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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silhouettes representing male and female Tennessee gubernatorial candidates

What I Want in a Governor

The 2018 race for governor is taking off, with four declared candidates and another two or three looking to join the race in another month or two, so it’s not surprising that I got a call from a friend asking me about the names that are circulating and what I would suggest he look for in a gubernatorial candidate.

Barring some out-of-the-blue candidate whose name has not yet surfaced, I personally know all the candidates running for office, except for one. I have served in office with a number of them and even worked with them on specific pieces of legislation. I also personally like all of them that I know and believe all those I know to be Christians.

My point to this friend was that none of those things would make me choose one gubernatorial candidate over another. And that conclusion is based on two overarching observations.

First, culture is changing at an accelerating rate for the worse. Four years ago, I would have never thought we’d be talking about whether a junior high boy could use the girls’ locker room because he thinks he’s a girl.

Second, unprecedented legal issues are threatening our very form of government. Too many judges (federal and state) think they are gods whose powers allow them to transcend the limitations of federalism and violate the separation of powers. Tennessee has cities that think they should be autonomous, having forgotten that their powers come from the state. And Congress is inept, seemingly incapable of addressing any problem but proving more than capable of creating problems for our states.

Those two observations tell me that I don’t need to be voting for someone just because he or she has been successful in business or because I personally like him or her. Those observations also tell me that it’s not going to be enough that the person has been a great deacon, elder, or Bible study leader.

Given what is taking place in our country, what, then, will I be looking for in a gubernatorial candidate?

First, I will be looking to see who best understands and can articulate how our form of government is supposed to work. I’d like to see if there is a candidate for governor who can explain on even a basic level why the Supreme Court’s same-sex “marriage” decision was unconstitutional (not just immoral). That case touches on a number of constitutional issues related to our form of government with implications for the states. If a candidate can’t do that or blows off the question because the decision “is the law of the land,” then I’m not sure that candidate understands our form of government, understands what is going on constitutionally, and is up to the challenges that lie ahead.

Second, I will be looking for a candidate who (a) believes that there is a God-ordained moral order to the universe, a God-ordained structure to the family, and a God-ordained limit to the purpose and jurisdiction of civil government, and (b) is willing to defend those beliefs publicly when asked about them and govern on the basis of them.

To help flesh this out, one thing I will want to know is the reasons a candidate will or will not support legislation that tells a junior high girl that no biological male should be in her school locker room. That will tell me a lot about the worldview issues I just mentioned, and if a candidate does not even understand why this is such a telling issue, then that convinces me he or she isn’t ready to confront the issues ahead.

In my opinion, we can no longer afford to vote for a gubernatorial candidate so that we can brag about knowing a governor or because he or she has been successful in the private sector or because he or she has been faithful to and active in the local church. Those things are great, and I’d love to be able to say those things about our next governor, but they do not, by themselves, mean that that person is qualified to be governor in view of the challenges that lie ahead.

I’m looking for someone who knows how to govern under God and in accordance with our Constitution. Who are you looking for?

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 map showing Bradley County

A Good Tennessee Marriage Court Ruling Provides Ray of Hope

I got an email from a lawyer friend this week in which he said, “I have become so jaded that I expect nothing good out of courts.” I didn’t realize how much I had begun to share his sentiment until I received a ruling from a Tennessee judge this week.

The ruling to which I’m referring denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit I filed in January of last year. The lawsuit was filed by me through an arm of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, the Constitutional Government Defense Fund. It was filed on behalf of a Bradley County minister and County Commissioner who were willing to challenge the notion that the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex “marriage” decision in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, changed Tennessee’s marriage license law.

That the motion was denied means that the lawsuit can go forward!

The judge’s decision does not mean that our clients “win,” nor does it mean that the state can ignore the Obergefell decision. But it does mean that the judge believes this minister and County Commissioner have a right to have a state court determine the effect of the Obergefell decision on our marriage license law. Whether that law remains valid after Obergefell we’ll soon find out.

I can’t tell you how gratifying the judge’s decision was in the wake of the mixture of responses I got to the lawsuit from my fellow lawyers. Most of these lawyers, to be honest, just scoffed and never even heard me out. They would say some inane thing like, “You can’t nullify a Supreme Court ruling,” when that’s not what the lawsuit seeks to do. Among those who didn’t just scoff but listened to my legal theory, many said I was correct, and then added, “But the courts aren’t going to follow the law.”

I was beginning to think they might be right when a supposedly conservative judge dismissed a similar lawsuit we’d filed in Williamson County (now being appealed), but I continued to try to convince myself that there were still judges who would follow the law, regardless of whether they liked the result. I hoped and prayed that the judge in Bradley County might be one of those.

