Wikipedia defines forlorn hope as “a band of soldiers or other combatants chosen to take the leading part in a military operation, such as an assault on a defended position, where the risk of casualties is high.”
In military history the forlorn hope was usually composed of eager but lightly trained volunteers and inexperienced junior officers. It was expected that a high percentage of such troops would be killed or wounded but they would blaze a path for others to follow. The forlorn hope was not an evil tactic. Most of the volunteers, often for personal reasons, were deeply committed and were not blind to their slim chances. But the tactic, from the leader’s point of view, was a callous one. Remember too that, in spite of the name, this is not a defeatist strategy; it is part of a plan to win.
This comes to my mind as I see the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk that has gone to jail rather than issue licenses to same-sex couples. She has become the forlorn hope of the conservative Christian side of the culture war, storming the figurative gates of the Supreme Court. That she is doing this willingly is not in question, she is following her “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
As in every forlorn hope she is taking heavy fire. The other side is only too happy to take down the assault trooper. She sits in jail as I write this, effectively like a wounded forlorn hope. She has been roundly excoriated by the “enemy.” It is almost gleefully pointed out that she has been married four times. It would be easy to see her as evil were you to only read that side of the story.
At the same time, like soldiers of past forlorn hopes, she is being called heroic or courageous by those who cheer her on. Presidential candidates Huckabee, Jindal and Cruz have all issued ringing statement of support. Walker and Paul have issued qualified support statements. These supporters, and others like Franklin Graham and the Liberty Council to name just a couple, are all cheering her on. But she is in jail and they are not. No matter how sincere they are in supporting her views they are doing so, like generals of old, from a place of safety.
If you dig a little deeper into the available information on Davis, and it suits both sides to release edited versions of her life, you see a more complex picture. You also begin to see why she is a volunteer in the forlorn hope. Yes, she has been married four times. She has also been a Christian for only a little over four years. You can also find that she gave birth to twins just five months after she divorced her first husband. It comes out that her future third husband is the natural father of those twins but they were adopted by her second husband. It was not until the influence of her mother-in-law, the mother of her forth husband, that she found faith.
So the picture emerges. She is new in the faith and zealous. Like all new Christians she is profoundly grateful for the grace of God. I suspect, due to her own past, she is particularly passionate about what she perceives as biblical sexuality so the issue of same-sex marriage hits her deeply. Her battle, whether you agree with it or not, whether you think it is right, misguided, or just plain wrong, is important to her. But the terms eager, lightly trained and inexperienced suit her to a “T”.
I think that most evangelicals have the same view of marriage that Davis does. The split comes when we consider whether, as an agent of the state, she is exercising her own freedom of religion or imposing her view of marriage on those who don’t share it by refusing them a license. One could say that both of those statements are true. It is a worthy discussion among evangelicals to figure out how to react when, increasingly, our views on social issues are diverging from civil law.
I am praying for Ms. Davis. I am not praying that she heroically resist the foes of traditional marriage. I am not praying that she repent of her discrimination against those who differ with her. I am just praying for her. She is a forlorn trooper who has marched into a suicidal battle. She, and she alone, faces the consequences of her battle and I suspect they will damage her emotionally till the end of her days.
To the officers of the culture war behind the lines, to the Huckabees and Grahams who sit safely cheering from the sidelines, I have this advice. If you want to be truly Christ-like it might take more than cheering. Perhaps you should offer to take her penalty. Perhaps you should offer to thank her for her courage from her jail cell in her place.