scared young woman

Is Liberty Becoming a Scary Idea?

In the course of a recent radio interview about religious liberty, the interviewer stated that his numerous interviews with different people about that subject suggested that our society is becoming increasingly factionalized and that each faction is increasingly afraid of what the other factions will do to them. What, he asked, was the solution?

Before I answer that question, I must tell you that his observation reminded me of a remark a Christian millennial made to me about two years ago. The millennial was warning me that the legal principle that allowed a Christian wedding vendor not to provide services in connection with a same-sex “marriage” ceremony might someday be used to allow a vendor to not serve those having a Christian marriage ceremony.

The millennial further opined that conservative Christians might someday find themselves unserved by a host of businesses. Given that a restaurant in Knoxville had recently chosen not to serve a certain state senator because of his political views on LGBT issues, I acknowledged he might be right.

Going back to the radio interview, I think the journalist’s observation is correct—we are more factionalized and more fearful. Muslims are concerned about how various non-Muslim factions will treat them. LGBT activists and socially conservative Christians are each concerned about how the other’s agenda will affect them.

These concerns are valid. Law must recognize some values and the law will protect those values. For example, if we are going to have civil marriages based on government-issued licenses (permission slips, you might say), then the law will have to recognize someone’s view of marriage. While I don’t think civil government can be indifferent to marriage, it certainly can’t be indifferent to civil marriage.

But when it comes to our interactions with one another, not our interactions with civil government, it seems to me that the issue is liberty.

Our Founders understood that liberty in our interactions with one another was a societal good and was to be protected. But it was not to be protected from simply dumb and mean things by another person in the private sector. That’s why the Bill of Rights does not apply to private actions; it applies only to government actions.

To our Founders, the greatest threat to liberty did not come from whether an individual or individual business owner wanted to interact with me, but from civil government mandating interactions. A civil government large and powerful enough to mandate certain interactions I like can mandate certain interactions I do not like.

But, you say, people do dumb and mean things to each other. Yes, they do. It boggles my mind that someone once thought a person of a skin color different from mine should not eat in the same restaurant as me. I can appreciate the sentiment that would say such wrong-headed actions must be outlawed. But, again, the power that can mandate certain interactions I think are right can mandate interactions I don’t think are right.

When civil government assumes the power to mandate individual interactions, two things tend to happen. First, liberty is lost and everyone rightly becomes concerned about or fearful of how civil government’s power will be used against them. That, in turn, leads to factions as those who are fearful of government-mandated interactions band together to protect themselves from those who may band together to impose that mandate on them.

I understand the concern and the fear the journalist noted. I share it. But is the answer more government or more liberty?

I think the better answer is more liberty. Personally, I’m more concerned about what civil government will do with its power of coercion than I am with what a vendor will do with his liberty.

What about you? Does the idea of more liberty scare you?

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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photo of a church's stained glass window and the Koran

Could the Reason for Islam’s Bold Prediction Be Right?

I read a statement last week by a prominent Pakistani jurist and scholar that was very sobering in its prediction that Islam would prevail in the world and over Christianity. Christians would do well to ponder his observation.

The person was Mahmood Ahad Ghazi. He said, “Islam is the most dynamic force today because, unlike other major religions, it hasn’t succumbed to secularism. It doesn’t divide human life between the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the totality of human existence. Only Islam is the route to victory.”

Two things struck me about what he said: The first was the connection he made between Islam and the concept of “victory.” The second was that his confidence in victory was rooted in his evaluation of the current state of all the “other major religions,” which, of course, would include Christianity.

Christianity and the Concept of Victory

What intrigued me about his use of the word victory is that modern Christianity, at least in America, seems to have no concept of victory in this world. Some old-line churches may still sing hymns like “Stand Up for Jesus,” but I bet not too many take too seriously the line, “Till every foe is vanquished, And Christ is Lord indeed,” at least not as anything that should be tangibly pursued on this side of eternity. Some may still sing, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run,” but again, I bet for many that’s something that’s only true in a theoretical sense or ultimate sense, not something that should progressively become truer in tangible ways.

Christianity used to have a sense of victory, of advancing the Kingdom of God among the nations, the beachhead of which Christ established with His death and resurrection. For example, Charles Spurgeon, who lived in the 1800s and was known as the “Prince of Preachers” said:

I myself believe that King Jesus will reign, and the idols be utterly abolished; but I expect the same power which turned the world upside down once will still continue to do it.

