David Fowler, his wife Linda, and daughter Allison after winning the legislative seat

Image Is Everything in Tennessee Politics

The year before I ran for the state Senate, a person I did not know came up to me at a Christian event in my hometown and said, “I think you should run for the Legislature.” His reason shocked me, but this incident came to mind because of something one of our leading state elected officials said last week.

The reason given by the person who suggested I run was that I, along with my attractive wife and cute 5-year-old daughter, would be visually appealing to voters. It turned out that this person was a successful political campaign consultant. But I got his point: image means a lot, if not everything, in politics.

In Tennessee, part of the image you want to create in order to appeal to our generally conservative and generally Christianized electorate is that you are a Christian, a person of faith. And one of the best ways to do that is to use language that tickles Christian ears.

So, it was with great interest that I read this recent statement by one of our elected officials: “[E]very man and woman created in the image of God deserves meaningful work.”

To affirm the image of God as central to our humanity is to speak the Christian’s lingo and probably to earn the Christian’s approbation for being willing to put one’s Christian faith on public display.

But it’s important that Christians understand what the image of God means and then evaluate that politician’s grasp of that meaning by how he or she applies it in other contexts in which that image is equally important.

Dissecting What It Means to Be Created in God’s Image

In the present situation, we know that the Bible refers to God’s acts of creation as work, so it is true that the image of God means that it is good for human beings to work. However, I would add that any work, when done for the glory of God, is meaningful work, regardless of what one is paid or how highly others esteem one’s work.

But the Bible gives us another aspect of the image of God, one we don’t even have to extrapolate by analogy to what God does. It says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27 NKJV). It is clear that being male and female is a part of the image of God our humanity bears.

In case there is any doubt about this, Genesis 2 makes it very clear. In that chapter, we’re given more detail. God makes the man, Adam, first and then stops. It is the only time during the creation process in which we’re told that God stops, and He says, “It is not good.” That should get our attention.

It was not good because man was “alone,” so God made a neged (transliterated Hebrew) for him, which, according to Strong’s definitions, has a meaning of “a front, i.e. part opposite; specifically a counterpart.” And the “counterpart” was clearly connected to a biological difference because the difference allowed for procreation. It is an embodied difference, not a psychological or cultural one, such as what is meant today by gender identity and transgenderism.

In other words, God “fixed” the aloneness of Adam not merely by creating another human being—by sameness—but by biological differentiation. It was just another aspect of the differentiation process demonstrated throughout the entire creation process. God differentiated the light from the dark, the night from the day, the sea from the dry ground, and so on.

To deny the difference between the male and the female is to deny God’s image in us and, moreover, to deny what God said was good for both the male and the female.

But, when it comes to this aspect of the image of God—this God-declared good differentiation between male and female—this politician basically said, and I am paraphrasing, No, I don’t mean or want to include that part of God’s image in our humanity. I don’t want the Legislature to enact a law that would communicate to our children in a tangible, understandable way this God-ordained difference by having biological males use one shower and biological females use another. In fact, I’m okay if our public schools confuse the differentiation and deny that part of the image of God.

While that last sentence may seem harsh and not what that official would intend to communicate, it is, in fact, the necessary implication. If the usage of such facilities is not being designated based on biological differences, then their usage must be based on some other consideration, which cannot be the relevancy of biological differences.

Perhaps this person1, and others among our elected officials (and would-be officials) who are thinking this way (and there is an increasing number of them), will rethink this issue. Until then, I’d rather the image they convey politically just leave the image of God out of it.


  1. The name has been withheld so that the point being made is not obscured by anyone’s affection for or allegiance to the person quoted. It is not my purpose here to impugn anyone or, in this context, influence his or her policy position, which I think is intractable anyway. Besides, other elected officials would say and then do the same thing.

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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Implosion of LifeWay's Draper Tower in Nashville and a photo of the Tennessee state Capitol under construction

Some Legislators Work Through the Implosion of their Ivory Tower

I recently watched a video of the implosion of the LifeWay Draper Tower, a Nashville landmark associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. In the video, you can hear the explosion rumbling deep below, but nothing is happening. Then a few windows pop out. Next, the first floors begin to cave in, but the top floor remains rather steady. Then it, too, collapses. This video reminds me a lot of what I saw at the Tennessee Capitol this week.

As I spoke with some legislators about bills touching on issues related to human sexuality, it was clear to me that their perspective is like that of the person on the top floor of the LifeWay Draper Tower after the explosion first went off.

As these legislators sit on the upper-level floors of their really nice new offices in the Cordell Hull Building, some can hear a rumbling outside—talk about the impact of the gay rights agenda and same-sex “marriage” on the family and religious liberty. But it’s just noise to a number of them, a distraction from their work on job creation and education reform.

