Alabama's Judge Roy Moore

Rob Briley, Roy Moore, and Me

Years ago, I wrote about former state Rep. Rob Briley after he’d returned to the state House following a horrible episode associated with his arrest for drunken driving. I couldn’t help but think of that and a political failure of my own as I read the stories about Roy Moore.

The Power of a Politician’s Broken, Contrite Heart

It is not helpful to recount the sad situation that television news relayed to us the night years ago when Rep. Briley (D-Davidson) was arrested. Suffice it to say that his life had unraveled.

When he returned to the House months later, he went down before his colleagues to the front of the Chambers and made a beautiful statement about that night and the redemption that had come from having reached the very end of himself.

I wrote about it in my commentary that week in terms of the psalmist’s declaration that “a broken and contrite heart” God will “not despise.” I’ll never forget the legislative employee who spoke to me about that commentary, saying that it changed her view of what had transpired from, in my words, political theater to holy ground.

Offering an Apology for a Political Failure

I understand living with a failure in the political world. About fourteen years, my frustration over a political situation got the best of me, and I made a public statement that many took as demeaning those who worked in less-skilled, non-management positions.

My statement was all over the print media in our state. I started getting calls and emails telling me what an arrogant person I was; I was a lawyer with a silver spoon in my mouth.

My first reaction was political, to issue a press release trying to explain what I meant and that my statement had been taken the wrong way. It didn’t satisfy those who were angry and insulted.

But then I was convicted. It was my job to communicate clearly and correctly with the public, and I could see how the way they understood my comments would be offensive.

So I began responding to emails with a confession—that I could see how they could have taken my comments to be demeaning, and I outright apologized and said I was sorry.

I then explained that if the meaning behind what I had said was what they thought I had said, it would have demeaned my own heritage, for it was one of poverty. To think I might have done that grieved my heart, too.

I explained that my maternal grandfather had been a sharecropper in Alabama, whose “career advancement” had been spraying hot enamel on red-hot bathtubs coming out of the Crane Company’s furnaces in Rossville, Ga. My paternal grandfather was a subsistence farmer in Ringgold, Ga., who had gone broke in the Depression. And I told them that until my father graduated from college after military service, none of my ancestors on either side of my family had even gone to college.

The response to those emails was overwhelmingly positive. I recall that many said they’d never had a politician admit he or she had been wrong, and, by telling my story, they realized they had misjudged my intentions.

What Should Roy Moore Do?

I think of those things because Roy Moore has been accused of some terrible things. I don’t know if he did them or not, and we may never know for sure. But I do know that politics is an arena in which it is particularly challenging for a person to admit a wrong, even if it was four decades ago.

If Mr. Moore is innocent, his denials should be clear and unequivocal.

But if Mr. Moore did any of the things of which he is accused, even if it was only dating women much younger than he, then integrity and a trust in God’s providence should bring an admission of whatever is true.

Admissions are never easy; I know from experience. But an admission could allow the last forty years of his life to bear testimony to the fact that God does not despise a broken and contrite heart and that the grace of God can and has, from all we can see, transform a man who, like all of us, failed to measure up at some point.

Then Alabamians can cast their vote with a clear conscious.

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If you enjoyed this commentary, consider giving your special year-end gift today. Any gift, big or small, will help us fight for God’s design for marriage and the family, the sanctity of human life, and your religious liberty in Tennessee! Be encouraged by what Isaiah 60:1 says: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Won’t you shine your light in our state by giving your generous, tax-deductible gift?


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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no guns sign, little white church, and Russia's Lenin

The Common Thread to This Week’s Major News Stories

What a week!—the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, polls showing that millennials prefer communism to capitalism, murderous hatred displayed in a small Baptist church, and calls on the federal government for stricter gun control laws. There is a common thread here if we will but see it.

The Bolshevik Revolution was a response to many social evils flowing from the rule of the czars, but communism, at its root, is atheistic. And for the leaders of the revolution, the solution to those evils was a change in the form of civil government and social structures, a human solution.

Millennials no doubt see much greed and corruption within the marketplace, associate those evils with capitalism, and, as with the Bolsheviks, turn to civil government to bring a human solution.

Devin Patrick Kelley, the gunman who killed at least 26 people in the recent Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting, was doing on an individual level what, on a corporate level, the Bolsheviks did and what millennials would have us do—coming up with a human solution to a human problem. Murderers don’t act for no reason. To the murderer, murder is a human solution intended to achieve a better or perhaps more just end than what “nature” has been dealing out to him or her.

And, of course, the response of many people to Kelley’s evil, like the response to abuses by the czars and capitalists, is to turn to civil government for a human solution—more gun control.

In each of these situations, there is a problem, and increasingly a majority of us turn to civil government for its solution, even though it repeatedly fails to solve anything. Why do so many instinctively turn to civil government?

