British parents of baby Charlie Gard holding up flyers about their son

What Is the Real Principle at Issue With Charlie Gard?

A phone call from a state legislator this week put the Charlie Gard situation in a light that I believe conservatives need to think through before they decry a judge “interfering” with the right of little Charlie’s parents to seek the medical care they think he needs. Like most things today, the situation is more complicated than it may appear.

In case you’ve missed the news, 11-month-old Charlie Gard was born in England with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS), a very rare genetic disease. It causes brain damage and a progressive weakening of the muscles.

Charlie’s parents sought his release from the physicians and hospital so that he could be taken to America for experimental treatment. The medical professionals at the British hospital filed a legal proceeding to prevent Charlie from being released from their care because, in their view, the treatment was futile and might extend any suffering he was experiencing.

The judge said that the legal standard required him to determine “the best interest of the child.” Lest you think this is something unique to England, it’s the same legal standard parents in America would face if they and their child were dragged into a court.

Christians, in particular, are upset because a judge and a group of health care professionals are interfering with the parents’ rights to care for their child according to what they think is best. And that leads me to the legislator’s call on Monday.

The legislator wanted to know if I thought our state should ban hormone suppression therapy for minor children confused about their sex, and if other states were looking at doing the same thing. She thought it horrible that parents would embark on a course of treatment that could alter, for life, that child’s sexual/physical appearance and psyche.

Personally, I agree with the legislator, but we need to think through the basis upon which the state would do so.

Will We Be Consistent?

If we are going to hold that the government, through a judge, should not intervene because it would interfere with the rights of Charlie’s parents to seek the treatment they think best for their child, on what basis, then, would it be right for the government, through legislation, to intervene when parents determine the best course of action for helping their sexually confused child is hormone replacement therapy?

When situations such as those involving Charlie Gard arise, each side of the debate over government action or inaction tends to grab hold of a principle that appears to justify its position and inflate it to such a proportion that it leaves no room for the consideration of other important principles. Then we find ourselves backed into a corner.

The Two Competing Principles

In Charlie’s situation, conservatives have a tendency to magnify the God-given rights of parents relative to the nurture and care of their minor children and treat the jurisdiction parents have over their child as if it is absolute. But they would not say that a woman has the right to abort her child simply because it is her child and she is the child’s parent-to-be.

But liberals, because of instances of terrible parental abuse, enlarge the principle that civil government has a God-given duty to protect all its citizens and treat the jurisdiction that civil government has over its citizens as if it is absolute. But they would not say that the civil government can control and second-guess every decision a parent makes lest all those decisions also get second-guessed.

What we need is some standard by which to judge these tough jurisdictional issues between the rights of parents relative to their child and the duties of civil government relative to the protection of all its citizens.

By What Standard Will We Choose Between Them?

So how might I judge between the jurisdictional conflicts in the two situations I mentioned? I would evaluate them by the application of two overarching standards—the sanctity of life and the real biological difference between the sexes, both of which are rooted in the nature of God.

As to the first standard, civil government can and should interfere with a parent’s decision if it would violate life itself. That is the situation with abortion, so I believe the government can interfere for the sake of saving the innocent life. But that is not the situation with Charlie Gard. Treatment in Charlie’s case may save or prolong his life, but even if it does not, civil government has no interest in hastening his death. I believe it should abstain and defer.

As to the second standard, civil government can interfere when the biological distinction between the sexes is being violated. I believe civil government can interfere when a parent’s decision would violate the biological distinction and must abstain if the parent is trying to help the child embrace his or her biological sex. Because hormone suppression therapy is a case of the former, I believe civil government could intervene, but I don’t believe it should intervene, as some states have done, to prohibit a parent from providing professional counseling to a child who is experiencing sexual attractions inconsistent with God’s design in that regard.

These are tough situations; we need to make sure we think through what principles are involved, how they may balance against one another, and what standard we should apply to strike that balance.

The decisions we are facing are getting harder by the day. And they are going to become increasingly hard in a culture that no longer believes that God has set any standards by which those decisions can and should be made.

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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two fists fighting

When the Left Turns Violent Against the Left

A news headline from Fox News Monday read, “California Dems Decry ‘Bullying,’ Death Threats From the Left After Shelving Health Bill.” According to the article, California’s Democratic lawmakers issued a written statement saying they had “become alarmed and disheartened by bullying tactics, threats of violence, and death threats” over the postponement of a vote on a “single-payer health care bill.” What in the world is going on when the Left begins to turn on itself?

