This looks at how Kim Davis and Liberty Counsel are fighting gay marriage in Romania. I find this to be an incredibly disturbing development and felt compelled to research and write about this. You will learn the story of Kim Davis in Kentucky as well as the modern history of Romania. The question I have is this, is Kim Davis and Liberty Counsel helping to tip Romania to illiberal democracy and undermine the progress Romania has made since 1989?
“Anyone who knows history, particularly the history of Europe, will, I think, recognize that the domination of education or of government by any one particular religious faith is never a happy arrangement for the people.“
“Democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles.”
“Romania does not want to ditch marriage but to preserve it. And to preserve itself. This is our right and our duty.”
From the Romanian’s Coalition for the Family website.
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
Romans 13:1-5 NLT
Kim Davis in Romania, from Liberty Counsel’s Twitter feed
Romanian Revolution in 1989
Some evangelicals have taken their culture war to the Eastern European nation of Romania in fighting gay marriage. There is a lot of ground to cover as I also feel compelled to teach you Romanian history in the process. Afterward we will get into Kim Davis and Liberty Counsel and what is currently transpiring in Romania. We have a lot of ground to cover.
Brief History of Romania
Its my understanding that in its present from Romania came to be when the Principality of Wallachia and Moldavia evolved from 1859 to 1877 into its current form. It was known as the Kingdom of Romania and it came into existence with a Hohenzollern monarchy. Shortly thereafter the Ottoman Empire allowed Romania to be independent. The Ottoman Empire was on its decline and earned the nickname “The Sick Man of Europe” which came from Russian Emperor Nicholas 1. Romania remained stable until 1914 when World War I ignited in the Balkans. It remained neutral for the first two years of the war then in 1916 joined Russia, France, and the United Kingdom against Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. The War went badly for Romania when the Central Powers occupied two-thirds of the country. With the country occupied things further disintegrated when Russia had its October Revolution in 1917 leaving it surrounded. Romania left WW I and then briefly got back involved. After the war Romania expanded to its greatest extent in the interwar years.
During World War II Romania wanted to remain neutral, but in the wake of the Molotov van Ribbentrop Pact that was not to be the case. The Soviet Union gave an ultimatum to Romania on June 28, 1940. Romania gave up Bessarabia as well as northern Bukovina. King Carol II of the Romanian monarchy was forced to abdicate and Ion Antonescu became the wartime prime minister from 1940 until August 23, 1944. He aligned himself closely with Germany and participated in Operation Barborsssa which is the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. As a result Romanian territory which was lost in 1940 was regained. In the Holocaust Antonescu is responsible for enforcing policies which resulted in the deaths of over 400,000 people. During World War II Romania provided Nazi, Germany with petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) and for the Allies it became a goal to knock out the Romanian oil fields to disrupt German logistics efforts. This is why Allied efforts in campaigns such as Operation Tidal Wave became so important. King Michael I led a coup d’etat against Ion Antonescu in August 1944, who was subsequently tried and executed on June 1, 1946. After World War II the Soviet Union annexed some Romanian territory. As the Soviet Union also occupied Romania it held elections which were rigged and put communists in power in 1946. The first communist leader of Romania is Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej who forced Michael to abdicate the Romanian throne. It was Gheorghiu-Dej who proclaimed Romania to be a People’s Republic. He ruled brutally and let the Soviet Union set policy as Romania became a Soviet satellite and member of the Warsaw Pact. The tool of choice by Gheorghiu-Dey was the feared state police which became known as Securitate. That said, there were many Romanians who resisted and its estimated that over two million Romanians died while resisting communism.
