Donald Trump 2015 by Michael Vadon on Flickr

Can Trump Protect Religious Liberty?

Is religious liberty really under attack in the United States? If so, will Donald Trump, if he’s elected, really be able to protect it from further attack?

Many of my Christian friends probably wonder why I would even pose the first question, because, to them, the answer is an obvious, “Yes.” As to the second question, some of my Christian friends would also think the answer is obvious.

I’m not so sure the answer to either question is so obvious if we are really honest with ourselves about the situation and the reason behind the “attacks.” But being honest with ourselves is the first step toward restoring the religious liberty historic Christianity once knew in this country.

The word “historic” is key to answering the first question, because the answer depends on what strain of Christianity one is talking about. The American Christianity of more recent vintage that is rooted in only a spiritualized internal experience and focused mostly on getting to Heaven is not really under attack. It’s no threat to anyone. A more robust strain of the same that focuses on personal piety in one’s conduct is not under too much attack, either. Yes, such Christians are considered odd and may be ostracized in some circles. But there is still a large, whatever-floats-your-boat sentiment in America; so long as you “do your thing” in a manner that doesn’t affect others, your religious viewpoint is no threat.

However, if you are part of the historic strain of Christianity that believes there are transcendent, creational laws or norms that apply to all human behavior, including the institutions that humans create, such as civil governments, economic systems, and educational systems, then your Christianity is under attack. That Christianity is not okay with the American majority, maybe even a very good number of those who go to church on Sunday.

But it’s more than just “not okay.” It must be snuffed out.

That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. It’s hard for Christians to admit, but it’s not hard to understand. No god likes to have another god usurp their rule and authority, and the Christian God who imposes “laws” on His creation is an offense to the man-is-the-measure-of-all things religion. Man has always wanted to be his own god, and the culmination of that “religious” view’s dominating power in America was demonstrated when the Supreme Court said it could redefine marriage.

We must understand that there can be no absolute religious liberty when the question of religious liberty is framed this way: Has a creator God imposed a moral order on man, or is man autonomous? There can be toleration of religion and religious beliefs, which is what we have now, but toleration necessarily means someone or some thing decides what will be tolerated. Those in charge of deciding what religion(s) will be tolerated necessarily “establish” that religion or those religions.

That being said, let’s return to the second question, can Trump protect religious liberty? In the sense in which I’ve framed the issue, the short answer is “No.” He can perhaps slow down the attacks for a season, and he can maybe help prevent certain selected attacks, like Tennessee’s Legislature has done with professional counselors and student religious groups on public college campuses. But he can’t stop the attacks; they are inherent to the worldview underlying the controlling powers in our civil government, school systems, and culture.

Picture the whack-a-mole at the fair and that’s how I envision Trump on this matter—he might be able to whack a historic Christianity-attacking mole here and there. Of course, Hillary, like President Obama, is one of the moles and will let the moles run free.

Those who believe their Christian views are under attack must first realize the depth and breadth of the problem. It is beyond fixing by any one President. In fact, there’s no quick fix.

It’s going to take a cultural revolution as comprehensive as the revolution that displaced what we had and that’s brought us to where we are. The sooner we see that, the sooner we’ll move past looking for political saviors1, settle in and get started on the task ahead. Helping your friends understand the nature of the problem and then equipping yourself at things like our Stand for Truth Seminar (Johnson City, September 10th) is one way to get started. It’s much larger than the next Presidential election.

NOTES

  1. I do not intend to suggest that voting or politics and the product of politics—laws and public policy—are not important and part of the solution, but it is only a part.

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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church steeple and a cross

The End of Christianity As We Know It

Two pieces of legislation, one pending in Tennessee and one just passed in Indiana, and the reactions to them are bringing me ever closer to the belief that Christianity as we know it is coming to an end in the United States.

