Statue of King David, photo of Bill Lee, and the Tennessee flag star symbol

What Do I Expect from Bill Lee?

With Bill Lee going from governor-elect to governor next week, many have been speculating about what to expect from him during his administration. Here’s what I think about that question.

My expectations for Lee’s administration began to crystalize over the week as I thought about last Sunday’s sermon when the pastor taught on Psalm 4. It’s a psalm written by King David, a “politician” in his own right. It was written “for the musicians” and was, therefore, presumably one of the psalms that would have been used in public worship.

That King David wrote it for public consumption is what made the question he posed and answered in verse 4 stick out to me. He said, “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’”

I couldn’t help but wonder if those who said that to King David might have been at least subconsciously asking him, as we might be asking of Bill Lee, “What good thing or things are you going to do for us?”

But David, instead of issuing a list of past accomplishments and setting forth his royal “political” agenda for the coming year (which is what politicians and political parties do now, often based on poll results), answered this way: “LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.”

Now, why in the world would King David effectively say to his “constituents,” “Hey, don’t look at me. Look to God. The good we all need is going to come from God smiling down on us”?

Here’s what I think David would tell us, (and actually I think he did!), and then I’ll tell you how it relates to my expectations of Bill Lee.

Why David Answered the Way He Did

My first thought as to the reason for his answer was to turn to Psalm 51. There we’re told what David said after a prophet of God confronted him about his adulterous dalliance with Bathsheba, the wife of one of David’s soldiers: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (verse 5).

King David knows that, in God’s sight, there is no innate good in him, and, in Psalm 4, I think he is effectively telling his “constituents” that if they are waiting on him personally to provide the good for which they are looking, then they may be waiting a long time.

That interpretation of Psalm 4 probably sounds strange to most modern ears, even to many Christians. It seems to be stretching and extrapolating a bit too much from what David said in Psalm 51. After all, we all know people, even atheists, who do what appears to be “good things.” So what’s God got to do with whether Bill Lee will “show us any good”?

David’s ‘Self-image’ Problem Hits Bottom

That last observation and question are good ones. The question is one for which I probably had no really good answer a year ago. No doubt, some won’t like the one I have now, but here it is.

In the past, I probably would have said that all David was saying in Psalm 51 was that he has never been and will never be as good a person as God, comparatively speaking.

But I think it’s far more than that, because David also wrote these words found in Psalms 14 and 53, which the Apostle Paul quotes in Romans 3:10–11:

There is none righteous, not even one.
There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God.
There is none who does good, there is not even one.

Whoa! Say that last sentence again. No good from anybody? Come on!

How Is It That We Do Good Things?

The answer to this question calls for a longer answer than space allows, but here’s a thumbnail sketch of how I would answer.

The Christian believes the good he or she does is because of the saving grace of God. God’s Spirit begins to work in them to foster a love of what God says is good so that they become increasingly willing to choose what it is good (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 1:11, 2:10). Notice that David began Psalm 4 by referring to God as “my righteousness,” not touting his own.

But what about the atheist? I believe the answer to the good he or she does relates to a doctrine little discussed in broader Christian circles nowadays called “common grace.”

Common grace, as I understand it, means God restrains the evil in those who, unlike David, do not look to Him for their righteousness. In some, that restraint is greater, and in others less; think Stephen Hawking vis a vis Joseph Stalin. Hawking made some amazing scientific discoveries while actually mocking the God who gave Him his brilliant mind, while Stalin killed millions of people.

Here’s the way Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it in The Gulag Archipelago:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an un-uprooted small corner of evil.

These two kinds of grace work to bring about good because the image of God in all of us, though marred by the sin in us, was not abolished. For example, we all still think and create and, by virtue of the saving grace of God in some and His gracious restraint of evil in others, what we think or create can accomplish good. This means that our actions as God’s image bearers have real meaning, for good or evil.

However, because we live at the intersection of God’s work either by saving grace or common grace, the Christian joins the author of James in saying, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights (1:17),” the very person to whose lighted countenance David said his people should look for the good.

How This Applies to Bill Lee

So, Bill, if I may still call you that, the pressure is off you as far as I’m concerned to be the source of the good we need because King David got it right—I need to look to God for that. But I am looking forward to seeing what good things God does through you.

Now, Bill, that doesn’t mean I won’t be giving you my input about your policies and actions or letting others know about them, because they will have real consequences for good or evil.

But for now, this is my input, and it’s the prayer I’m asking God to grant with respect to you, taken from Proverbs 3:5–8:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.

If you do that every day and throughout the day, then that sounds good to me!

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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Bill Lee and silhouette image of business people

Are RINOs in Control of the Lee Administration?