Nicolae Ceausescu came to power in 1965 and he started to operate foreign policy independent of the Soviet Union. Romania became the only Warsaw Pact nation that refused to participate in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In addition Romania also opened up diplomatic relations with West Germany. Ceausescu expanded the Securitate and developed the cult of personality which Joseph Stalin had in the Soviet Union. Ceausescu became more repressive in the 1970′ and 1980’s. Romania became like tinder waiting to explode and it finally did in 1989. In the city of Timisoara minority Hungarians rebelled over plans to evict a Hungarian Reformed Church Pastor on December 16, 1989. The following day Ceausescu ordered the military into Timisoara. After all the Securitate were overwhelmed and the curfew had failed. On December 18 about 30 young men headed to the orthodox cathedral waving the Romanian flag with the communist coat of arms cut out. Knowing they would in all likelihood be killed they started to sing “Deșteaptă-te, române!“ which is an older patriotic song banned since 1947. Many of the people were killed, others injured, while a few fled and survived. Shortly after that happened the Ceausescu regime sent factory workers to rally for the regime, when they arrived to Timisoara and saw what the regime was doing, many bolted and joined the side of the protesters. Altogether 73 people were killed in Timisoara by the Romanian government. The rest of Romania began to hear about what occurred in Timisoara from the BBC and Voice of America which was broadcast in western Europe. On the morning of December 21st, in Palace Square in Bucharest Nicole Ceausescu addressed close to 100,000 to speak to the situation in Timisoara. The workers and people started to boo and jeer him, while some started to chant, “Timisoara” (Note you can see this in the video above, its one of the reasons why I selected it.) Ceausescu lost control of the crowd, the speech which was being broadcast on Romanian television was pulled and the Romanian dictator went back inside. Bucharest was plunged into turmoil just like Timisorara, and Ceausescu unleashed the Romanian military on the protesters. More protesters joined the uprising and the military and state police began to defect and join. Fighting broke out in the streets. On December 22 Ceausescu’s Minister of Defense died, some believe that he balked at obeying the Romanian leader orders to fire on the demonstrators. Nicolea Ceausescu and his wife Eleana fled by helicopter from the roof, the story is that the pilot had a gun pointed to his head and was told to fly. The Ceausescu’s fell into military custody. A military tribunal was put together by the new organization ruling Romania called the National Salvation Front. After being found guilty the Ceausescu’s were executed by firing squad. Over 1,100 were killed in the revolution which was the bloodiest revolution in 1989.
Lon Illiscu led the National Salvation Front in the post-communist era. In time the front collapsed and new political parties were born out of it. There have been several Romanian leaders since 1989, the most notable in my opinion are Lon Illiscu who then returned to power in 2000. Another interesting leader is Traian Basescu who was impeached by the parliament twice in 2007 and 2012. Romania also joined NATO in 2004 and hosted the NATO summit in 2008. The country also joined the European Union and had economic growth, and has been referred to as the “tiger of eastern Europe.” But corruption remains a problem and there have been recent protests over that issue. Romania has not gone down the iliberal democracy route that has happened in neighboring Hungary or nearby Poland. The current leader of Romania is Klaus Johannis.
Who is Kim Davis? What is Liberty Counsel?
Kim Davis became a very vocal person in the evangelical culture wars against gay marriage. She is known as being the County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. Kim was born in Jackson County, Kentucky and by 1991 was serving as the chief county clerk and reported to her mother. In 2011 Kim Davis started to attend Solid Rock Apostolic Church in Morehead, Kentucky as led by Dan Cater. In 2014 she was elected county clerk after her mother retired. Gay marriage was decided by the United States Supreme Court in the case Obergefell vs. Hodges. Clerks around the United States started to issue marriage licenses except that Kim Davis refused claiming her belief in God prevented her from obliging. Kim Davis who has been married four times proclaimed that marriage is sacred and that gay marriage can not be recognized. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against her and won. After losing Miller vs. Davis the U.S. District Court ordered her to start issuing marriage licenses. Kim continued to defy the court and was found in contempt and put in jail for five days. In jail Kim would read her Bible and her attorney said she was at peace and that she “exudes gentleness and peace.” She was subsequently released under the condition that she not interfere with her clerks who started to issue marriage licenses to gay people. Mike Hucklebee met and helped her out proclaiming to a crowd that if Kim Davis needs to go back to jail he would be willing to do so instead. Ohio Governor John Kasich gave Mike Hucklebee a stern rebuke for praising Davis. After she was released the marriage license for Rowan County was modified so that she would not have to have her name on the paper. Here are some op-eds that I found around the country discussing people’s perspective of Kim Davis.