The bill in Tennessee is a rather straightforward one that I have no doubts our Founding Fathers would have passed in a heartbeat. The bill would prevent professors in the most atheistic department on our public college campuses—psychology—from using the power of the state that their professorial position entails to force a student counselor-in-training to counsel a client contrary to the student’s religious beliefs.

However, the bill is opposed by accrediting agencies and that has made its passage tenuous. Let’s be clear about what’s going on here. Accreditation trumps religious liberty.

And I understand the thinking. If we lose accreditation, it will hurt our universities. They won’t be able to attract students from out of state. And it will hurt the career opportunities afforded our students, who may not be able go to other states to practice if they don’t have a degree from an accredited program. Protecting religious liberty could be costly.

The other bill is one Indiana passed this week to protect religious freedom in the marketplace. It would protect Citizen A from Citizen B using the power of the judicial branch to force Citizen A to do something contrary to Citizen A’s sincerely held religious belief unless there is some really compelling reason for government to trample on religious liberty.

Again, this is something I believe our Founding Fathers, based on the language of the Declaration of Independence, would have supported at the risk of their life, liberty, and property.

But the NCAA is now thinking about whether it should hold basketball tournaments in the state because, in their view, the bill fosters discrimination. And two major conventions slotted for Indianapolis have threatened to look elsewhere for the same reason. Again, protecting religious liberty just might prove costly.

So what does this have to do with Christianity and particularly the “end of it as we know it?”

What I’m referring to is the kind of Christianity whose adherents hold to and live consistently with the historic doctrines of the church rooted in Scripture and are still able to get along with everybody else without it costing very much. That kind of Christianity, I believe, is coming to an end in America.

What will take its place is a costly Christianity, the kind of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote before he was hanged for his opposition to Hitler’s totalitarian Nazi regime.

But that is actually the kind of Christianity that is true to its historical roots. Christianity will always be tied to and rooted in the Cross, and only those willing to embrace that Cross really embrace Christianity. When embracing the Cross, one’s hands cannot embrace other things the world might offer in its place.

It was because he’d already embraced the Cross that the Apostle Paul found himself in situations in which he was beaten and left for dead. It was because they’d already embraced the Cross that Christians were willing to deny primacy to Caesar though it meant being fed to lions and used as human torches. It’s because of his faith in the Cross, rather than institutional church, that Martin Luther penned the words, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill. God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!”

And, indeed, God’s truth will endure as will the “Kingdom” kind of Christianity that is build upon it, even as it has for more than two thousand years.

But what’s going on in America’s culture is eventually going to make all of us who fill the pews and pulpits of our churches decide whether we will really embrace the costliness of the Cross when our time comes.

To be honest, I don’t relish that thought, but more than ever I think that day is coming. And perhaps this season of the Cross is the right time to think about it.


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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paper doll cut-out and hand writing Common Core

Hillary Clinton’s Advisor ‘Educates’ Tennessee’s Legislators

There is plenty of political furor across the state and down at the legislature over Common Core curriculum standards in Tennessee without the pot being stirred even more. But someone must have thought it needed a few more strokes of controversy because of whom someone brought in to speak to House education committee members this week.

The guest “teacher” was none other than Marc Tucker, not a household name by any means, but a name well known to those who have long had concerns about federal government intrusion into state education and, more specifically, to those with concerns about attempts by the federal government to set education policy through governors rather than the state legislatures.

Mr. Tucker first surfaced in the early 1990s during the Tennessee legislature’s battle over a reform he championed known as School-to-Work. School-to-Work was a bureaucratic ivory tower think tank-type education plan for the ages.

The objective was to evaluate all children by the eighth grade for the types of work for which testing showed they would be suited. This information would then be evaluated for them in light of labor market statistical projections for the jobs of the future. “Educators” would then encourage each child to pursue educational programs fitted for the jobs the government thought it would need and that seemed to match each child’s abilities.

The implementation strategy, however, was to bypass state legislatures by allowing governors to apply directly for federal grants to implement the program. In essence, the federal program would be imposed on states by the federal government through governors. Sound familiar?

