By Bill Mefford
Last Friday a federal appeals court ruled that the state of Kentucky must pay the ACLU $224,000 for the legal fees accrued when they challenged the unconstitutional actions of former state employee Kim Davis who refused to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples in Rowan County. Davis refused to grant licenses to same sex couples because of her fundamentalist Christian faith and she ultimately lost her re-election bid as County Clerk in 2018. I guess Rowan County had had enough of Davis.
But she leaves her post with the state of Kentucky now having to pick up the tab for almost a quarter of a million dollars all because she did not want to do her job - a job she had to get elected to do - for LGBTQ people. This is not about her conscience and it has zero to do with her faith; this is about her culturally-formed disdain for LGBTQ people and that she hides behind her faith. And Kentucky now has to pay for her discrimination. I lived in Kentucky two separate times for a total of eight years and I can attest that Kentucky has much better things to spend it’s money on. Here are just a few:
It costs $10,615 to educate a child for a year in Kentucky’s public schools, so, for the cost of allowing Kim Davis to use her religion to harm people, 21 children could receive an education for a full school year. Without any financial aid at all, they could have paid the full costs of sending two kids to the University of Kentucky - a first rate university - for four years.
I know hunger is a big issue for many Kentucky families and the $224,000 spent so Kim Davis could harm LGBTQ couples could cover the cost of SNAP (Supplemental Food Assistance Program) per month for an average family, which costs $253, for 885 families for one month. 885 families. The same amount could cover 74 families over the course of a full year.
One more. I know that Kentucky has enormous problems with clean drinking water since they engage in mountaintop removal for coal mining. Communities near mountaintop removal sites frequently experience contaminated drinking water supplies due to the chemical wastes left after washing and processing coal. I know this firsthand because I regularly had kidney stones until I stopped drinking tap water and drank bottled water exclusively, though, obviously that can cost a lot. Thus, for $224,000 almost 720 people could receive clean drinking water for an entire year.
Yes, it costs a lot to discriminate. And this is what makes me so angry - on top of the dangerous belief that Jesus does not compel her to love others, but rather, to discriminate against them. To cover for her discrimination Kentucky must now spend money that could have been used to educate, or provide needed nutrition, or give necessary clean drinking water, or any number of other things to a state that ranks at the bottom in most standard of living categories. I am angry that Davis’ willful hatred of LGBTQ people does not just impact those she directly hates. Her unbiblical prejudice impacts so many more people.
And this got me to thinking about the United Methodist Church and the costs the institution has accrued due to the almost generation-long effort to institutionalize discrimination and harm against LGBTQ people in the church. Though there are many other costs we could look at, but I will just look at the cost of the special General Conference of 2019, where the church decided to initiate mandatory minimum sentences for anyone publicly avowing who they have been created to be. The cost, from what I can determine, was around $3.5 million. $3.5 million is a helluva lot of money and United Methodists spent that to decide to purge LGBTQ people from the church.
If Kim Davis made you roll your eyes, then this figure should make you want to vomit. It does me.
Of course, this does not count the costs associated with groups like the Wesleyan Covenant Association, or Good News, or the Confessing Movement and the massive amounts of money they regularly spend to buy the votes of General Conference delegates. One year they bought cell phones for delegates from Africa that came with voting sheets on who they should vote to elect. Sickening.
$3.5 million. Imagine what that could do, besides sign an extra left tackle for the Cleveland Browns. I just can’t get that number out of my head. Here are a few things to keep in mind of what $3.5 million could do:
$3.5 million could house 167 homeless families in Cedar Rapids. Not individuals, but entire families. House them forever.
$3.5 million could more than cover the installation and upkeep of a new wind turbine, which is a renewable energy resource that reduces the needs for fossil fuels and could add to the life of our earth.
$3.5 million could cover the cost of HIV treatment for 35,000 people in Africa for a full year. The costs associated with HIV treatment have dramatically gone down in the last 20 years, but they are still high for many people. We could help save 35,000 people.
Lastly, the Central African Republic currently has 79% of the country’s 4.7 million people living in poverty. 3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance and 1.5 million people are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to nutritious food in order to live a healthy life. More than just providing meals (which is obviously necessary), how much infrastructure and agricultural technology to make sustainable farming a reality could be purchased by $3.5 million? I suggest it would be a helluva lot. Spent appropriately, and with a necessary stoppage to the civil war and violence that has plagued that country, $3.5 million could be used in dramatic and transformative ways. The UMC could literally save millions of lives.
These are the choices we make when we choose to hate other people. We waste money, we waste time and we think the only people impacted are those with whom we focus our ire. But in reality, we hurt so many more people and that hurt is sometimes irreparable.
Whether it is Kim Davis or the United Methodist Church, the hatred needs to stop so that we can more redemptively utilize our resources to benefit people and not just for . And those of us who allow this to continue to happen without stopping it are almost as guilty as those doing the hating. People are literally dying while we allow discrimination to go unchecked, but yet fully paid for.