Christian Statesman or Pharisee?

Jan 13, 2023 by David Fowler

Christian Statesman or Pharisee?
Christian Statesman or Pharisee? The Practical Difference the Answer Makes for Legislation

The legislature convened this week, and I confess, I look at what is about to unfold in a whole new way. In the last few weeks, culminating with an insight last week.  I have concluded that “Christian statesman," as I now define the term, would not describe my previous approach to law and politics. Today I show how that change affects what I believe a Christian statesman needs to know, and how that would affect such a statesman’s evaluation of an important piece of pending legislation.

My Old Definition of a Christian Statesman

I thought a Christian statesman was one who had convictions based on biblically-sound moral principles, did not waver from them (even if a good-faith application of them is sometimes unsound), could defend those convictions and principles well, and did not worry about how his or her vote might be employed in an election. A statesman was one who pursued and persevered in what he or she thought right even if it was and remained the minority position.

By that definition, I might have been a Christian statesman. Even my political opponents knew I took the Bible as the source of my governing principles, conceded that I advocated for them at some level of competence, and acknowledged that on things like the pro-life amendment to the Tennessee Constitution I persevered against the odds. I suspect those same people would say that still describes me.

What Informed My Wrong View of Statesmanship Informs My New One

Ironically, my new definition of a Christian statesman is based on one of the same verses of Scripture that drove me into politics and defined, at that time and over the years, what I thought a Christian statesman was. It is 2 Corinthians 10:5. This is the verse in context:

(3) For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. (4) For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, (5) casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, (6) and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

This passage merits extended consideration about the implications of verse 3 for power politics, the perils of which I described last week, but, today, my focus is on my understanding and application of verse 5. It was subtly but dangerously pharisaical. 

How This Informed My Wrong View of Christian Statesmanship

Previously, I read this verse in a narrow and wooden way as saying a Christian statesman would, within the sphere of authority God had given to civil government and subject to the state and federal constitutions, oppose those acts that were wrong according to God’s law. 

So, I opposed turning civil government into a bookie for taking bets, abortion, and same-sex marriage. I opposed letting liberal groups like Planned Parenthood teach anything touching on sex in our public schools. I could go on, but this should be sufficient for the point I seek to make.

I suspect there are many who would say some, if not all of that, would fall within the kinds of things a “Christian statesman” might do, at least in the social sphere. 

Reading What It Says More Closely

But the verse speaks about that which is against the “knowledge of God,” a much larger conception of engagement than defining and opposing wrong behavior. 

A Christian statesman does not start with a list of moral ills and treat them like a legislative to-do punch list. No, a Christian statesman starts with getting a firm grip on who God is and what God has done so that he or she can better judge what God may be doing. That will frame the totality of a Christian statesman’s response. 

It is knowledge of God, not being able to correctly list a variety of moral ills, that is the foundation upon which a Christian statesman is built. 

What This Looks Like in the Development of Christian Statesmen

This means that any true Christian statesman, whether legislator, governor, judge, or public interest lawyer, will hold to sound Biblical doctrine – as tested and refined by the crucible of history - regarding God’s aseity (independence of being), omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, His triune nature, and the relation of the Son of God to both the Father and the creation of all things. Numerous corollaries follow.

Upon that foundation a right foundation for law can be laid, which becomes the foundation for understanding the relationship between Divine law, natural law, common law, and statutory/positive law, all of which would be understood in the context of their historical development and relations.

Through the aforementioned knowledge of God will come an understanding of and love for that goodness and the righteousness by which the true nature of the asserted moral wrong will come to be appreciated and understood. 

This is needed so that the Christian statesman will recognize the fundamental good and righteousness that has been lost. Consequently, the legislator will not only know what the civil law should prohibit, but the good and the right that needs to be restored.

Why My Christian Statesmanship Was Pharisaical

What I cared about as a legislator was stopping the observable (external) moral wrong. Sadly, that was as far as my Christian statesmanship could extend. 

I could go no further because my doctrinal teaching was not sufficient for me to understand the observable wrong at the deeper, fundamental level of how the wrong obstructed a right knowledge of God or revealed a wrong understanding of God. 

That kind of deeper knowledge is dependent on seeing and evaluating all things in terms of the relation they bear to the Triune nature of God.  This is why the Apostle Paul wrote that in “the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ” are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).

Moreover, I had no tools by which I could present a bill or legal argument that would tend, over time, toward restoration of the good that had been lost. Stopping the bad was all the good I knew to do.

