What Kind of “Dignity” Will the Tennessee House Vote to Give You Next Thursday?

Feb 17, 2023 by David Fowler

What Kind of “Dignity” Will the Tennessee House Vote to Give You Next Thursday?
Next Thursday, the Tennessee House of Representatives is likely to enact into law (absent a gubernatorial veto) a bill that would allow persons to sue and recover monetary damages from all health care providers involved in rendering “gender transition” services to that person while a minor. Its goal is a worthy one. But I did not realize until yesterday morning that the bill contains language regarding the nature of law and the power of state government that may be the greatest insult to God I have ever seen in my 28 years at the state Capitol. I hope you (and our legislators and governor) will now see what I failed to see.
The language has been staring me in the face for well over a month. It is in the legislature’s statement in “Finding (m)” to House Bill 1 that it possesses the authority to “protect” minors from “emotional harm” and to “promote their dignity.” 
Importantly, it is violation of the latter (dignity) that often results in the former (emotional harm). Dignity is the key, and we all long for dignity.
I thought the language was bad because there is no objective definition in the law of what constitutes “emotional harm” or promotes or undermines “dignity.”

That statement is true, and who knows what some future legislature or federal judge will make of those words. For that reason alone this language should be stricken.
But what made it most problematic for me is that this language can be used to destroy the parent-child relationship whenever the legislature or a federal judge disagrees with (i.e., second guesses) decisions parents are making as to what they believe is emotionally good and dignity promoting for their children. That, too, is reason enough to strike this “emotional harm” and “dignity” language from the bill.
But I didn’t see the biggest problem, because, in a way, I have been so self-focused, so me-centered. Moreover, my lack of insight goes to the very reason the legislation is needed in the first place.

What I Missed—I Put My Interests Ahead of the Glory of God

It is easy to see I have been most concerned with how this kind of claimed power in the legislature (and federal judges) to determine the meaning of these ambiguous words—"emotional harm” and “dignity”—might affect what I will call “human rights,” namely the right of Christian parents to raise their children in nurture and admonition of the Lord (and parents more generally to raise up virtuous children). 
For example, might the government or the federal courts think in years to come that home education does not provide a child the “emotional” support he or she needs? Could the legislature assert that paddling a child as a means of discipline denies the child “dignity?”
That is a legitimate concern, and I believe every parent, Christian or otherwise, should share it. But it is not the most important concern, and I missed it.

What I Missed—The Glory of God and Humans as His Image Bearers

The foregoing concerns, particularly about “dignity,” are legitimate in a constitutional sense because of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 known as Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). 
In that decision, the Court defined marriage as a genderless government created institution because of its concern for human “dignity.” The majority opinion referenced human “dignity” eight times before concluding that the U.S. Constitution “gives” us “dignity” And it defined that “right” to dignity in terms of a constitutional “liberty” of all “persons to define and express their identity.”
I have remonstrated about this decision with legislators, our Governor, pastors, denominational leaders, and state and national policy leaders and lawyers for seven years. But when it came to House Bill 1 and the language of Finding (m), I had not translated my theology of human dignity into a God-honoring, God-centric way.
That way of understanding dignity was expressed as follows by Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissenting opinion in Obergefell :
Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.
The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away. (emphases added)
In response to this profound ground of human dignity that God had Moses record in Genesis 1, a visiting law professor at Marquette wrote the following:
To Justice Thomas, dignity means the nobleness of being human, “created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth.” But to Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, dignity as protected by the Constitution is a richer concept, and autonomy is at its heart: “[I]ntimate choices that define personal identity and belief” are “central to individual dignity and autonomy.” In the words of Pico della Mirandola, dignity is the ability of man “to be whatever he chooses to be.”
There we have a true explication of the contention that lies at the heart of Finding (m) and its claim that the government promotes dignity—God vis-à-vis human autonomy. 
How proud and haughty must be the spirit of any person who thinks a law enacted by human beings gives a “greater” and “richer” understanding of human dignity than being made in the Image of God?
What an insult to God! This understanding of dignity—most likely expressed unintentionally in Finding (m)—is nevertheless one of those thoughts that is “contrary to the knowledge of God” (see 2 Corinthians 10:5). I do not believe a Christian can allow that to stand, not if he or she has a heart and mind that has begun to “know the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

A God Honoring Way to Translate “Dignity” into Legal Concepts

The law can best “promote” dignity when it acknowledges a pre-existing, pre-political, before-there-was-ever-judge-or-legislator law grounded in these truths: that God is, that God has created, that God has defined the meaning and purpose of all things He created, and that God chose to create us male and female in his image for His glory.
That is the only way the civil government or a judge can “promote” dignity. But note that it is a passive promotion. It is by what human laws protect and prevent that legislators bow to and acknowledge the overarching law it didn’t create. 
But for anyone—me, legislators, or our governor—to ever think, let alone assert, that dignity can be bestowed or taken away by the legislature or a federal court is to impugn the glory of God.
A government powerful enough to actively “promote” (and define by statutes) my dignity is one that can deny it. 
I don’t want that kind of dignity, not when God offers a dignity that is enduring and eternal. Sadly, this is a dignity we have either despised as a nation (and thus we need to “remake” ourselves in our “own image”) or, as in my case, not seen its application in legislation as clearly as we should.

What You Can Do

I pray those reading this who have come to the “knowledge of the glory of God” that we have “in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) will not allow the language in Finding (m) to stand. 
An amendment will be offered on the House Floor next Thursday that will fix this “problem.” I pray bill sponsor, Republican Majority Leader William Lamberth, will see it as a “friendly” amendment. I pray it will be adopted. 
The text of the amendment (showing what is being stricken and what is being added) can be found at this link.
I urge you to:

1.) Contact your state Representative to ask that hear or “he or she vote in favor of a forthcoming amendment to fix ‘Finding (m) in House Bill 1.’”  
You can find your Representative and his or her contact information at this link. In the map of the state is a search tool for your address.
2.) Share this information with your friends.
3.) Pray that the glory of God in His creation will be made known.

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