But when I got a letter from the judge on Tuesday advising the lawyers on the Bradley County case that he would be filing an opinion denying the motion to dismiss, I realized my self-talk had masked the fact that I, too, had become jaded. I found myself reading the letter multiple times to see if I was reading it correctly. I asked another lawyer in my office if the letter was saying what I thought it said. I even called the judge’s secretary to make sure I was reading it correctly.

I realized then that I probably had lost more faith in our judicial system than I had wanted to admit. But the judge’s ruling restored a bit of that faith.

The judge acknowledged that no court had ever decided what the effect of the Obergefell ruling was on our marriage license law, and that ministers and citizens had a right to know what the effect of that ruling was.

Our law says that marriage licenses can only be issued to male and female applicants, and Obergefell expressly said such laws are “invalid.” My clients are simply asking on what basis, then, are our county clerks issuing any marriage licenses, let alone licenses to same-sex couples.

I don’t know how the judge will answer that underlying legal issue. He may rule in a way that I believe is consistent with long-standing judicial precedent, or he may find a way around those precedents.

However, at least for today, we know there is one judge in Tennessee who is willing to follow the law, even if it puts him in the position of having to make a tough decision on the merits that one side or the other of the same-sex “marriage” issue isn’t going to like.

It’s nice to know I have a reason for not being quite so jaded for yet another day.

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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Rainbow, state of Tennessee, a gavel, and four sets of lesbian couples

Lesbians’ ‘Fake Liberty’ Threatens True Liberty

We hear a lot these days about “fake news,” but what about “fake liberty?” That’s exactly the kind of liberty four lesbian couples asserted in a lawsuit they recently filed against the state of Tennessee.

On May 7th, the lesbian couples filed suit in state court asserting that “a central part of the liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause” is the right to “bring up children.” Given that no one is preventing these women from having children or from parenting the child one of them has, what is their constitutional problem?

Essentially, they are claiming that as a matter of constitutional “liberty,” they are entitled to a birth certificate that indicates that a person with no biological relationship to a child is a “mother” simply because she is married to the person who bears the child.

As same-sex couples did with their demand that the state shows its approval of their relationships by the issuance of a marriage license, these lesbian women now want the state to “sanction” their child-bearing practices with the issuance of a birth certificate that gives a non-biological person the legal status of “mother.”

What Is the Real Issue?

Before anyone accuses me of being mean-spirited for not wanting two lesbians to both be recognized as mothers on a birth certificate, let’s make sure we understand what we’re talking about here. We are not talking about what makes for good public policy. We can argue the merits of birth certificate policy with our lawmakers at another time. We are here arguing about what the Constitution requires. That is the real issue.

And it is in regard to the constitutional claim that we need to pay heed to what Justice Clarence Thomas said in his dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, “[R]eceiving governmental recognition and benefits has nothing to do with any understanding of ‘liberty’ that the Framers would have recognized.”

What Is True Liberty in a Constitutional Sense?

Justice Thomas’ explanation of liberty is worth reading:

To the extent that the Framers would have recognized a natural right to marriage that fell within the broader definition of liberty, it would not have included a right to governmental recognition and benefits. . . . At the founding, such conduct [as marriage] was understood to predate government, not to flow from it.

In other words, the freedom or liberty one had to marry flowed not from a right to marry granted by the government, but from “nature” and from a kind of natural “conduct” that predated government. That kind of liberty and right makes sense. It is within our tradition that true liberty and true rights come not from government, but, as our Founders would have said, from our Creator. Certainly, none of the Founders or the Framers of our Constitution, who believed in limited government, would have argued that a person had a liberty right—that a person was free—to access benefits the government chose to give to marriage.

Applying a true understanding of liberty to the new lawsuit, I think we can safely say that none of the Framers would have said that liberty was the right of a person to be recognized by the government as a mother or father where such was not “natural” (inhering in the nature of things) and pre-political. And, clearly, no one would have believed that mere government action—the issuance of birth certificates for record keeping purposes—would have given rise to a liberty right to be recognized by the government as a parent.

Think of it this way: No one’s liberty, not even that of a heterosexual couple, is threatened by the state not issuing a birth certificate. The absence of a birth certificate would not change my status as the father of my daughter. I am, by nature and not by government action, her father. The lesbians are essentially arguing that they are not free unless they are granted a status by the government that the irrevocable Laws of Nature have naturally denied them.

Does Liberty Now Come From Government?

But here’s the point for today: We are headed into some dangerous territory when liberty morphs into a right to government action and liberty depends on a status granted by government. True liberty is endowed by our Creator, not granted by the government. And true liberty is freedom from government action, not a right to government action.

If we forget this, then we may have to relearn the hard way that a government that grants our liberty is a government that is at liberty to take it away.

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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