- Ryan Anderson in the New York Times, “We Don’t Need Kim Davis to Be in Jail.”
- Leonard Pitts Jr. in the Baltimore Sun, “When ‘religious freedom’ looks like Intolerance“
- Michelangelo Signorile in the Huffington Post, “How Kim Davis’ Defenders are Sounding Increasingly Absurd and Desperate.”
- George Takei in the Daily Beast, “How Kim Davis Violated the First Amendment.”
- Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post, “Trashing the Rule of Law.”
In September 2015 a website that covers the Vatican stated the Pope Francis met with Kim Davis when the Pope came to Washington, D.C. The press office for the Vatican pointed out that the Pope met with a number of people. It was also revealed that before the Pope met with Kim Davis he met with a gay ex-student he taught from Santa Fe, Argentina. Shortly thereafter the Pope replaced the D.C. ambassador who set up the meeting with Kim Davis. Today Kim Davis is still the County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. According to the Bangor Daily News Davis also changed parties from Democrat to Republican. In addition it should also be noted that Kim has been the subject of many parodies by both Saturday Night Live and Le Strega Entertainment which made a spoof called “The Modern Fundamentalist.”
Liberty Counsel is an organization that promotes litigation in support of evangelical Christian causes. The organization which defended Kim Davis was founded in 1989 by Mat Staver and his wife Anita. Liberty Counsel has become involved in ten commandment controversies and advocated for public school prayer, and represents people who have been arrested in protesting abortion. It looks like Franklin Graham has close ties to this organization as Graham spoke at the “The Awakening” in 2015 in Orlando, Florida. Liberty Counsel is based in Orlando, Florida and it has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Liberty Counsel has a staff of 10 attorneys and about 40 full-time employees. You can read more about Liberty Counsel in this following Guardian article. “Liberty Counsel: the law firm whose mission is to defend ‘God’s authority’” Having explained all that let’s look at the leader of Liberty Counsel Mat Staver.
Mat Staver attended Southern Missionary College in Collegedale, Tennessee where he obtained his B.A. He then picked up his M.A. in Religion from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. When Mat graduated he was a Seventh Day-Adventist Pastor. He switched religions and became a Southern Baptist and in time picked up his J.D from the University of Kentucky. Staver at one time served as the Dean of the law school at Liberty University from 2006 until 2014. You can read Jonathan Falwell’s announcement about Staver moving on in this post here. Staver has been a regular speaker at the Family Research Counsel’s Value Voters Summit which is held annually in Washington, D.C.
Kim Davis speaking in Romania
Kim Davis and Liberty Counsel in Romania Fighting Gay Marriage
Romania is in the early stages of a gay rights battle and there is some concerns among people in Europe that Romania could be in the early stages of being tipped into an illiberal democracy like Poland or Hungary. An illiberal democracy is the erosion of rights and in time leads to autocratic government. Currently Romania’s civil code prohibits same-sex partnerships, but the Constitution has gender neutral language which defines marriage as “between spouses.” Currently Romania does not have a large gay rights movement like you have seen in other parts of the world as Romania is a very conservative society. But some people fear that the “gender neutral” language in the Constitution could open the door to allow gay unions in the future. In Romania there is an organization called the Coalition for the Family. It is an association of about thirty non-governmental organizations in the country that are involved in conservative causes. The Coalition for the Family is deeply controversial and wanted to censor Disney’s Beauty and the Beast from being shown in Romania. Many