I’ve received a few communications lately asking if Bill Lee is being surrounded by or surrounding himself with moderates and “establishment” Republicans, often called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), and whether that is a portent of a moderate Haslam-type administration. I think I understand why these questions are being asked, and here is my answer.

The concerns that have been expressed are based on appointments made to Lee’s personal administrative staff and to his cabinet. Specifically, there are concerns about an individual who, in one case, gave money to Phil Bredesen in his U.S. Senate campaign and others who have either been employed by moderate Republicans or didn’t like Trump.

An Easy Trap to Fall Into

The first thing I try to remember in situations like this is what is known as guilt by association. For the academic types, this colloquialism is what’s called a logical fallacy, a form of an ad hominem argument. Here’s a personal example of why this is a logical fallacy.

As a college freshman, I almost didn’t ask a particular girl out on a date because I knew she had been seen at a movie and a church hayride with someone I didn’t like from a rival high school. I assumed any girl who would be out with him was “guilty” of being like him or at least liking people like him. So, surely, I thought, she wasn’t “my type.”

But she’d caught my eye, and I did some more digging. It turned out their “association” was not of the dating variety. Guilt by association could have kept me from asking out the wonderful woman who has been my wife for 37 years!

In other words, there may be all kinds of reasons why a person does something with or is associated with another person, so we need to be careful not to attribute all of one person’s qualities and beliefs to another.

For example, I suspect there are people reading this blog who work for or work with someone because that’s their job or part of their job, and they would not want the character qualities or views of that other person attributed to them. Perhaps the person just needed the job, and it was the best one then available.

Also, different people have different thresholds of disagreement they can stomach in their workplace and different ways of compartmentalizing their work and personal values. In a different environment, they might be different.

Giving People the Benefit of the Doubt

In fact, based on my personal knowledge of some of Lee’s appointments, I consider them allies, but I also know that doesn’t mean we will agree all the time. As to the others Lee has appointed that I don’t personally know, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Doing so, to me, is simply the charity about which the Apostle Paul spoke in Corinthians 13. There will be time enough for action if criticism of their actions is later deserved.

But What If They Are RINOs?

This question is where my thinking has changed the most over the last year or so. What I am trying to learn to do when things don’t turn out as I would have hoped is to call to mind what Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the “prince of preachers,” said in his sermon on Matthew 20:15: “There is no attribute more comforting to [God’s] children than that of God’s Sovereignty.” I am finding that to be true.

As to our personal situations, Spurgeon went on to say, “Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.”

The same comfort is also true when it comes to Lee’s administration and those whom he appoints to serve in his administration. In his book The Attributes of God, theologian A.W. Pink wrote:

The absolute and universal supremacy of God is plainly affirmed in many Scriptures. “Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all . . . And thou reignest over all” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). Note “reignest” now, not “will do so in the Millennium.” “O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none [not even the Devil himself] is able to withstand thee?” (2 Chronicles 20:6). Before Him presidents and popes, kings and emperors, are less than grasshoppers (emphasis supplied).

So, to you who are concerned about Lee’s appointments, fear not. Any RINOs are nothing but grasshoppers in God’s sight! He has the Lee administration under His control.

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 ofBill Lee and a man writing notes

An Open Letter to Governor-Elect Bill Lee About His Advisors

Bill, congratulations on your election as our state’s next governor. I followed with great interest both the primary and the general election in which you ran. Our political stories are remarkably similar in some respects, and I hope you will find this particular thought most helpful going forward.

Our political experiences are similar in a number of ways. I was a political outsider and it was clear to voters that I professed to be a Christian. But there is a particular similarity that leads to this bit of advice.

You’ve been quoted as saying that you were speaking one evening with your wife, Maria, about the need to respond to the advertisements that had begun to attack your political views. Her comment was, “I don’t think you should go down that road.”

Her advice became the tagline of the television ad that was your response. I remember watching it and calling my wife to say, “I just saw Bill’s response to the ads running against him, and I think it won the election for him.”

But the reason I find your story about Maria so compelling is that within four months of my election, in my very first legislative session, I was confronted with a huge local issue that, for its success, required enabling legislation at the state level. Every prominent member of my community called me in support of the legislation.

Technically, the legislation would not have violated any of my campaign promises, but it sure violated the spirit of one of them. It would have allowed local governments to do what I said I would not do. I agonized over what to do and whether I could somehow rationalize supporting the legislation because I would not be committing a direct and immediate violation of my campaign promise.

So, I did what you did. I went to my best friend and confidant, the person on earth I trusted most to be “for” me, my wife. I do not say that to demean my parents and their support for me. I thank God for their support since birth. But Linda had chosen to make a vow to me before God that transcended biological kinship relations and, at that point, she best knew who I then was at my core and why I had run in the first place.