Jean-Jacque Rousseau, whose writings laid a foundation for the French Revolution, gives us insight into that question:

This is the great problem to solve in politics: to find a form of government that puts the law above man. If such a form cannot be found—and I frankly confess I think it can’t—I think we should go to the opposite extreme and put one man as far above the law as we can, and consequently create the most arbitrary despotism possible. I would like the despot to be a God. In short, I see no middle way between the most severe democracy and the most perfect Hobbism.1 For the conflict between men and laws, which puts the state into perpetual civil war, is the worst of all political states. (emphasis mine)

In other words, says Rousseau, there is no law of God that is over us all (“above man”) and to which we are all subject. But we must have some means by which we avoid the “state of war” that Thomas Hobbes described as our natural condition in which it is “every man against every man.” And in the absence of a willingness on our part to acknowledge God’s law over us and turn from our refusal to heed that law, we turn to another power and to its law—civil government, which must, of necessity, accumulate more and more power in order to “control” that war.

When we turn to civil government for the solution to every problem, we are tacitly, if not admittedly, saying, “Be god over us. Bring us the salvation we need.”

It probably seems odd for me to say that since I have been laboring in the field of politics for more than 20 years, but I labor not so much for “solutions” from government as to urge those who govern us to acknowledge the law of God that is over us and from which our human laws must draw the justice and righteousness we need to allow for human flourishing.

Admittedly, many professing Christians in positions of influence and power in the past have abused that influence and power and have done awful things. But instead of trying to correct where we have gone wrong in the past and bring ourselves into greater alignment with the law of God that is over us, we have thrown out that law and the God who is its author.

Civil government and law have their place and have a role to play; they are not unimportant. But we have come to expect them to be god in place of the God we’ve rejected and look to them to bring us salvation.

I look forward to the day when we’ve run out of man-made solutions, consider the real nature of our problem—our rebellion against God and the rejection of the law that governs His creation—and focus more on trying His solution.

NOTES

  1. Merriam-Webster defines Hobbism as “the philosophical system of Thomas Hobbes; especially the Hobbesian theory that people have a fundamental right to self-preservation and to pursue selfish aims but will relinquish these rights to an absolute monarch in the interest of common safety and happiness.”

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If you enjoyed this commentary, consider giving your special year-end gift today. Any gift, big or small, will help us fight for God’s design for marriage and the family, the sanctity of human life, and your religious liberty in Tennessee! Be encouraged by what Isaiah 60:1 says: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Won’t you shine your light in our state by giving your generous, tax-deductible gift?


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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a tortoise and a hare

The Lawyer and the Layman: A Modern-Day ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ Tale

I couldn’t help thinking about Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare as I recently sat through a deposition in connection with a contest over who gets to make laws under our Constitution. It was fun to listen in on the conversation as the layman schooled the unwitting lawyer. Keep reading and you can “listen in,” too.

The contest is between the powers of the states and, in particular, the power of their legislative bodies to make law versus the powers of the United States Supreme Court. It is being played out in a lawsuit that our organization’s Constitutional Government Defense Fund filed in February 2016.

The “race” got started in earnest during the recent deposition of a county commissioner, one of the two people who filed a lawsuit challenging the Supreme Court’s authority to require our county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

If you think the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, decided in June 2015, authorized Tennessee’s county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as do most law school graduates, the “hares” in this story, then you need to keep reading. You might learn something from the “tortoise” in this story, the “lowly” septuagenarian county commissioner whose formal education didn’t extend beyond high school.

To appreciate the exchange between the lawyer-hare and the county commissioner-tortoise, you need to know that the Obergefell Court articulated two holdings.

The holding the lawyers focus on is the one that said same-sex couples have a right to marry under the marriage licensing statutes of the states.

But the holding the lawyers, in their fawning servility to the Court, seem to overlook is Obergefell’s holding that licensing statutes are “invalid” if they only authorize the issuance of marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples. And Tennessee’s marriage licensing statutes do just that, along with the statutes in about 40 other states.

Now, here are actual key exchanges in the deposition, condensed for the sake of space:

Lawyer: Do you agree that you are bound by the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, even though we may disagree with them vehemently or not?

Commissioner: Well, I do to a certain point.

Lawyer: When do you think we should do something different from what the United States Supreme Court says we should do?

Commissioner: Well, first of all, the Supreme Court didn’t make the law; is that correct? They reviewed it.

Lawyer: Okay. And if you don’t obey the law, then have you violated your oath of office?

Commissioner: You have, but like I said, they don’t make law. They review it. . . . And our legislators make our laws for us.

Lawyer: And we follow those even if the Supreme Court—

Commissioner: We should follow the laws that our legislators make. And I don’t know of any law that the legislators have made except the fact that they’re working on this situation.