of the groups that make up the Coalition of the Family have ties to the Orthodox Church. In 2015 many Orthodox as well as the Coalition of the Family were able to get three million people to sign a petition to demand that the Romanian parliament act on the issue of gay marriage. You can read about the campaign in an English article on the Romanian website here. The petition is supported by all major Romanian political parties and is currently before the Romanian Constitutional Court. There is unease as to how the European Union (EU) will react to some of these developments. Perhaps the EU which failed to properly respond to illiberal democratic challenges in Poland or Hungary may have created more troubles for itself in the long run. Liviu Dragnea the leader of the Romanian Social Democratic Party said that the government remains committed to going ahead with the referendum this fall stating the following. “Even if some of my colleagues in Brussels are unhappy about it, we will make it happen,”
Into this delicate situation enters Liberty Counsel and Kim Davis who inject themselves into Romanian politics. In early October 2017 Liberty Counsel brought Kim Davis on a nine day tour of Romania and had her speak at conferences in some of the largest cities in the country. Kim Davis spoke in Bucharest, Cluj, Sibiu, Timisoara and Lasi. With Kim Davis is Liberty Counsel’s Harry Mihet, Liberty Counsel’s Vice President of Legal Affairs and Chief Litigation Counsel. Harry is from Timisoara and saw the Romanian revolution. In the Liberty Counsel article my interpretation of Harry’s words is that Romania is fighting for “religious freedom” against gay marriage in a similar fashion as they fought against Nicole Ceausescu . In Romania Kim Davis would speak about her experience in Kentucky and it would be translated into Romanian for the audiences that came to see her. You can actually see this in the video above. It should be pointed out that this is not Liberty Counsels’ first foray into foreign affairs. Liberty Counsel also had Scott Lively as a client and if you remember Scott went to Uganda in Africa and spoke and worked with the Parliament in outlawing homosexuality. At one point Uganda was even considering the death penalty against gay people. I wrote about this in an open letter to Warren Throckmorton who wrote heavily about the issue. But getting back to Kim Davis and Romania, Kim also spoke with individuals of the Orthodox Church in the country. You can read about that and see the pictures of Kim posing with Orthodox church leadership. While in country Kim gave interviews with radio and television and recalled her experience of “persecution” in the United States. In NPR those who are gay or who are opposed to what is transpiring said the following.
Local LGBTQ advocates such as the Romanian organization Accept see Davis’ visit in starkly different terms.
The organizers of one event in Bucharest, for instance, “falsely promote Christian hero Kim Davis, an American citizen convicted by U.S. courts in 2015 … as a heroine of religious freedom,” the group said in a statement Tuesday. “The right to dignity is equally guaranteed to all citizens of Romania, including the Constitution, and its violation cannot be justified by religiously motivated prejudices.”
“We are seeing a determined attempt to use religion or traditional themes to oppose human rights,” said Cristian Parvulescu, founder of a platform that claims the support of 100 nongovernmental organizations, according to The Guardian. “We know how this ends.”
If you would like to read more about this I would recommend the following articles.
- NPR “Kim Davis Takes Struggle Against Gay Marriage To Another Theater: Romania.”
- The Guardian “Anti-gay marriage clerk Kim Davis takes her fight from Kentucky to Romania.”
- The Daily Beast “Kim Davis Is Now Fighting Gay Marriage in Romania.”
- Friendly Atheist “Christian Bigot Kim Davis Is In Romania To Help Them Block Marriage Equality.”
- Politico “Romania ‘turns illiberal’ with moves against gay marriage.”
