Statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville’s Chaos Provided the Reminder I Needed

As I read about the violence that took place in Charlottesville last Saturday, I thought about both what I needed to say in this commentary and what I could say that might constructively add to what has already been said by other concerned commentators. Thinking through these two questions brought me back to a comment a dear friend made to me in 1991.

What needs to be said is that so-called “white supremacy” is evil.

Different people with different worldviews will advance different reasons for that conclusion. Mine is rooted in the fact that I believe God made a real first man (Adam) and first woman (Eve) in His very image from whom we all are descended. The evil of “white supremacy” and all racism is rooted in the necessary denial of those two twin truths. That, for me, is an absolute basis upon which to decry racism, regardless of time or culture.

But the second thing—what could be said—was trickier. I knew that saying certain things would be understood by some and not understood by others. And I could, despite really good intentions, bring more discord than already exists. That’s what brings me back to 1991.

That year I was among a small group of people who were invited to go through a Christian leadership training program in my hometown. The participants, though all Christians, were diverse. We were diverse ethnically, economically, educationally, geographically, and denominationally. Few of us actually knew anybody else in the group.

Early in our first meeting, the leader of the sponsoring organization, who became a dear friend, said, “We are all captives of our own environment.” Over the next few months, I realized how true his statement was.

In our time together we covered what the Bible has to say about any number of topics, but the session on race stood out then and still does now. United in our love for Christ and our shared commitment to develop a biblical view of the topics we covered, we were able to ask honest questions of one another and share candid observations. We wanted to break free of our own environments and build honest, authentic relationships.

And we did. I could call the black men in my class about political issues that touched on race and ask them honest questions. I knew they would help me see the issue from a perspective that was foreign to the suburban, white-collar environment in which I’d grown up and lived. But I also knew that their goal in doing so was not to achieve a political result, but to help me achieve biblical clarity on the issue and communicate that respectfully.

I share that experience because it bears on what I believe must happen if there is to be substantial progress in race relations on this side of eternity. No progress is going to come when the goal is to “win” an argument or achieve a political end.

Progress will come when enough sincere Christians do what those in that leadership class did, put their love of Christ and His Word at the top of their agenda, and begin to build authentic relationships across racial lines in which the balm of Gilead salves the initial pain that an honest question or candid observation might produce.

That doesn’t mean that agreement will be reached between the races on all matters, even as spouses and good friends don’t reach agreement on all matters, but there should not be ugliness in any disagreement. There may even be times when disagreement produces profound sadness, but the larger issue of Christian unity grounded in the Word of God will be the bridge that will allow us to cross over the smaller, particular issue on which we disagree to work on other larger issues.

There will be those who will not want racial reconciliation to succeed; some feed off of division. So, it won’t be easy, but I have seen it done.

Charlottesville reminded me that I still have a lot of my own work to do, but one thing I can do right now is to commend to you the training offered by my friend at

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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Tennessee Capitol and LGBT flag and connecting the dots

Tennessee Conservatives Better Connect the Dots

The 2018 election cycle is going to be interesting because of the number of incumbents in the Tennessee Legislature who will not be running for reelection. Most of them are Republicans, and mostly likely there will be primaries. What do I predict?

My prediction is that there is a force out there ready to bring in a whole new group of Republicans to bolster the “establishment” and strengthen the Republican-in-Name-Only caucus.

You don’t have to be too smart to see it coming. You just have to pay attention and connect the dots. However, my experience over the last 20-plus years in state politics is that conservatives, and particularly Christian conservatives, don’t do a very good job at that. The latter group, in particular, tends to pay attention after they’ve been bulldozed and are wondering what hit them.

I hope this dot-connecting commentary can help ward off that result. Perhaps I’ll know the likelihood of that based on how many people ask me what can be done to avoid it. Anyway, here are the “dots.”

1: Tim Gill’s Southern LGBT Strategy

The first “dot” can be found in the June edition of Rolling Stone Magazine. It interviewed Tim Gill, the mega donor financial catalyst behind most of the efforts driving the LGBT political and legal agenda for the last ten years. He said he had a “southern strategy,” namely, to go into “the hardest states in the country” to push the LGBT agenda.

His stated goal, “We’re going to punish the wicked,” very clearly means Christian conservatives. How do I know they are the target? Because of the stated means: a push for the sexual orientation and gender identity laws that have Christian wedding vendors on the run (and soon others) and opposition to any bills that touch on religious liberty. The vehicle to drive his goals and push his means is Freedom for All Americans.

2: Georgia Prospers

The second “dot” is Georgia Prospers, a group of businesses that subscribes to the LGBT agenda lest their states will be on the wrong end of an economic boycott. Georgia Prospers hired the former Republican leader in the Georgia senate. He provided the leadership needed to get the organization’s business members to kill Georgia’s efforts to enact a religious freedom protection measure.

3: Tennessee Thrives

Now that you know the modus operandi, let’s provide another “dot”—Tennessee Thrives, the Tennessee version for Georgia Prospers. Following the Georgia model, it hired a well-known Republican to be its consultant, Stones River Group, founded by Mark Cate, Gov. Haslam’s former chief of staff, and Stephen Susano. If that doesn’t connect the dots to Mr. Gill well enough, then consider that Freedom for All Americans described itself as Tennessee Thrives’ “launching partner.”

Tennessee Thrives wants you to think it is not a lobbying organization. And it is not, in a strictly legal sense. It just provides information about state politics to its business members.

To that end, Tennessee Thrives was told (presumably by Mr. Cate and Stones River, since they are consultants to the group, but I can’t say for sure) that a host of conservative bills last year were “bad.” If you want to believe that none of the executives among the organization’s business members expressed their opinions on those pieces of legislation to our legislators, then please put your head down in the sand.

Of course, I could be wrong, but that’s what Tim Gill said the business owners in Georgia did when told by Georgia Prospers that the religious freedom measure was a “bad bill.”

But now let’s speculate as to the next step in the game. Would Mr. Cate tell those business leaders who the good establishment, won’t-rock-the-economic-boat candidates are in the Republican primaries? Would those business executives put their political contributions toward those candidates? Would they direct the PACs their business may control to fund those candidates?

Again, if you don’t think so, then please put your head back in the sand. But if you do, remember what part of your anatomy will be left most exposed, because you may just get it kicked really hard next August.

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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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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