Mr. Tucker’s educational dream was nothing short of a planned economy taken down to the educational level beginning in the eighth grade. And Mr. Tucker was all for it.

His enthusiasm and his plan was set forth in a letter he penned to Hillary Clinton after her husband was elected President. It became known at the “Dear Hillary Letter” and reads, in pertinent part:

“I still cannot believe you won. But utter delight that you did pervades all the circles in which I move. … We think the great opportunity you have is to remold the entire American system [of education]. … What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone—young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student. … Clear national standards of performance in general education (the knowledge and skills that everyone is expected to hold in common) are set to the level of the best achieving nations in the world … We have a national system of education in which curriculum, pedagogy, examinations and teacher education and licensure systems are all linked to the national standards.”

That should be enough to help you understand why bringing in Mr. Tucker could only set conservatives more on edge about Common Core.

Of course, discrediting a message because of the messenger is never wise, but even as I think of the message, I can’t help but think of two things: the Tower of Babel and Daniel.

Babel reminds us of God’s aversion to men thinking they can build elaborate systems apart from Him that make Him superfluous. Sometimes when I see these cradle-to-grave government thinkers, I can’t help but wonder if what God hears coming from their mouths as they speak of their ingenious plans is something like babel. Picture Charlie Brown listening to Snoopy.

And I’m reminded of Daniel, who didn’t want to participate in what I might call King Nebuchadnezzar’s “Menu to Work” plans, but wanted to eat from the menu God had prescribed for the Hebrews. Interestingly, the “test” showed that the “standards” that God had come up with for nutrition were better than the King’s uniform, national standards.

My point is this: I believe Tennessee is capable of coming up with great standards and producing great teachers, whether it’s the standards anyone else in the nation uses. And I have no doubt that if we do, eventually the nation’s employers won’t care that they are “our” standards. Like Daniel, the quality of the students we educate will be all the proof we’ll need as to the merits of our standards.

All we lack in the legislature is a little less babel and some leaders like Daniel.


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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beer bottles, football helmet, gavel, and word Vandy

Vanderbilt, Sexual Violence on Campus, and the ‘Cure’

Anyone who has read this week about the rape and sexual assault committed by drunken Vanderbilt University football players has to be disgusted—and even more so by the fact that part of the defense was to imply that it was the product of the “culture” on campus. That college campus “culture” explains why this week higher education officials were meeting to talk about curbing sexual violence on campus. Sadly, most colleges don’t even know why they can’t “cure” the problem.

The reason most of the colleges like Vanderbilt and those in our public college system can’t “cure” the problem is because it would require them to talk about things they either won’t talk about or don’t want to talk about.

Reviewing the agenda for the collegiate meeting, it appears that our colleges will spend most of their time talking about “process,” things like how to avoid bad situations, what to do if you are in a bad situation, and how to handle incidences of sexual assaults. About the only substantive, contributing cause of sexual violence they will discuss is the effect and influence of alcohol.

All those things are good and should be talked about. But it’s not enough if they are really serious about changing an environment where sexual assault is far too commonplace.

For example, one of the things they don’t want to talk about is what Dr. Mary Anne Layden’s research shows. She is Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. Here is what her research has led her to conclude:

“We were never going to solve the problem of sexual violence by treating victims who’ve been damaged by the problem and treating them one at a time and trying to put them back together. There weren’t enough therapists in the world. There were too many victims in the world. We couldn’t solve this by pulling them out of the river one at a time. We were going to have to go upstream and see who was pushing them in.”

And what she found was that the porn industry was pushing people into the river.

After ten years of treating victims of sexual violence, she said she realized she “had not treated one case of sexual violence that didn’t involve pornography.”