I explained to her how I could technically vote for the legislation and then told her the names of those who had called me and how, as the politically and financially powerful people of our community, they were in a position to make or break me in my next election.

She listened, and then said, “I don’t remember the names of any of the people you mentioned supporting your campaign.”

I said, “Well, you’re right. They didn’t.”

Then, according to Proverbs 27:6, she most graciously and kindly gave me that “wound” which only the most faithful friend is willing to give, not for my hurt, but for my good: “Well, you won didn’t you? Just do what you think is the right thing.”

That settled it. She was right. Before God, I would not do indirectly what I had promised not to do directly.

I voted no. I also never had a political opponent during my second and third reelection campaigns.

Bill, over the next few weeks, you will be filling your cabinet and deciding who will be on your personal staff. These people will be very important, but I would remind you of what Solomon said, “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain” (Proverbs 31:10-11 NKJV).

So, this is my advice: When your supporters, financial and otherwise, would pull and tug you into opposing irreconcilable positions or a member of your cabinet and staff recommends something that causes a hesitancy in your spirit, go to Maria.

She was given to you by God and she has already proven her worth in rubies is far greater than any kind of contribution anyone made to your campaign or will make to your success in office.

And, by the way, Maria, I’m praying for you, too.

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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Working Across What Aisle?

Now that the election is over, the question in the minds of many is whether those elected are willing to “work across the aisle” with each other. Will Trump and Pelosi work across the aisle to govern? At his very first press conference, Governor-elect Bill Lee was asked if he would have any Democrats in his administration. But what is required if political partisans are to “work across the aisle”?

During a meeting I had last Friday with a group of African-American pastors, I had a concrete, demonstrable experience that crystallized for me my growing understanding that there is a different, more important, and significant “aisle” that will have to be crossed if we’re going to see work across partisan political aisles.

Finding a Unifying Political Topic

Because I was the only Caucasian invited to speak at this meeting and had held office as a Republican, I decided to talk to this group of black pastors about something I thought might unite us.

Consequently, I focused on why the United States Supreme Court’s decision on marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, was the most important political and policy issue in the country and, more specifically, why it was actually worse for the black community than the Court’s Dred Scott decision.

I explained to them that, in Scott, the Court had only decided the meaning of the word “citizen” in the U.S. Constitution and had excluded blacks from citizenship. But when the Obergefell majority said that biological, sexual differences were no longer relevant to the one societal institution that had been anchored in that difference, it had effectively held that, as a matter of constitutional law, human beings do not bear the image of God that God said was reflected in the fact He made us male and female (Genesis 1:27).

Obergefell, I told them, was not as much the resolution of a legal issue—the meaning of the word “citizen” in a legal document—as it was an ontological, anthropological statement about the very nature of what it means to be human, in other words, what it means to be a “being” who is human as distinguished from other forms of being, such as animals.

The import of Obergefell became clear when I reminded them that many at the time of the Scott decision viewed blacks as non-citizens because they viewed blacks as something less than fully human.

The pastors to whom I spoke understood that erasing the image of God necessarily meant erasing the God in whose image we were made and that when God and the image of God were far enough removed from our memory, then slavery of some men by a majority of other men was justifiable.

Bishop Matthews Leaps the Aisle

With that as the setting, Vincent Matthews then got up to speak. Matthews is a bishop within the largest predominately black Pentecostal denomination in the country. He is in charge of his denomination’s Family Life Campaign throughout the world.

Bishop Matthews began by saying that in my explanation of Obergefell, I was “talking more black” than most black politicians, and then he launched into the issue of abortion and the devastation it was wreaking on the survival of the black community.

Bishop Matthews concluded by reaching across partisan aisles with this amazing statement (paraphrased from what I heard):

I will never vote for a politician that supports abortion. When people try to tell me how much help some pro-choice politicians bring back to the black community, I tell them that killing our people does not help our community.

The First Aisle We Must Work Across

In my remarks, I had told the pastors that the biblical line of demarcation between people, the real divide, lies not in skin color or party label but elsewhere.

The Bible tells us that God divides humanity by race in the only sense that matters to Him. The first race is composed of those who are only natural descendants of the first Adam, who God originally created. The second are those who are part of the new “race” descended from the Second Adam, Jesus, the God-man, by virtue of having been born again by the Spirit of God. (See 1 Peter 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:45–47, John1:12–13.)

That is why Bishop Matthews and I were able to reach across the partisan political aisle on two fundamentally important and divisive “political issues.” We believe the really great and fundamental divide among human beings has been bridged by and a basis for unity has been found in the God-man, Jesus, who we both acknowledge as the only true Sovereign to whom all, including politicians and political parties, owe allegiance (Ephesians 1:20–21; Revelation 1:5).

