Judgment Day came for a number of political candidates yesterday. Having served in the Legislature for 12 years, I truly appreciate all those who offered themselves for our consideration, and I congratulate the winners. But, I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready for a primary season at the state level to be over. It was an emotional roller coaster for me.
In the final days before the primary election, I began telling people I didn’t know which was worse—being Joe Citizen and having to make decisions based strictly on television and radio ads and campaign mailers or knowing from my 24 years in state politics/government how much of what was being said was over-the-top, misleading, and sometimes downright false. Some of what I saw in the gubernatorial and legislative primaries was despicable, and it angered me, particularly given the Christian profession of some of the candidates involved and that of their campaign advisors.
Avoiding a Political ‘Risk’
On the other hand, it was disappointing, though not surprising, to see how few candidates at the legislative level were willing to answer basic questions regarding LGBT issues. At the gubernatorial level, The Tennessean ran a story on Monday that said, “The candidates [for governor] have largely remained quiet on matters surrounding same-sex marriage, policies affecting transgender people and how they would govern when it comes to legislation impacting the LGBTQ community.”
A long-time political advisor to many of Tennessee’s most prominent politicians said, “It’s a ‘political calculation about the risk involved’ that the Republican candidates have to make when deciding whether to address the issue” of the LGBT policy agenda.
Is Talking About LGBT Issues That ‘Risky’ in Tennessee?
When I read that, I had to ask: Why, in Tennessee, home of so many churches labeled “evangelical” and home to the national and even international headquarters of two prominent evangelical denominations, is it “risky” to talk about these issues?
Is our state really one in which it is “risky” for candidates who profess to be Christians to say to a population that overwhelmingly professes to be Christian at some level that:
- liberty in our private relations is a foundational value that a government of free people should jealously guard and that behavior—in this case, who one has sex with—is not among the type of things the government should make a “civil right” and thereby give one private citizen the right to sue another private citizen for monetary damages?
- there are real differences between men and women, and that acknowledging them in our law in regard to matters of privacy and child rearing does not demean either men or women, and it does not do so precisely because of their complementariness and interdependence on each other?
- marriage is a real thing, though immaterial, not something “invented” by government laws; it is tied to objective biological realities regarding men and women, and it is not therefore discriminatory to say that marital relationships are different in kind from all other types of relationships, no matter how important or meaningful those other relationships might be?
Apparently so, based on the silence of so many and the trepidation of others.
What Campaign Tactics and Silence Tells Me
What the campaign tactics and silence on LGBT policy issues tells me is that we have serious problems within evangelicalism and more broadly within Christianity. The problems are complex and interwoven, but I believe that at their root is an increasingly inadequate doctrine of God among God’s people.
As I’ve written before, evangelical churches are increasingly moving away from doctrinal teaching about God and His sovereign prerogatives as God to a doctrinal approach that exalts personal feeling and experience.
When we don’t know at a truly fundamental, life-changing level what it means to say that God is sovereign, it shows up in practical ways. It shows up in campaigns that rely on emotional manipulation, which is rooted in deception. It shows up in silence and avoidance when it comes to issues of human sexuality and marriage, as my friend John Stonestreet so ably explained on BreakPoint this week.
In other words, this growing doctrinal weakness in evangelical thinking is not just a personal and private matter; it has public consequences.
The Unsettling Conclusion
Abraham Kuyper, an ordained minister and former Prime Minister in the Netherlands at the turn of the 19th century, wrote:
If a people is serious, its government cannot be light-hearted. A people that seeks God cannot be governed unless the [ruler] allows himself to be governed by God’s Word. The spirit of a nation and the spirit of its government may be distinct, but they are not hermetically sealed from one another. They interpenetrate. Thus if a government knows that enacting laws according to the demands of God’s Word will meet with reluctance and resistance, it will be tempted to go astray itself and burn incense before the idols of the day. (emphasis supplied)
If Kuyper’s assessment is true, and I believe it is, then what we’ve experienced this campaign season exposes a form of idolatry that seems widespread among us. And that breaks my heart.
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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