Since President Trump’s election, the Left has become angrier and violent in their rhetoric and in their actions toward Republicans. In a way, I understand that—they lost an election they thought they would win to a man they despise.

But when the Left turned on itself, I had to pause and ask, “Why would the Left start moving in a violent direction against the people most likely to advance their agenda?” That didn’t seem to make sense to me.

As I pondered this, however, I began to think of all the other acts of senseless violence that seem to be taking place. I thought about the seeming increase in road rage violence. I thought about the number of other senseless murders that appear to be on the increase. Just yesterday, a woman was accused of stabbing her four children and husband to death inside their Georgia home.

I began to wonder if we weren’t just descending into a culture of violence in which every group will begin turning violent against every other group and more and more individuals will turn violent against other individuals.

Am I the only one who wonders if we’re not in the process of going mad? What in the world is going on?

In thinking about this, something Jesus said came to mind: “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12 NKJV).

Certainly, love seems to be growing cold among an increasing number of us, and, according to Jesus, there is a connection between our love for others and lawlessness. But what’s interesting about what Jesus said is that it’s not the lack of love—love “growing cold”—that leads to lawlessness, but the other way around.

What could Jesus have meant and how might it apply to the loveless violence increasing around us? We certainly don’t lack for laws in our country. Congress and our state governments churn out more laws all the time.

Even in Jesus’ day, how could He have spoken of lawlessness to a Jewish audience that was saddled with more laws than all but the best of the Pharisees could shake a stick at? Certainly, His was not a “lawless” culture.

My first inclination was to think that Jesus was referring to a culture that forgets and turns against the basic moral law reflected in the Ten Commandments. Maybe. But I think He was referring to something more than that.

I think He was referring to a culture that turns away from the God behind those Ten Commandments. Scripture often refers to those who are in rebellion against God as those who have turned from their “lawless” deeds. (See Titus 2:14; Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17; 2 Peter 2:8).

When we turn away from God, as we have done in this country, we become, in the words of Jesus, lawless in God’s sight. And apart from God, who is Love, and the moral law that corresponds to His nature, love will grow cold. Turning from God disconnects us from the One who is the source of and basis for real Love. When that disconnection happens, I think it’s fair to say we can expect an increase in violence.

A few weeks ago, I quoted a non-Christian law professor from Yale who admitted in a Duke Law Journal article that, without the God of the Bible, there is no basis for a legal system or an exercise of civil government authority that should be binding anyone’s conscience. Absent a ruling model grounded in God, he concluded that “the ruling model is Cain and Abel.”

And we know how that turned out.

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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U.S. Supreme Court and the Seal of the State of Arkansas

U.S. Supreme Court’s Unreported Arrogance

The arrogance of our United States Supreme Court was on full display this week in a surprise decision that went grossly underreported in the mainstream media. If you heard about the decision, I’d be shocked. Moreover, the decision proves that the Court is now in the business of issuing edicts that states must follow without the courtesy of any attempt to explain how they are to do so.

The decision was in a case called Pavan v. Smith. The case involved two lesbian couples that had each had a child by artificial insemination. They sued the state of Arkansas because its birth certificate statute did not allow both of the women in the “marriage” to be “mothers.” They argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex “marriage” decision in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, required the state to treat their marriages the same as opposite-sex marriages by letting them both be “parents,” too.

Without going into great detail, the Arkansas Supreme Court disagreed. It held that Obergefell applied only to the issuance of marriage licenses, not to laws designed to determine who the biological mother and father of a child are. And the Court held there was no unequal treatment because the presumption that a man might be the father of his wife’s child was based in biological reality, not arbitrary distinctions between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages that the Constitution might otherwise prohibit.

The women asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Arkansas Court’s decision.

An Arrogant Decision-Making Process

The normal result of such a request, if the U.S. Supreme Court thinks a case worth deciding, is to agree to hear it, to set a schedule for briefs by the parties (and other interested organizations), and to schedule oral argument. That is what the women hoped would happen.

Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court simply issued a decision and said the Arkansas Supreme Court got it wrong, that Obergefell’s constitutional principle did apply beyond marriage licenses to birth certificates, and ordered the state to issue a birth certificate listing two mothers.

That the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision without the benefit of briefs and oral arguments is extraordinary and demonstrative of the Court’s arrogance. As Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Alito and Thomas, said, summary decisions like this are reserved for cases in which “the law is settled and stable, the facts are not in dispute, and the decision below is clearly in error.”

Given that two other state courts had come to the same conclusion as Arkansas and a couple of other courts had not, it is clear that not all judges thought the law was “settled and stable.” So, the advocates for the homosexual agenda parading as Supreme Court Justices must have thought all those other state judges were just stupid and that they needed to be smacked down sooner rather than later.

An Arrogant Edict, Not Reasoned Judgment

But here is the proof that the U.S. Supreme Court is now into issuing arrogant edicts, not judgments based on legal reasoning.

To appreciate what follows, you have to understand that a state Office of Vital Records is a creation of statute, which means it only has the authority to receive and file documents that the Legislature has defined by statute. If the Legislature passed a statute requiring birth certificates to be printed on construction paper and filled out by crayon, something typed on heavy cotton fiber paper, though more permanent and aesthetically superior, could not be filed.

Here’s why that is important. Unless a court is going to redefine the word “husband” to mean a mother’s “spouse,” there is no language in the Arkansas statute that speaks to documents containing the names of two wives or two mothers. But did the U.S. Supreme Court bother to engage in any analysis of how the statute could be “interpreted” to produce the language necessary to authorize the receipt and filing of a birth certificate with the names of two women on it? No.

In other words, the Court could have said, “Arkansas, you need to allow the filing of a birth certificate with the names of two married women on it, and because we understand that you must have some kind of statutory language giving you the authority to do so, we are now construing the word ‘husband’ in your birth certificate statute to mean the ‘spouse’ of the mother.”

Had it done so, there would at least be some basis for Arkansas doing what the Court wants it to do. But the Court doesn’t care whether there is any statute that actually authorizes what it wants done, nor does it care whether there is even any half-legitimate way to construe an existing statute to authorize what it wants done.

“Just do it”—just issue and record the birth certificate with two “mothers”—is, in sum, what the Court said to Arkansas.

Now the question is whether Arkansas and other conservative states that believe in federalism and the separation of the powers between the judicial and legislative branches will find a way to tell the Court what it can “do” with its “just do it” edict.

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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heart symbol made with hands

‘Touchy-Feely’ Christianity in the Public Square

Conservatives, including myself, are often flummoxed by the fact that liberals do not find their logical, rational arguments persuasive. But a statement by a conservative politician about religion and a new “gender identity” law helped me better understand why. It also helped me understand why some conservatives have trouble defending their own positions.

While the statement was made by a conservative senator in Canada, Grant Mitchell, it is still instructive, for it was made in the context of the same kind of debates our local school systems and our state Legislature are now having. It was a debate over a Canadian law passed last week that prohibits “discrimination” based on a person’s “gender identity,” which conservatives know is a social construct being used by liberals to replace references to (and our understanding of) biological sex.

Mitchell’s comment shows his own confusion and uncertainty as to how to argue against what he apparently thought was a bad law:

“[There’s an argument] that transgender identity is too subjective a concept to be enshrined in law because it is defined as an individual’s deeply felt internal experience of gender. Yet we, of course, accept outright that no one can discriminate on the basis of religion, and that too is clearly a very deeply subjective and personal feeling.”

What he is saying is that as a conservative, he didn’t know how he could logically support laws prohibiting religious discrimination and yet oppose a similar law relative to “gender identity,” given that both, to him, are subjective and based on feeling.

His position feels inconsistent to him. And it should, if everything, including what is right or wrong, is based on feeling. From his statement, I draw two important lessons.

Feelings Are Not Debatable

The first lesson rests on the fact that liberals’ “arguments” are often grounded in feelings. But that presents a problem for the conservative because feelings cannot be argued; by definition, feelings don’t claim to be knowledge.

In other words, when a man says he feels like a woman, how can someone argue that he doesn’t feel that way? What conservatives can argue about and defend is a person’s chromosomal makeup or genitalia. Those are objective criteria that can be rationally evaluated, which explains why proponents of “gender identity” want to avoid the word “sex” and discussions about objective, verifiable realities. It also explains why logical arguments fall on deaf ears when it comes to many liberals; feelings, not arguments, determine right and wrong.

