My Long Lesson in Political Folly

Mar 22, 2024 by David Fowler

My Long Lesson in Political Folly
I am almost 66 years of age. I am completing my 29th year at the state legislature, 12 as a state Senator and 17 as a lawyer-lobbyist. Every one of those years was needed for God to teach me what I needed to finish life well in the sphere of law and politics God placed me in. A first step in the new right direction is telling you what it took so long for me to learn. I hope it helps you.
How I Read the Bible Incorrectly
The lesson begins with some Bible verses I’ve often used to encourage myself in fighting against political liberals.
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to his disciple Timothy to help him order life among the people of God. Knowing Timothy would face opposition, Paul warns him of those who are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). However, he adds a word of encouragement, “but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all” (v. 9).
I once read those verses in relation to political liberals trying to overthrow Christian ethics in law and government; it was their folly that would eventually become manifest. And that will happen, but that is not who Paul is speaking about to Timothy.  
Rather, Paul is speaking about those who thought of themselves as God’s people that would be Timothy’s problem; those who, like Paul before his conversion, would not let go of the Mosaic polity under the old covenant, to embrace what was greater: the new covenant with Jesus who is superior to Moses.
In other words, it was the folly of those who thought of themselves as God’s chosen people that would become obvious to those who really were His people, those who God knew, not those who thought they knew God (Matthew 7:21-23; Galatians 4:9). When the Temple central to the Mosaic polity came down stone by stone in 70 AD, Paul’s observation proved correct.
Applying the Foregoing to Me
When the Republicans took firm control of the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2010, the Nashville Scene wrote that I was “Tennessee's answer to James Dobson.” No greater badge of honor could have been given me than a comparison to James Dobson.
Later that year, All Things Considered relayed a story in which current Representative Mark White let me have it during a subcommittee meeting over an email I’d sent out. The email said he had voted to put off legislation that would have protected girls in public schools from biological males using their bathrooms and locker rooms.
The reporter, pointing out how “Rep. White backed down” and ended up voting for the legislation, said the “moment reveals how Fowler has come to be one of this state's most powerful lobbyists.”
Fast Forward to the Present
This year none of the professing Christians on the Tennessee House Children and Family Service subcommittee would vote for a bill (HB 1386) that I labored over for four years.  It rests on the premise that the marital relationship between a man and woman is not a privilege granted by civil government licenses.
Not one subcommittee member would vote to accord any legal recognition to the marital vows themselves that are exchanged between a man and woman, even if exchanged before their minister and a church full of people.
That act is not one our state government will acknowledge if the couple and the minister do not get its permission first. State government treats that act as a nullity and Christian ministers as its statutory agent.
I’m not saying none of the subcommittee members are Christians, but one can’t help but wonder why none of them would want to be on public record in support of this legislation when those same members take turns praying to open their weekly meetings.[i]
But this is not about them; they are just players in the lesson God had for me. I press on.
The Lesson I Learned the Hard Way
I knew the Bible said the “righteous live by faith,” but as I look back, my politics should have been telling me I didn’t know what that meant.
It was easy to convince myself that my righteousness with God was demonstrated by pushing “Christian laws.” After all, faith without works is dead, James wrote in his Epistle. But God, in great mercy, eventually let me see that my thinking was akin to the Jews thinking they knew God because they knew the laws of Moses.
But the last stroke from God’s merciful and loving hand was going from “one of this state’s most powerful lobbyists” to not even one Christian member of a committee standing with me in defense of God’s design for marriage. That was the living-by-faith-in-who-Jesus-Christ-is lesson that I needed.
That loss of “power” is how I came to see that my years of legislative advocacy work were based on human-organized power, not faith in the power of God, and legislative outcomes were how “success” was to be measured.
Applying the Lesson I Learned
Our nation, including our state and our legislature, has rejected God in the person of His Son as the one having authority over us,[ii] though many give the vacuous word God a kind of  “lip service” that Jesus rejected from those who thought they were God’s people (Matthew 15:8 quoting Isaiah 29:13).
The consequence of that rejection is that we are left with nothing but power games, whether in personal relationships or in law and politics.
In my politics, I acquiesced to that view of reality, and for a while it worked. But that kind of power never works for long; it’s a fool’s game. And it took me 29 years to realize it.
I’ve learned that living by faith in the God who is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ[iii] and pursuing God’s eternal purpose for that revelation of Jesus in space and time is what His people do. Now I am working on how best to do that in the fields of law and politics in my remaining years.
Thankfully, it is never too late for those fools God takes for His own to learn. Praise God.

[i] My legislative experience mirrors my experience with the institutional church. To my knowledge, none of the denominational leaders I approached—Baptist (Southern and independent), Assemblies of God, and Churches of God—ever showed any public support for the legislation. A few individual pastors reached out to legislators over the years, but they were few and far between.
[iii] For those tired of Christian moralism who may want to know what the Bible says Jesus Christ revealed about God and His eternal purposes that is so gloriously captivating to His people, here is the sermon I preached last Sunday at a new church being formed in Maury County that I am blessed to be part of.

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