But that noise is the implosion of the foundation on which the state’s long-term welfare rests. The collapse of that welfare about which so many legislators crowed so proudly after Gov. Haslam’s State of the State speech on Monday night will come, in time, as surely as it came to the top floor of the LifeWay Draper Tower.

That foundation was referenced the next night by, of all people, President Trump, whose policies so many Tennessee Republican legislators say they want to emulate at the state level. “In America,” he said, “we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. The motto is ‘in God we trust.’”

Trump was right. But while many Tennessee legislators will give echo to those words when they speak to their constituents back home, their echo often gets drowned out when they are in Nashville. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

Right now, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery has fully bought into the “gender identity” legal philosophy, which says there is no longer any male and female, at least when it comes to family law.1 As recently as December 13, his office argued that a state judge should interpret the word “male” to also mean “female” in one of our marriage statutes. Last summer in Knoxville, his office argued that the word “husband” in a birth certificate statute must be interpreted to mean or include a “wife.”

Our attorney general is helping our courts implode the very legal foundation on which God’s design for the family rests and, thus, embracing a faith alien to the majority of Tennesseans who believe God has made us male and female. And to make matters worse, his office is bypassing our elected legislators by insisting that judges impose these alien views on us.

I’m sure Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan could not be prouder of our attorney general.

What our attorney general is doing, and doing without any accountability to the people or even to any group of people directly accountable to the people, has highlighted a problem with our state Constitution. The unelected justices on the Tennessee Supreme Court appoint our attorney general.

Given that our law schools teach those who become our justices that Constitutions are “living” documents, are those justices even going to think twice about appointing an attorney general who will advocate for giving them the power to set public policy by finding new rights in our state Constitution and by reinterpreting unambiguous words in our state’s statutes?

For that reason, along with a few other good reasons, Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) presented to the Senate Judiciary on Tuesday a resolution to amend the state Constitution. Under the amendment, the Legislature, accountable to us, would appoint the attorney general, the same as they appoint the state’s comptroller, treasurer, and secretary of state.

Three Republican state senators said they would vote to send the amendment out of the committee to the Senate floor for a vote, for which we’re grateful, otherwise it would have died right them. But they said they wouldn’t vote for it on the floor.

It seems that there are a number of legislators who are content with a system that has given us an unaccountable attorney general who is blowing up in our law what even President Trump recognizes as our foundation.

Someday the implosion will reach the seventh floor of the Cordell Hull Building where a number of them now sit, unconcerned with the “noise” going on around them, and then they will wonder what happened.


  1. Of course, only a fool believes that this androgynous view of human nature will remain confined to family law once the attorney generals of our states and our state and federal judges finish laying that view of human nature into constitutional cement. Why should male or female matter in the workplace or the locker room at the Y if it doesn’t even mean anything in connection with the basic institution of the family that has historically anchored our view of what it means to be human?

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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Green chalkboard with the Tennessee flag star emblem

Gubernatorial Education Forum Questions Were Educational

The gubernatorial candidates at this week’s televised forum on public education answered, for the most part, the questions that were asked of them. But the questions themselves, particularly the big one not asked, were very educational.

The questions dealt with the usual topics: supporting teachers in the classroom and teacher pay, education spending, testing, school safety (the Kentucky school shooting was earlier that day), and other like questions, which, in my view, were intended to gauge how much the candidates loved and supported public education.

None of those are bad topics for discussion, and knowing a candidate’s views on those topics is worth knowing, but the one question not asked was this: “What is the purpose of an education” or, alternatively, “What makes one an educated person?”

You have to know what the goal of an education is to know if the answers to the other questions even make sense. You have to know where you are going to know how to get there and to know whether you’ve arrived.

In that regard, the observation of Christian theologian Abraham Kuyper comes to my mind. In the political platform he put together in 1879 and which led to his eventual election as Prime Minister of the Netherlands, he wrote, “The real motive in the interest behind [public education] is not just to educate the people, but to educate them in a specific direction.

How true. We might say that an education without a direction is pointless.

The direction of the formal education I was given was pointed toward being able to support myself as an adult through a suitable means of employment. And, in that sense, my education was good and successful. I have been able to support my family financially. But, as a Christian, I have come to see that this is a compartmentalized way of thinking about education.

There is probably no Christian parent who does not want to see his or her children support themselves financially as adults. But our goal should be more than that.

God told His people that they were to love Him with all their heart, soul, and mind, and Jesus reaffirmed it as the “greatest commandment.” To do that, however, means that this should also be the direction in which the Christian parents want the education of their children to go.