But if feelings are unassailable and determinative, then consider how a conservative might make an emotive argument against the new “gender identity” law. A conservative woman could say it’s wrong to let a biological male use her locker room because it makes her feel bad to have a biological male next to her. Given the liberal premise that feelings are unassailable and determinative, how can a liberal credibly argue that a conservative woman should not feel that way? And why shouldn’t her feelings not carry the day? Between two opposing feelings—those of the sex-confused person and those of the conservative woman—who, then, should rightly win that argument?

The lesson for conservatives is that we must start making people defend beliefs. We’ll never get anywhere if our debates are only about feelings.

True Religion Is More Than a Feeling

The second lesson is drawn from the fact that Mitchell has allowed himself to fall into the trap of seeing religion as nothing more than a feeling, not beliefs about the nature of God or the cosmos that can be debated and defended. That’s not surprising.

In his book The Future of Faith, Harvard theologian Harvey Cox argues that we have now entered the “Age of the Spirit.” In this new era, Cox says that spirituality is now replacing formal religion, and actually experiencing God is much more important than maintaining correct beliefs about God. Simply stated, feeling is in and doctrine is out.

Sadly, too many Christian churches are floating along within that cultural stream. They soft-peddle doctrine for the sake of making sure that those who attend have an “experience” that leaves them feeling better about themselves. Of course, to believe experience is more important than doctrine is, itself, a doctrine.

But the lesson to be learned here is that if what we believe as Christians is anchored in feelings rather than truth, then we’ll continue to find ourselves like the Canadian politician, flummoxed and unable to defend in the public square what we know deep down is more than a feeling, but something we really believe.

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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Don't Panic

Can the Tide of Civil Unrest Be Stopped?

Wednesday U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise was shot for being a Republican. The previous day, a liberal, white college professor reported that he still felt physically unsafe on campus, because he opposed “A Day of Absence” event that asked white people to leave campus for a day. Events like these, to name just a few, have left many wondering what in the world is going on and what is it going to take to turn things around.

Thinking about that question brought to mind an observation by theologian A.W. Pink.

Ours is peculiarly an age of irreverence, and as the consequence, the spirit of lawlessness … is rapidly engulfing the earth like some giant tidal wave. The members of the rising generation are the most flagrant offenders, and in the decay and disappearing of parental authority we have the certain precursor of the abolition of civil authority.”

He wrote that in 1921.

In other words, what is going on should not surprise any clear-thinking Christian. When we undermine God’s design for the family and the authority structures represented within that design, we destroy the “educational” system in which children first learn about and experience authority. If there is both lawlessness and irreverence in the home, then that is what children will learn and bring with them into the public square.

So, civil unrest and violence are not going to be fixed by toning down the political rhetoric, though that would be good. They are not going to be fixed by “practical solutions” like more civics education, school vouchers and charter schools, heightened security, or more law enforcement personnel. None of those things are bad in themselves, but they will not address the issue of authority and respect for authority that is at the root of our problem.

With respect to that issue, Pink noted that there was a correlation between “disrespect for human law”—evidence of which we daily find in the news—and “recognition of the majesty, the authority, the sovereignty of the Almighty Law-giver.” If we are intellectually honest, that makes sense.

When individuals and society reject the notion that there is any true or absolute basis upon which another’s exercise of authority over them can be based, they reject the exercise of that authority. In the words of Pink, they “have less and less patience” with those who assert any authority that “interferes with the free course of self-will.”

That lack of patience is increasingly being made manifest, as we saw in just the two stories from this week that I highlighted.

But it’s not just the “religious” who would draw this conclusion. Arthur Leff, the late professor of law at Yale University, rejected the idea (and reality) of the Christian God, and, in a law review article written in 1979, he set about to examine all the non-Christian bases for a civil authority to see if there was one that people would have to recognize as legitimate. Here is his conclusion:

All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves, and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror seems to have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. . . . As things stand now, everything is up for grabs. . . . God help us.

Indeed, may God help us—help us recognize that He is the Almighty Law-giver with legitimate authority over us and before whom all our human exercises of authority must first bow—because more of what we saw this week in the news is, indeed, “an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect.”

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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