The True State of Evangelicalism in Tennessee Becomes Clear

Mar 11, 2022 by David Fowler

The True State of Evangelicalism in Tennessee Becomes Clear
Last Sunday a friend told me at church that my writing has become more “frank,” a step down from “camel-hair wearing and locust-eating” from a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, be forewarned: If you don’t want frank talk, then skip what follows. And do not listen to today’s podcast about the future of parental rights and home education. Stick with reading verses and poems in DaySpring greeting cards and listening to Joel Osteen sermons.
The object lesson for today is the above Facebook post from the Tennessee Equality Project regarding the Marital Contract Recording Act. Tennessee House Republicans sent the bill off to a summer study committee on Wednesday. (That decision may be reconsidered next week so I will not comment further until I know more.)
Those like me who believe marriage is part of God’s creational design and for the purpose of His glory need to think about what this meme is saying about marriage. More importantly, those, like me, who profess to be Christians need to examine what the response to the marital contract recording act by the Body of Christ says about the state of evangelicalism in Tennessee (and America).  

Putting the Meme in Context

To think rightly about the meme, one needs to understand that the MCRA does not change anything at all about the marriage licensing statutes or the state benefits associated with a lawful marital status. 
Moreover, the Governor and Tennessee’s County Clerks have been interpretating, and presumably would continue to interpret, existing state law to authorize the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The MCRA simply authorizes County Clerks to receive for filing a document prepared by the Office of Vital Records and signed in person and sworn to by a man and woman, declaring in the document the fact they “have declared to each other acceptance of the other as wife and husband, respectively."
Let’s call the former a licensed marriage and the latter a recorded marriage.
In sum, a same-sex couple (as well as an opposite-sex couple) could still have a government-licensed marriage with all associated benefits.
What, then, is unequal between a licensed marriage, even of a same-sex couples, and the male and female recorded marriage? How is the MCRA an “attack on marriage equality?”  

What is the Current Equality That Is Being Attacked?

Under this true scenario, equality can only exist if all marriages—those between two people of the same-sex and those between a man and woman—are deemed state-created and state-bestowed marriages, arising not out mutual marital promises, but out of a state permit.
The LGBTQ lobby understands that it achieved an equality—that all marriages are now considered creations of the state—and there are no other kinds of marriages allowed in Tennessee. But they rightly believe the MCRA necessarily implies that not all marriages are created by the state, and only in that way can the MCRA and recorded marriages be said to attack equality. 
Because a license is required in Tennessee to have a lawful marriage, the LGBTQ lobby understands that it achieved an equality—all marriages are now considered a creation of the state. Thus, they rightly believe the MCRA effectively says that not all marriages are created by the state. Only in that way can the MCRA and recorded marriages be said to attack marriage equality.  

After working on this for the last five years and speaking to countless Christians and pastors over that time, I don’t think Christians, by and large, along with their leadership, understand this. Generally speaking, they have no understanding of what the current interpretation of state law repudiates. 

What Does Current Law Mean or Necessarily Imply?

The interpretation being given to state law by our governor and county clerks is a de facto repudiation of God as creator. It is a repudiation of the belief that God’s creation, particularly male and female and marriage, has any given order, meaning, and purpose in relation to God. 
This is the denial of Christianity. Christianity is premised on Genesis 1 and 2 and the doctrine of Creation. Salvation and piety, which Christians focus on and beat members of the LGBT community over the head with, can mean anything when divorced from their creational context and pretty much do mean anything now. 
Should it be any surprise to “conservative” or “Bible-believing” evangelical Christians that there is now a “gay Christian” movement when conservative evangelicalism has largely abandoned the creational premise of the Bible in its teaching and preaching?

“Shut up, Fowler! That’s Not True!”

In words reminiscent of the protests by God’s people found in Malachi, I expect some evangelical Christians will say,
“How have we abandoned God as creator? Our church even recites the Apostle’s Creed that says we “believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth!” 
I will tell you how. It is evidenced by the fact that so few Christians (and pastors in particular) in comparison to the supposed numbers of them in our state have not rallied to a cause and to legislation that says government does not own marriage and government cannot redefine male and female and, therefore, it cannot redefine marriage.
This is a terrible indictment of evangelical Christianity in Tennessee. 
It cannot be dismissed as “that’s politics, and we preach the gospel” because the gospel is rooted in a creational reality, and we are talking here about what the law—a moral tutor by God’s design—proclaims to all Tennesseans what we in Tennessee think being human means.

Am I Angry and Mad? 

Notwithstanding my strong words, I really am not mad at anyone in the Christian community. As to pastors, surely I will not become their “enemy for speaking the truth” (Galatians 4:16).  
The truth is my heart is terribly heavy and downcast, not because of Wednesday’s legislative outcome, which I am hopefull will be corrected, but because of the reproach cast upon the honor and glory of God when, in the sight of the people to whom Christians are to be witnesses, we are not flooding our legislators with support for state recognition of marriage as God designed it.
Sometimes we, myself included, can worry too much about what our witness to non-Christians will be if we engage on issues like this, but do not give enough never considerationing to the what our witness our apathy bearsis when we don’t.

Jeremiah Speaks to Today’s Evangelicals

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, and I find myself, like him, lamenting as I read the words found in Chapter Nine of his prophecy.  After writing down God’s indictment on Judah, eerily like what God could say today about Christian evangelicalism, God had Jeremiah write, “Shall I not punish them for these things. On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself” (v. 9).
I find myself lamenting because God surely keeps all His Word, even those by which He promises to discipline those whom He loves.  God will keep His promise to Himself that He will have a bride without spot, wrinkle, or blemish.  God is always faithful to Himself, because “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
It is a sobering thing to consider that God will never let one of His words fall to the ground and fail. 
Will those of you in the Christian community join me in lamenting, not over things like Trump’s loss or Biden’s victory, inflation, border security, COVID mandates, or the LGBT community, but over falling short of the glory of God ourselves regarding the value we have placed on the glory of God resident in and manifested by His’s design for marriage.

To put it frankly, evangelicals have sown to the wind with its predominately moralistic view of marriage, and we are reaping the whirlwind.

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

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