Lawyer: Have you tried to get them [legislators] to say we want you to issue—even though the Supreme Court has already said it, we want you to say that the clerk should issue marriage licenses to homosexuals.

Commissioner: We want the legislators to say you can or you can’t.

Lawyer: So we don’t have to rely on the Supreme Court already saying that?

Commissioner: Yeah. Right. We want the legislators. They’re the lawmakers. And we want—I want them to say if you can or you can’t.

What was the commissioner saying that the lawyer didn’t seem to understand? Simple: “You can’t get a license, Supreme Court, if you hold the license law is invalid. And only legislators can say what the new law is.”

And therein lies the power struggle. The Supreme Court can declare rights all day long, but until the Legislature enacts a new statute in place of the one the Supreme Court invalidated, our clerks are acting without legal authorization.

Obergefell did not and could not authorize our county clerks to do anything, because under the Tennessee Constitution, Article VII, Section 1, only the Legislature can “prescribe” a county clerk’s duties. No court can make nor has any court ever made a legislative body enact any particular law. It doesn’t have that power.

If you ask me, this county commissioner knows more about the Constitution, the law, and the separation of powers than most lawyers with their three years of specialized legal training.

lantern in the snow with "give" buttonIf hares hadn’t put other hares in charge of deciding who wins this contest, I’d sure put my money on the tortoise.

If you enjoyed this commentary, consider giving your special year-end gift today. Any gift, big or small, will help us fight for God’s design for marriage and the family, the sanctity of human life, and your religious liberty in Tennessee! Be encouraged by what Isaiah 60:1 says: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Won’t you shine your light in our state by giving your generous, tax-deductible gift?


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

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statue of Martin Luther

The Reformation and the Heresy of White Lives Matter

I’ve been reading about the Reformation lately because next Tuesday marks the date 500 years ago when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, and I couldn’t help but think of a striking connection between a fundamental error of the White Lives Matter movement coming to Tennessee this weekend and the value of one of the reforms stirred by the Reformation.

Diagnosing the Problem Correctly

As with most reform movements, both good and bad sprang from the Reformation.1  But I believe one of its reforms relates to a fundamental error in the Black Lives Matter and the White Lives Matter movements, as I understand them.

The reform of which I speak concerns the Reformation’s return to the Augustinian understanding of the fallenness of humanity. Into the teachings of the Church had crept the influences of the Renaissance, which Russell Kirk described thusly in The Roots of American Order:

[T]he Renaissance amounted, often, to a denial of the Christian understanding of the human condition. The Renaissance exalted man’s egoism . . .

Consequently, one of the positive things the Reformation did was re-emphasize the fact that the problem with the human condition, which encompasses our personal lives and the culture and civilization we produce, is our fallenness, or what theologians call sin.

There is much that can be said about this—and it will be part of Restoring the Vision on November 11th—but by the “Fall of Man,” Christianity has historically meant that something alien to the original good creation has entered into our existence and perverted it. Albert Wolters, in his book Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, put it this way: “Sin, an alien invasion of creation, is completely foreign to God’s purposes for his creatures.”

The implications of this are manifold, but one is that we see the problems we encounter as something intrinsic to the human condition rather than alien to it.

Again, Wolters states it well in describing the “danger” that comes with blurring the line of demarcation between God’s original creation and the perversion of it through the Fall:

The great danger is always to single out some aspect or phenomenon of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of human apostasy, as the villain in the drama of human life.

And that “danger,” it seems to me, is demonstrated in what I understand to be at the heart of the “lives matter” movements, namely, that some group of people is the problem, some ethnicity, or some difference in skin color produced by different levels of Melanin. In other words, some aspect of creation itself is our problem.

Diagnosing the Solution Correctly

Getting the problem wrong, however, necessarily leads to the wrong solution. If our solution is no longer something alien to our environment, then it must be our environment. That means if we can just change our environment, our problem will be solved. (That’s also why politicians put so much emphasis on programs addressed to changing the environment that “victimizes” us.)

And this is where the White Lives Matter movement gets it all wrong. Removing people of a different color or ancestry from around them (or our country) will not solve their real problem. All that “solution” does is create more problems.

The Question We Need to Ask

And that’s why I ask this question, Which came first, Black Lives Matter or White Lives Matter? Be careful; it’s a trick question.

The answer is neither. The Fall and sin came first, and if we don’t address the evil in our own hearts, then we’ll never make any life matter in the way God intended when He created us, not even our own.

NOTES

  1. As with most reformers, Martin Luther had his faults, but my focus here is on just one part of the theology that the Reformation put back into focus, not the theologian Luther, who said and wrote many things inconsistent with the point I intend to make regarding racial views and attitudes.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Alabama's Judge Roy Moore

Is Alabama’s Senate Race a Harbinger of Things to Come?