Analysis and Deep Concerns about the Situation
There is a lot I have to say about all this but I am deeply troubled by what I read. I first heard about this in the Religion News Service and spent some time poking around and looking at this issue from different sides. I have a lot to get out off my chest so let me start. First I wonder if Kim Davis can find Romania on a map? I wonder if she could explain how the country suffered during World War II? Does Kim know the history of the 1989 Revolution? Or is Kim Davis just naive to all this and just someone who lives for the spotlight? Kim Davis popping up in Romania is quite insensitive and it appalls me that this is what the United States is exporting. Especially given the way the United States worked hard to bring freedom to Eastern Europe during the Cold War. There are other issues as well, when I was researching Apostolic Christianity I learned that its also called Oneness Pentecostalism. Greg Boyd has written quite about the issues with Oneness Pentecostalism which you can read right here. Oneness Pentecostals reject the core aspect about the Christian faith that both the Catholics, Protestants and others hold dear. That is the issue of the trinity, the belief that the father, Holy Spirit and Jesus are one person. So for Kim Davis to be held up by Liberty Counsel as a Christian when she would not even be considered a Christian because of warped doctrine is just horrific. Also how does Kim find all this time to be away from her job in Kentucky? Is she abusing tax payer dollars by doing this much traveling? How does a person find the time to spend that much time away from work? Are the tax-payers of Kentucky being respected? Also I find it disturbing that Kim Davis pretends to fight and proclaim the sanctity of marriage when she has been divorced as often as she has. I don’t know many people who have had four divorces in my life. The other thing that troubles me deeply is that people like Kim can’t understand the difference between religious marriage and civil or state marriage. If two gay people came to her church Solid Rock Apostolic Church and said marry me. Then I could see where she is coming from; but that is not what is going on. Gays are asking for marriage licensees in a civil context and then avoiding evangelical churches. The two issues are completely separate.
I also have to say the following to Harry Mihet of Liberty Counsel. When you live in a democratic society people are going to fall on different sides of various issues. Part of living in a democracy is understanding the different points of view. You agree to disagree and move forward. I see stuff that I disagree with all the time but I know that it goes along with the freedom of religion and democracy. I don’t like seeing cults and questionable religious groups take advantage of vulnerable people living here in the Washington, D.C. area but people have to right to practice what they believe. If Harry is living in the United States and he saw the Romanian revolution and he does not understand democracy than Harry has failed as an American. He is a complete and total failure as a man. You would think that someone who came from Romania would have a deeper appreciation of democracy and the west after growing up under Ceausescu. When I saw his comments and what he was doing I was flabbergasted. No one is forcing Harry to live in the United States. But there is also this aspect that I find troubling as well. If Liberty Counsel is going to work with the Orthodox Church and even Franklin Graham who has traveled to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin the following question must be asked. Has Liberty Counsel been compromised by Russian Intelligence Services? Has Liberty Counsel accepted money from any front companies or organizations that ultimately are Russian? Because of their sheer blind hatred over a couple of issues that are driving them can they have fallen for the bait and now are vulnerable to being exploited? You can read about Franklin Graham and this issue in “Franklin Graham’s Affection for Vladimir Putin, Plus is Franklin Graham a Modern Day Charles Lindbergh with His Love for Authoritarian Leaders?” If that happened and Russia is calling the shots on Liberty Counsel can you imagine how awful that would be, especially when you consider the dark role of tyranny that the Soviet Union held over Romania for decades? If that happened could Liberty Counsel be one of the main organizations that in the course of time are ultimately a threat to Romanian democracy? Could Liberty Counsel be undermining the progress Romania has made since 1989? What about the broader policy implications? What about helping to turn Romania illiberal and would that set back NATO and make Romania not as effective as a member of NATO? Has Harry Mihet or Mat Staver ever stopped to consider any of those issues? If any of this happens will Harry Mihet or Mat Staver be responsible for the deaths of an American or NATO troops by helping to undermine a democratic state that works closely with the United States?
Another tragedy is the way that Liberty Counsel and Kim Davis are harming the Christian faith. Jesus said to go out and make disciples, its called the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-18. Going to fight gay marriage and reducing faith to just that is not even consistent with the Christian message. Liberty Counsel and Kim Davis might as well be spitting in the face of Jesus for what they are doing, and the methods they are employing. I really see no winners in this except maybe Russia in the end, especially if Romania is tipped in an illiberal democracy direction in the course of time. This mess is absolutely awful and when I saw it I knew that I had to write about it. My hope is that Romanians will see through all this and realize that gay marriage doesn’t threaten families or Romanian culture. If Romanians are making decisions based on fear then I would also say that the Christian faith is not driving this either. Christians should not be living in fear at all, but the fruits of the spirit are love, gentleness, kindness, self control,and patience. I don’t see those in this story. So its with that said that I hope this improves. That’s it for the day guys, please know that I love you!