And it is here that a great conflict with public education, as it exists today, arises. I do not say this meanly, but we have to recognize that public schools will provide a worldview education to the children they serve—a basic sense of direction for navigating their way through the world—and, today, that education, whether explicitly or implicitly, will exclude the religious principle. When I was a child in public schools, there was still a general Christian ethic, so the conflict was not as apparent as it is today.

We find examples of this conflict almost every week, even in Tennessee. For example, just this week, the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened Bradley County schools with legal action because a student led a public prayer before a sporting event. Last week, advocates of the “transgender” agenda went apoplectic over a proposed bill that simply protected public schools from exorbitant legal bills if the ACLU sues them for not allowing a biological boy to use a junior high girls’ locker room.

But, some might say, this is moderated in our public schools by the presence of Bible clubs and other forms of campus ministries. They do, and that is good. I was part of one of those ministries in high school.

But, to be honest, the way in which these organizations are allowed into our public schools sends a worldview message itself—Christian things are separate and apart from the regular academic day and from the understanding of history, social studies, science, and family life we’re taught in the classroom. This structure reflects the compartmentalized thinking that public education requires.

This is not to say that any candidate should call for the present and soon abolition of public education, nor is it to say that public school Christian ministries are bad or should not be supported. But, given the direction of public education, it is to say that Christians need to begin having some principled discussions about how to make educational opportunities more available and affordable to those families among us who want to live out the first and greatest commandment and to educate their children in that direction.

But they best not wait for the public education reformers to lead in that discussion. They’ve yet to ask the first, most important question there is about education. Then again, perhaps by not asking that question, they’ve told us they are okay with the current direction of public education.

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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David Fowler's wedding pictures

‘Marriage’ and My Secret Marriage Sign

Shortly after my wife and I married (36 years ago), we developed a way in which we could secretly express our marital love for each other. I would often use it when waiting to take the podium for a political event or when sitting apart from her in the choir loft at church. It was fun and cute, but I recently realized the deeper truth of what we were communicating. It brought home to me why people think two people of the same sex can marry, and why polygamous and polyandrous “marriages” must be around the corner.

The Evolution of the Secret

Without revealing the secret, I will tell you that it was grounded in a couple of ideas. First was our desire to distinguish our love for each other as husband and wife from the love we had for others who were part of our lives individually and as a couple. Second, it had to express our desire that God be a party to our marriage.

With that as the goal, the numbers one and three came to mind. One and three spoke to us of the Triune nature of God as understood by Christians, one in essence yet three in persons. But this understanding of God also defined our understanding of marriage.

My wife and I were two individuals, but by recognizing God as the Creator of marriage, we were, in a sense, introducing a third “person” into our marriage. In doing so, we were recognizing that marriage is a reality, a real-though-non-material thing. Marriage, for us, was something more than just the “aggregation” of two people for domestic purposes. It is what Moses communicated with the simple statement that the “two shall become one flesh.” There was a real unity of essence, despite the remaining physical individuality or distinctiveness of the two persons.

The Supreme Court’s Different Conception of Marriage

My appreciation for the substance of our secret means of communication registered with me a few years later as I tracked how the United States Supreme Court was reconstructing America’s views about sexual intimacy on its way to same-sex “marriage.” In this context, I put the word marriage in quotes for reasons I will explain, not because of ill-will toward its proponents.

The reconstruction of sex appears to begin with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate criminal sodomy statutes as unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which, in turn, led to redefining “marriage” in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) so as to include same-sex couples. However, both were grounded in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).

The law involved in Griswold isn’t important, but the Supreme Court’s understanding of marriage in that case, explained seven years later in Eisenstadt v. Baird is important. This is how the Court described marriage: “[T]he marital couple is not an independent entity, with a mind and heart of its own, but an association of two individuals, each with a separate intellectual and emotional makeup.”

In other words, the Court does not accept the view of marriage reflected in the basis for the secret communication my wife and I developed, namely, that marriage is itself a real thing—an “independent entity,” as the Court would say—distinct from the two individuals who marry. Or to put it in theological terms, the Court does not believe marriage is something transcending the two separate individuals who, in coming together, bring a real organic type of unity into existence.

Put another way, the Supreme Court simply sees marriage as an empty word—not reflecting a prescriptive reality, but merely describing an association or aggregation of two individuals, “each with a separate intellectual and emotional makeup.”

Why Marriage Is in Quotes

That is why I put marriage in quotes when I write about the form of marriage that the Supreme Court described. If, as the Supreme Court says, marriage has no real existence or prescriptive meaning, then offsetting the word with quotation marks is philosophically and grammatically correct when used by those, like me, who think it has a real existence. Grammarians call them “scare quotes,” quotation marks “placed round a word or phrase to draw attention to an unusual or arguably inaccurate use.”

Those who think marriage has no real meaning would say that there is nothing inaccurate or unusual about describing a marriage as an aggregation of separate individuals in a domestic setting who create no organic unity transcending their separate identities. They would say that “scare quotes” are not necessary because that’s what marriage is.