It seems to me that our country is becoming increasingly chaotic, violent, and fractured. I think I’m finally beginning to grasp what, at root, is happening, and if I’m right, I think the electoral plight of one politician may give us some insight into where we’re headed.

Last year I read this statement written in 1959 by Roland Van Zandt, “America’s French Revolution has awaited the twentieth century.” 1

Was America Rooted in ‘Enlightened’ Thinking?

The context of his observation was that our studies of American history have largely “ignored” the philosophical battle taking place in the latter 1700s between Christianity and ideas of the Enlightenment. While Christianity emphasized a Creator God and the necessity of revealed truth as the foundation for building up a nation and civilization, the Enlightenment held that God, if He even existed, was really irrelevant to everyday life and that reason alone was a sufficient guide in the building up of a nation and civilization.

Van Zandt asserted that America had escaped enough of the catastrophes of the French Revolution that Thomas Jefferson was able “to reassert his, and America’s, continued faith in the philosophy of the Enlightenment” through his assertion in the Declaration that there are “self-evident truths.”

I’ve always liked that statement in our Declaration, but as Van Zandt suggested, I’d never given much thought to the fact that it might rest upon a belief in the sufficiency of human wisdom to know the truth without revelation, and that such a belief would ultimately lead to the irrelevance of that revelation’s God.

The Heart of the Revolution

Then last Sunday afternoon I was reading a book written in 1847 by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer. I found this statement very fitting given Van Zandt’s statement and the fact that this month marks the 500th anniversary of what is called the beginning of the Reformation when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg:

The [French] Revolution ought to be viewed in the context of world history. Its significance for Christendom equals that of the Reformation, but then in reverse. The Reformation rescued Europe from superstition; the Revolution has flung the civilized world into an abyss of unbelief.2

Putting these two statements together, I think we would have this proposition, and it’s a conclusion to which I’m increasingly being drawn: While many of our Founders were professing Christians, the seedbeds of the chaos that unbelief and reliance on human wisdom that the French Revolution produced were planted early in our country’s formative years, and our revolutionary chaos was still to come; it was just a matter of time if we allowed them to take root and grow.

If my conclusion is correct, I think Van Zandt was telling us those seeds took root and grew; he just missed his prediction by about 50 years.

Understanding the Struggle and the Solution

Then van Prinsterer said this, which touches on the political sphere in which I’ve spent most of my adult life:

The [French] Revolution doctrine is unbelief applied to politics. A life and death struggle is raging between the Gospel and this practical atheism. To contemplate a rapprochement between the two would be nonsense. It is a battle which embraces everything we cherish and hold sacred and everything that is beneficial and indispensable to church and state.3

The parallel to what I’ve observed in American politics is compelling. The problem in modern American politics is that those who deny the God of the Gospel and His revelation and those Christians who are perhaps very pious but deny God in the realm of politics as a “practical” matter are largely the ones now governing us.

This problem is reflected, at least in my experience, in the fact that too many, if not most, of our Christian politicians (and too many Christian leaders) are consumed with the attitude of “rapprochement” which, according to Webster’s, means the “establishment of or state of having cordial relations.”

I don’t think van Prinsterer meant that incivility in discourse is required. Rather, I think he meant that if cordiality means we will seek solutions to our problems only on the terms and conditions imposed by the purveyors of unbelief and practical atheism, we will never stem the tide of the “French Revolution” that is swelling in our country.

How Would You Vote?

It is for that reason I was captivated by Judge Roy Moore’s public statement the other day:

This is an awful moment for our country. Should I keep back my opinions in such a time as this, I would consider myself guilty of treason toward my country and an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.4

While other politicians in Washington may believe what Moore believes, he was willing to say it—that there is a “majesty of heaven” to be revered and that he will bow before none who would seek to ascend to that high place.

Roy Moore’s politics is the politics of “belief” in the God of heaven and not “unbelief,” whether of the real or practical kind.

Now I ask this question: Would his statement make you more or less likely to vote for him or for a politician in Tennessee like him?

Your answer might just provide a clue as to which side you are on in the “struggle . . . raging between the Gospel and . . . practical atheism.” And if enough Americans say his statement would deter us from voting for him, then maybe we better get ready for the revolution.

NOTES

  1. Roland Van Zandt, The Metaphysical Foundations of American History (Mouton & Co. 1959), p. 72.
  2. Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, Unbelief and Revolution, p. 14.
  3. Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, Unbelief and Revolution, p. 7.
  4. “Alabama’s Roy Moore to Christian Summit: We Need to Make America Good Again,” FOX News, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/10/13/alabama-s-roy-moore-to-christian-summit-need-to-make-america-good-again.html.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event