of us pushing back and questioning him on this. So this listener says, "My question is aren't political issues also moral issues?" And refers to things like abortion, transgenderism, et cetera. Bottom line question, "Would you please elaborate on whether and how churches should address the pressing political issues of our day?"
I'll give you my quick two cents and this might raise more questions than it does answers, is I don't think we should be proclaiming a particular political party in the church. That's one place that I stand. But second, on the flip side, I think Christian worldview does in fact apply to politics. In Matthew, when Jesus is asked about whether we should pay tax to Caesar or not, gets the coin and says whose image is on the coin, people often say, "See, keep the church and the state separate." But what I think that analysis misses is Caesar's image is on the coin, but God's image is on all of us. That means everything, entertainment, sports, politics is brought in the realm of God's sovereignty, God's kingdom and a Christian worldview. I think we should be teaching the philosophy of the intersection of the government and the church, what is the role of politics. We should be helping people think through that. We should be talking about principles such as life, principles such as race, ethical issues of the day, not necessarily with the intent of trying to get people to vote a certain way, but to help people think Christianly about these topics. And then, when they think Christianly about them, then in many cases it can become more clear how in fact we should vote in light of political issues. That's from the pulpit. The other thing that I would say, I think there should be classes that are offered in churches to go into more depth outside of Sunday and even hosting dialogues with Christians who differ on pressing issues like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, who differ on other issues and model civil conversation. That's my quick answer, your thoughts.
Scott: Yeah, I think our listener who wrote in, it's a very perceptive question. And I think he's right that politics is fundamentally a moral enterprise because it's about how we order our life together in community. But that's not to say that every moral issue ought to have a public policy prescription to it. That is not every moral issue ought to be a matter for the law. I think there are a lot of things that I think, let's just say a lot of sins that should not be illegal. Now some should, murder should be illegal. I'm not sure that I think adultery is probably one of those things among consenting adults that should not be a matter for the law, even though I think it's fundamentally immoral. And, so, I wanna be careful that we don't reduce moral issues to what the law is gonna say about them. I agree, we need to talk about the issues. Not every issue is one where the Bible is clear. And so I'd wanna be really careful that we're not, you know, we're not doing eisegesis and reading into the biblical text things that aren't there. And of course, I think it can't be partisan because we've said many times before, no political platform was written with biblical fidelity as its goal, they're all gonna be a mixed bag. And I think we need to be even handed and address what are considered moral issues by progressives as well as by conservatives. Because some of the moral issues on the other side of the aisle are legitimate moral issues that I think the Bible actually has a lot to say about. So, I'd wanna be careful. I had an opportunity to have lunch with a couple pastors not long ago and they were, they wanted to know how do I go about doing this in my church? And their church is a bit divisive politically. And I said, you know, be really careful that you do this, you do this with kindness and winsomeness and not being dogmatic because you're gonna get pushed back and be really, just be prepared for that. And I think the reason some pastors don't do this is not a philosophical one, but a pragmatic one because they don't wanna lose half their church if they end up walking out the door because of that. So, I think I'd love to see our churches address the pressing moral issues of the day, some of which have public policy overtones to them.
Sean: That's a great answer. Now, I've heard you say this a couple of times that the political parties were not built with biblical fidelity in mind. I completely agree with you on that. It doesn't fall and I know you also don't believe that therefore Christians can vote for any political party and therefore there's a relativistic, you know, Christians can just hold any political view and we shouldn't prioritize ethical issues. That doesn't fall, that's an issue for another day. But, you're right, that let's teach clearly moral issues, theological issues, clear biblical thinking without churches that I can see all over the political spectrum, in some sense becoming political puppets for the left and for the right, do we lose our prophetic voice and our allegiance when doing so, that's a question to concern. So, bottom—
Scott: Yeah, that's really the point I think because the Bible intends the church to stand over and above the political system as an evaluator in a critique and in a prophetic voice. Not to be captured by one partisan side or the other because when, as you know, when the gospel gets connected too closely to a partisan agenda, the gospel is what ends up being ignored.
Sean: Yes, it does. Scott, good questions. Now, we had other questions about the Palestinian Israeli conflict, about false prophets, but we have not been able to get to them. So, I'm gonna ask a question I wasn't planning on. We wanna hear from our listeners. Would you like us to cover maybe one or two more stories, take more questions, so we go 45 minutes or an hour? Or do you think these two professors are bloviating too much, get to the point more succinctly, cover more stories? I guess I'm asking, how can we best help you, our dear listeners, in this weekly cultural update? Send us a note at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or other questions or comments we would love to hear from you. Anything you wanna add to that, Scott, before we wrap up?
Scott: No, we're thrilled to be able to launch this, and we really appreciate any feedback you have, stuff you like, stuff you wanna see us do differently. We are all ears on this. So, please do give us your opinion. We look forward to seeing these continue and get better as a result of your feedback.
Sean: Love it. Again, the email to send us a note at is email@example.com. This has been brought to you by the ThinkBiblically podcast as a part of Talbot School of Theology. We have degrees online and in person. In spiritual formation, apologetics, theology, we would love to partner with you to become a more careful biblical thinker to shape your culture and shape your church. Make sure you hit subscribe, and if you enjoyed this, please consider sharing it with a friend, and remember, Think Biblically about everything. (upbeat music) [Music]