That is why my statesmanship was Pharisaical. Prohibiting the outward wrong without, in that process, seeking to restore the good that had been lost typified the righteousness of the Pharisees. Their righteousness did not extend to the deeper issues (see Matthew 23:23-28), but only to that which was wrong to the naked (unspiritual) eye. 

That explains why Jesus said that our righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees. It is why Jesus’ story of the prayers offered by publican and the Pharisee had to be so shocking to his listeners—the latter did everything “right” based on what others could see. God’s determination of who constitutes a Christian statesman goes much deeper than what can be seen by the votes the politician casts.

Applying These Lessons to “Transgender” Legislation in the Upcoming Session

This session, the legislature will enact Senate Bill 1/House Bill 1. The intent is a good one—stop the moral wrong of providing medical “treatments” to a minor child to conform the child’s body (morphologically) to a subjective understanding of gender that is contradicted by the child’s biology and physiology. Euphemistically, this is called “gender affirming care.”

The bill, as drafted, would stop the moral wrong of disfigurement and possible sterilization. But it could also do much toward restoring good. I submit that a Christian statesman should seek to do that.

Seeing the Act to Be Prohibited in Terms of the Knowledge of God

The true wrong to be addressed pertains not just to the physical, but to a profound misunderstanding if not outright repudiation of the knowledge of who God has revealed Himself to us by making human beings in His image with the objective and enduring distinction of male and female, who, in principle, are fruitful in their union.

This is the good that has been lost over the years. That healthy persons can be rendered fruitless by “transitioning” procedures is what makes these procedures an objective and true harm.

As a Christian, the loss or devaluation of this objective good in our society (abortion represents the same thing) grieves me because an aspect of the glory of God in which we should revel has been lost to us. It will need to be restored if there is to be a directional change in our understanding of what it means to be human.

Therefore, I believe a Christian statesman would seek to prohibit the wrong  in ways that would also tend toward preserving not just the material aspect of our humanity, but those aspects of our being that transcend the material and that constitute us as something more than animals. 

Surely something should distinguish the Christian statesman’s advocacy from that of PETA. The latter’s political advocacy rests on the denial of the transcendent and the implications of that denial, i.e., we are nothing more than highly developed animals and, therefore, we should treat “each other” according to the golden rule. 

I hope a Christian statesman will want to add to the bill language that would rise above this baser, strictly materialistic view of our being.

What Particular Things Might a Christian Statesman Do?

Define the Person Correctly

I believe Christian statesmen would want to root the understanding of the child in what the common law says a person is as a matter of law, not just in what science can tell us. The common law entails the idea that we are more than animals. [1]

Therefore, at the very least, the language of the bill should allow and facilitate the legal argument that persons under the Constitution are more than the stuff of animals which science can lawfully evaluate and crossbreed.

Define the Parent-Child Relationship Correctly

I also hope a Christian statesman will want to offer language in the bill that would affirm what is true about the parent-child relationship that is consistent with the knowledge of God as Father and Son, the archetypal relationship that is mirrored in the begetting of children by God’s image bearers. This produces an organic familial relationship mirroring the relationship that exists in the Trinity, and, therefore, is objectively good.

Thus, I hope the bill will contain language from the common law that would prevent, as much as possible, a federal judge from redefining as a matter of constitutional law the objective nature of the relationship between a parent and a child, as the United States Supreme Court did with civil matrimony. 

Again, a right use of common law could make it clear to such a judge that a parent-child relationship could never lawfully include a “right” in the parent to consent to harming those parts of his or her child’s body that are healthy and developing according to their given function. 

I would hope the Christian statesman would not want the bill to intimate in the slightest way that a parent has a pre-political (i.e., God-given) right to give a doctor consent to such treatment. After all, as Jesus said, what kind of father would give his child a stone when his child needs bread or a serpent when his child needs fish? (Matthew 7:9). Intentionally interfering with a child’s fruitfulness (making them barren and sterile) is serpent-like.

I, along with several other persons and organizations, stand ready to help those Christian statesmen in state government that are interested in doing this. But, beyond that, I want to help Christians in the legislature be the kind of statesman I did not know how to be.

[1] “For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion, so, when he created man, and endued him with free-will to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that free-will is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.”  William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Introduction, Section II. Blackstone’s work on common law is regularly cited as authority by the United States Supreme Court and was used to reverse Roe v. Wade.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006.

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