But the late Harvard Law professor Harold Berman observed that “in the nineteenth century and even more in the twentieth” there “was the very gradual reduction of traditional religion [Christianity] to the level of a personal, private matter, without public influence. . . .” In other words, victory became individualized and personalized—me having my best life now, as one popular preacher puts it, and getting to heaven.

The Danger of Secularized Christianity

But the reason for that shift in Christianity relates to the second thing the Pakistani scholar referenced—the secularization of Christianity.

By that, I don’t mean that the Church has lost its spiritual component. I mean what he meant, that much of Christianity has embraced a dualism that “divide[s] human life between the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the totality of human existence.” I wrote about it last week—the Christian who said we needed to leave “our faith” out of our political views. That is the secularization of which I speak.

That kind of secularized Christianity will be no match for the comprehensive, all-inclusive worldview and vision that Islam has, because secularized Christianity does not have a comprehensive worldview or vision sufficient to compete with it when it comes to “the totality of human existence.”

Consequently, unless the Church recaptures its vision and relearns how to effectively engage every sphere of our existence through a biblical worldview, Islam will seize the “sword” that Scripture says God has given to civil government and use it, literally. It’s for the sake of recapturing that vision that this fall I’ll conduct a new, unique worldview seminar, Restoring the Vision.

Sobering thoughts. We can’t say those who plan to subjugate us didn’t warn us. But they did do us a favor; they identified the weakness that those over whom they expect to be victorious need to address.

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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Man thinking about government and politics in light of his Christian faith

Politics and the Rise of ‘Christian’ Polytheism

An email from a constituent and professing Christian last week helped crystallize my understanding of a view of civil government and politics that is being touted by an increasing number of professing Christians. When thoughtfully considered, it amounts to what could be called nothing less than “Christian” polytheism.

The email said this: “Do we want the Legislature enforcing our faith-based views of how we live? Most of us want the Legislature to stay out of this business.”

I understand the sentiment. There have been ugly periods in the history of Christendom when civil government sought to control the ecclesiastical structures and various ecclesiastical structures sought to control civil government. We naturally recoil at the thought that those things could recur. We look to the admixture of religion and politics in Islamic-dominated countries and want no part of that in our country. Consequently, a number of Christians embrace the view expressed in the email.

But does that history allow us, as Christians, to say the Christian faith is off-limits when it comes to civil government and politics? And if we do say that, what does that say about what we really believe?

Can We Really Keep God Out of Politics and Government?

Here’s how I answered the email:

Your request, philosophically (and theologically) presents me with a choice between two different understandings of reality, namely, (1) a view that there is a God who defines reality for all of our existence, even with respect to things like what civil government should and should not be doing, because He is its creator and the designer of the cosmos or (2) a view that reality is what we say it is and thus civil government can do whatever we want it to do.

If, however, I believe there is God, it seems to me that the latter view then requires me to believe that God’s view of reality only applies to my personal devotional life and the internal functioning of an ecclesiastical institution like the organized church and that God’s views on other things are irrelevant. But to me, a “God” confined to a “religious-only box” is, by definition, not God, but only a god. I do not share the view that God can be put in some kind of compartment and isolated from everything else.

But even if you disagree with me and believe that God can still be God and be excluded from civil government and politics, then that, too, is a “religious view”—one about the nature of God and His relationship to civil government and politics. So, it doesn’t seem that you really want us to leave our views about God and religion out of the political/governmental equation, you just want to exclude mine and use yours.

I imagine what I said scared this person to death, and it may scare you, too. But consider what the other view really means.

Law Requires an Ultimate Arbiter of Morality

Politics necessarily intersects with civil government, which necessarily intersects with law. All law is based on some morality, and all morality is based on some final, ultimate arbiter of that morality.

Historically, Christians have said that the ultimate arbiter of all morality at all times and in all situations is the God of the Bible. But if the Christian God is not the ultimate arbiter of the morality on which civil law is based, then that leaves us as the ultimate arbiter of the morality pertaining to civil law—one of us (a king or dictator), some of us (an oligarchy) or all of us (a democracy).

‘Christian’ Polytheism—Look Who’s the ‘Other’ god!

But understand what we’ve done—we have said that there are two different ultimate arbiters of two different kinds of moral orders, the moral order that pertains to one’s personal life and the moral order that pertains to politics and civil government. Each order has a different ultimate arbiter of the morality pertaining to that order. That’s why I say we’re seeing the development of “Christian” polytheism. And the “other” god is us!

We can run from the proposition that the God of the Bible is God over it all, including politics and civil government, but we will run straight to “Christian” polytheism.

Which will it be for you—historic Christian theism or “Christian” polytheism?

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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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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