But at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus, we have Sex Week. At last year’s Sex Week, porn actress Tristan Taormino came to answer questions like “Can porn be ethical?” and “What is ‘good’ porn?” The self-described feminist pornographer also shared her thoughts on “why she thinks anti-porn feminists haven’t watched enough porn.” I’m sure Dr. Layden would say that’s a classic example of taking one step forward and multiple steps backward!

But that’s not all. You will never hear an honest discussion on campus about whether there are any creational boundaries to human sexuality. For one, most public colleges and “elite” universities like Vanderbilt will, at best, only give lip service to the existence of a Creator to begin with. But the LGBT agenda and feminist agendas on campus sure aren’t going to acknowledge the obvious natural complementariness of the two (yes, just two) sexes. To allow such a discussion is to allow the possibility that their agenda is wrong.

And, of course, while we don’t want to talk about it in polite society, there are those who take that view of human sexuality to its logical extremes to advocate for bondage, domination, and sadomasochism, which makes the line between sex and violence pretty fuzzy.

So, since we can’t or won’t talk honestly about sex and the possibility that there is a design and function for sex, we can’t really solve the problem; we can only clamp down on it. In this I’m reminded of what C.S. Lewis said in the Abolition of Man:

“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests [hearts] and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Naturally, in our case, when it comes to sexual violence on college campuses, we cut short the discussion we really need to have and then wonder why our discussions aren’t more fruitful.


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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Francis Schaeffer and screenshot of TN.gov's Common Core webpage

Common Core Is Not The Problem In Education

In my nearly twenty years in state politics, few issues have stoked the ire of conservatives more than the Common Core curriculum standards.  I have no doubt that even relationships between friends will be severed over this issue.  Maybe I’m missing something in all this debate, but I think something fundamental is missing from the conversation.

The fervor over this undoubtedly important issue is such that some people on both sides of the issue seem to have begun to hear and see only what they want.  In fact, some will assume they know what my position is before they even finish reading this sentence.

Those who know even the slightest thing about me know that I am so conservative I don’t let others do the thinking for me.  By that I mean, as a Senator in the state legislature, I was known as a reader.

Lobbyists learned to drop off materials for me to read, and then schedule an appointment for later.  In time, they learned that either they would just wind up sitting there while I read what they brought or I’d send them on their way until they had provided the information I wanted.

Liberals are the ones who want to provide ready-made opinions for everybody, hoping they will feel pressured to accept them and move on.  Not me.  I like to see things with my own two eyes and draw my own conclusions.

But what I see in this case, and what I see as generally true in conservative political circles, is that we too often don’t see what is “common” to all the things that bother us.  Common Core is an issue.  But it is not the whole issue in education.  And, in my opinion, it is not even the real issue.

The real issue is that which was so famously stated by the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer in his 1981 book, A Christian Manifesto:

“The basic problem of the Christian in this country in the last eighty years or so, in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.

They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion.  But they have not seen this as a totality – each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem.  They have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in worldview – that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole.”  (emphasis added)

That is the issue.  The worldview that previously guided this nation was grounded in a Biblical view of reality and morality.  It has been replaced.  And different worldviews necessarily produce different results.  The real issue is a clash of worldviews in education, but conservatives seem to focus on the different “bits and pieces” of education like Common Core, vouchers, charter schools, what science should be taught, what sex education should be provided, etc.

As Schaeffer said, we have “very gradually become disturbed,” when we should have been disturbed a long time ago when John Dewey began to push his godless view of education that now dominates the college teaching programs that produce our educators.

Conservatives can fight Common Core and perhaps “win.”  But what will be won if the systemic problem of how we view education and the worldview we inculcate in our educators year after year is left unaddressed?  Winning without seeing the “total” picture will be like bopping down the pins with a plastic bat at the arcade.  Bop one down and two more pop up, and they start popping up faster.

Common Core is no doubt an important issue that needs to be studied and debated. But perhaps the best thing that could come out of it is a debate about what worldview should guide education over the next 100 years and what overall strategies are needed to root out the worldview now in charge.  That would really be a debate worth having.