Their conclusion would be correct if we were talking about the same thing. But I use scare quotes to denote that when I speak of marriage, I am speaking of something completely different in essence and nature from what the Supreme Court spoke of in Obergefell v. Hodges.

If we want to understand what’s behind the contentions within our culture over marriage, we need to understand that we are talking about two different understandings of the essence and nature of marriage. Actually, we’re talking about two different understandings of the nature of reality: Is reality only that which is physical/material, or are there non-physical/material realities?

But I will say this: As long as conservatives argue for a definition of marriage limited to a man and woman based on the Supreme Court’s philosophical/theological conception of what that word means, then they had better be prepared for its next evolution, the aggregation or association of three people in a domestic setting. After all, there is no real reason “marriage” can’t be anything we want it to be; it’s not a real thing anyway, at least to the Supreme Court and an increasing number of Americans.

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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Father holding the hand of his infant

A Pro-Life Decision 17 Years in the Making

On Tuesday, the U.S Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld the vote of the people in 2014 in favor of Amendment 1 to the Tennessee Constitution. The amendment essentially reversed a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000, holding that abortion was a “right” under our Tennessee Constitution. The 6th Circuit’s opinion was not just a legal version of a WWE SmackDown to the pro-abortion plaintiffs and the federal district judge who agreed with them, but it was a reminder to me about how to think of another issue on which I’m working.

Court Exposes Baseless Legal Arguments

There was much in the court’s opinion to like if you are pro-life or if you simply believe in the U.S. Constitution and abhor the philosophy of those judges who like to figure out the result they want and then reason backward to get there. However, my two favorite lines were these summations of the plaintiffs’ case:

Plaintiffs’ arguments amount to little more than a complaint that the campaigns in support of Amendment 1, operating within the framework established by state law, turned out to be more successful than the campaigns against Amendment 1.

Their grievance in this case thus appears to be driven by regrets, not so much that the State officials’ actions infringed their rights, but that their ‘adversaries,’ supporters of Amendment 1, may have campaigned more effectively than did opponents of Amendment 1.

I think it would be fair to interpret these statements something like this: “You are just sore losers. The other side did a better job getting its message out, so, when the election was over, you ran to the courthouse looking for a friendly judge who would bail you out despite your lousy legal arguments.”

If that sounds a bit blunt, I hope you’ll cut me some slack since I spent a good portion of my life working on this, filing the original constitutional amendment 17 years ago this month. But that fact, along with the court’s contrast between the two political campaigns, reminds me to never give up on things of fundamental importance and work hard, because, in time, God just might vindicate that which is fundamental, in this case, the sanctity of life, of which He is its Author.

The Long Road to This Week’s Victory

This week’s legal victory, however, must not be seen in isolation but in the larger context. I wish space allowed me to convey to you the twists, turns, pitfalls, and potholes that were encountered just by me during the ten years in which I worked to help get the amendment through the Legislature. I’m sure my friends at Tennessee Right to Life have their own compelling stories. Suffice it to say, at times the effort was frustrating, discouraging, and downright tiring.

I’ll never forget, though, Lt. Gov. Wilder asking then Sen. Ron Ramsey and me to stop pushing the amendment, because it was never going to pass the Legislature and our efforts would only create friction and division among a then rather congenial group of senators. We politely declined.

To be honest, a lot of people naturally saw the effort as rather hopeless when this process started. Democratic majorities controlled both the House and Senate, and the amendment had to be approved by a vote of two-thirds of both chambers. In other words, we would need 66 votes in the House, and Democrats then held 59 of the seats!

I think my friend Ron Ramsey would agree with me on this, but it wasn’t assurance of eventual victory that propelled us to press on despite Lt. Gov. Wilder’s request, but rather a conviction that fighting to protect innocent, unborn lives from death was worth the effort and any collegial discomfort we might experience.

The Encouraging Reminder I Needed

And that brings me to today and another issue on which I’ve been working now for two years.

Many think of the efforts begun by the Family Action Council of Tennessee in January 2016 to challenge the legal effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding government-licensed marriages of same-sex couples in the same way they thought of the abortion amendment—we’re tilting at windmills, we can’t win, the marriage ship has sailed, and so on. That may turn out to be the case, but if a Christian, pro-marriage organization will not defend to the end that form of union between man and woman that alone mirrors the very image of the Triune God and that embodies what is real and true about the nature of marriage, then what is our reason for existence?

Who knows? Maybe if we, along with a handful of others, don’t give up and we continue to work hard, God just might, in time, vindicate that which He ordained and holds dear—marriage. After all, that’s what happened with Amendment 1 on Wednesday.

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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