When that basis for unity and that allegiance become more important than partisan unity and allegiance, when the proclamation and advance of the Kingdom headed by Christ are more important than touting and building a partisan community, and when His Word becomes the foundation for our policy “platform,” then we’ll find the problem of working across the political aisle greatly ameliorated. I look forward to that 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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Can One Issue Really Define the U.S. Senate Election?

I don’t think about how I vote the same way I did before I got into politics 24 years ago, because now I know too much how the legislative process works once a candidate is elected. That knowledge is important to me. For all the policy differences between Congressman Blackburn and Phil Bredesen, it seems to me that there is only one issue that should matter to everyone, Democrat and Republican alike.

Before I got elected, I thought the life/abortion issue was the issue. I thought that if a candidate got the issue of life and abortion wrong, that indicated a worldview that would lead to erroneous judgments on other policy issues.

Why ‘One Issue’ Voting Can Trip You Up

Then, after I got elected, I realized that the thinking of most legislators winds up going all over the place. They don’t apply their worldview very consistently. Consequently, I realized that I could no longer assume one issue was a window into a candidate’s thinking and worldview.

The life issue is still very important to me, but at this point, I realize there are a number of other issues that reflect a legislator’s view of what it means to be human that are also of very great importance to me.

Why ‘One Issue’ Voting Matters This Time

But, for me, the U.S. Senate race is different. Regardless of your policy views about taxes, guns, health care, life/abortion, immigration, or border security, there is only one issue to consider when it comes to deciding whether to vote for Congressman Blackburn or Phil Bredesen, and that’s for one simple reason: Whoever controls the U.S. Senate will have a very slim majority.

That may sound crazy, but here is what I mean. As long as the arcane procedural rule that allows 40 of the 100 U.S. senators to prevent the majority party in the Senate from acting on legislation still exists, then no legislation on any of these policy issues is going to become law.

All the legislative issues that really divide the two parties are basically irrelevant when it comes to the Senate. The whole Senate won’t even get to vote on them because of that rule.

That’s not to say that rule can’t be abandoned, but I don’t see either party doing so. That rule protects too many senators from both parties from being routinely forced into voting on legislation they don’t want to vote on. The rule allows both parties to protect vulnerable incumbents.

What Is the ‘One Issue’ in This Race?

But, the one issue on which a bare majority of the Senate can force an up or down floor vote is the confirmation of federal judges, including potentially one or two more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. That is the one issue that is sure to matter.

If you don’t think that issue matters, particularly when it comes to judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, then you haven’t been paying attention.

You may be one of those people who still thinks the separation of powers doctrine you were taught in eighth-grade civics class prevents federal judges from making law and effectively rewriting state or federal statutes to “enact” new policies. If so, then think again.

Today, too many federal judges apply that doctrine only when they want it to apply. Too many think (and are actually taught in law school) that if good public policy needs an “assist” for the judiciary, then it is their duty to provide that assist. The Obamacare decision allowing the statutory words “state exchanges” to actually mean “state or federal exchanges” is an example of rewriting a statute, and the Obergefell decision is an example of rewriting the U.S. Constitution and disregarding the principle of federalism.

Why That ‘One Issue’ Matters in This Race

Some voters may think Bredesen will be his own person and decide for himself who he will confirm on a case-by-case basis, but if you think that, then you need to read what I said last week about how party caucuses have ways of punishing those who don’t toe the party line.

But more than that, if Tennessee’s open Senate seat becomes the 51st Democratic seat, then Chuck Schumer will become the Senate leader. You’re just flat wrong if you think Bredesen’s vote for someone else as the Democratic leader (within the Democratic caucus) matters; it doesn’t! By rule, there is no vote for “Senate leader” among the full Senate; the leader of the majority party’s caucus is the Senate leader.

So, for Bredesen to say he won’t vote for Schumer as leader is meaningless at best and dishonest at worst.

Schumer as Senate leader means his lieutenants (people who think the way he does and who share his methodologies) will lead the all-important Senate committees. And if that’s the case, expect Kavanaugh-type search-the-distant-past-to-destroy-a-person hearings to become the norm for every federal judge President Trump might nominate.

Because I fully expect that nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals will be the only substantive votes of a partisan nature that the next U.S. Senate will make, because I know Blackburn will be under no pressure to vote for Chuck Schumer for leader, and because I know for sure what kind of judges she would vote to confirm, I don’t have to think too hard about how I plan to vote.1


  1. The views expressed herein are solely my own as an individual voting citizen and do not reflect the views of the organization by which I am employed or necessarily reflect the views of its board of directors. If anyone would like to hear Congressman Blackburn express her views herself, she will be speaking at an open-to-the-public event in Chattanooga this Saturday, October 27, at 3:00 p.m. ET. The location is East Ridge Motors, 5330 Ringgold Road, East Ridge, TN 37412.

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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