Interview with David Fowler

David Fowler, President of Family Action Council of Tennessee, sees the effects of a continuing shift in the church daily. Whereas once the church was viewed as a respected entity with influence, our culture now makes every attempt to override God’s law.

Find out what David has to say about Christian responsibilities in a society overrun with chaos.

About David

David Fowler, president of FACT, grew up in Chattanooga. He graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a B.S. in accounting, serving as president of the Student Government Association his senior year. He attended the University of Cincinnati College of Law on the Chapin-Thomas Scholarship, receiving his J.D. degree in 1983. In law school, Mr. Fowler directed the Moot Court program and participated on the National Moot Court and Craven Constitutional Law teams. He also clerked for the late Harry J. Klusmeier in the Ohio Court of Appeals.

Following law school, Mr. Fowler practiced law in Cincinnati and Chattanooga and in 1994, he successfully ran for the Tennessee state Senate where he served for 12 years. For four years he also directed the Center for Law and Government at Bryan College, teaching classes in political philosophy and jurisprudence. After leaving office in 2006, Mr. Fowler worked with leaders from across the state to form the Family Action Council of Tennessee to protect the interests of families with respect to state policy and to educate the public about the importance of a family-friendly culture.

Click to read Transcript

PEEK: Every time you make an excuse or give me a justification for why you can’t do something you are stating a principle for what you shouldn’t do.

EASLEY: We’re in studio today with David Fowler, President of Fact, Family, Action Council of Tennessee. You grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where you served on the student government.

FOWLER: That’s right, I did.

E: You ran for office.

F: I did and I actually swore I would never do it again. I did. I swore I’d never do it again.

E: University of Cincinnati, College of Law, on a scholarship. You got your Juris Doctorate in 1983. You’re a young fellow. You have directed Moot Court programs and participated in the National Moot Court. That’s got to be kind of fun.

F: It was. We actually argued in front of the Supreme Court Justice. Justice Stevens, who became sort of my immediate idol because…

E: Why?

F: Supreme Court Justice. Then I found out he was terribly liberal and it was very disappointing.

E: You also clerked in the Ohio Court of Appeals. How long did you clerk?

F: I did that for one year, but it was civil and criminal unlike what we do in some states like here in Tennessee. One month we hear criminal cases, one month we heard civil, so it was a very educational experience.

E: You practice law in Cincinnati and Chattanooga since 1994, you ran for the Tennessee state Senate and you served for twelve years.

F: That’s right. I did.

E: But it seemed like an eternity.

F:It did. I often tell people it felt like I’d been paroled and if I stay on good behaviour I don’t have to go back. (laughter)

E: So that’s how it works. Run for office and then get off free, ok.

F: Now for any of your Tennessee listeners who knew we went through a Federal sting and indictments for bribery and all that, I often tell people I left undefeated and unindicted, so your Tennessee listeners might appreciate that.

E: Good legal ease there, ok. For four years you directed the Center of Law and Government at Bryan College?  Taught classes on political philosophy and jurisprudence. In 2006 you left office and you started working with the Family Action Council Tennessee. Now there’s a relationship with the Focus on the Family originally? Is that correct?

F: There’s still a bit of a relationship there. Focus on the Family at one time had more of a political policy arm. So it had sort of the nurture arm and the policy arm. The policy arm was known as Citizenlink and it was kind of run by a guy named Tom Minnery. Many in your audience would know Dr. Dobsons right handman. Actually about a year ago they legally split into different entities, with different boards for the sake of the protection of the Charitable Focus on the Family Organization because political organizations are obviously under a lot more scrutiny today. So we still have a relationship with both groups. It’s not financial. We don’t get money from them, but it’s sort of like being a part of a big denomination, I guess you could say. They have research that we can access to and information so that we’re not having to recreate the wheel all the time.

E: In the inception the idea was to have one in every state. Correct?

F: That’s correct and I believe now we’re up to thirty-eight states now have groups like ours, so most of your listeners the odds are, they have an entity like ours in their state. We work at the State capitol level. It started in the late 80’s when Dr. Dobson realized very few people paid attention to what happened at State capitols. Yet,they dealt with issues like pornography and obscenity, and adult businesses, and divorce, and gambling, all kinds of things, and nobody was much paying attention to those pro family issues at the State capitol. They didn’t want to create a national linity that was working at all those, so they came alongside existing entities to strengthen them or to help form new entities and that’s how we came into existence in 2006, when the marriage amendment was on the ballot in Tennessee, and Focus on the Family, and Citizenlink started coming into Tennessee meeting Legislators, of which I was one at the time, saying, “Who can we work with here to make sure that the marriage amendment passes? What’s the state organization that has a statewide reach?” They just didn’t feel that there was an entity with that weight and gravitas across the state and so they helped formulate one and as I was helping them put it together, I felt the Lord was saying, “You need to go do this,” so I left and that’s how we came into existence.

E: Eight years later now. Eight years and counting.

F: Eight years.

E: When you think of Tennessee from your first time to become an elected official to today, 2015, what are two, three of the most tectonic changes that you’ve seen?

F: Well just like every state, the whole same sex marriage issue, the advance of the “homosexual agenda” that wasn’t really even on my radar screen at the time. In 1994, it was in it’s infancy in Northeastern states, in California, it hadn’t arrived in the South. So that’s been a huge shift. I think there’s just been a shift in the church as a whole in Tennessee, from being sort of a respected institution that had influence, to one that’s not as respected with as much influence. I see that in the simple things, that when I was a child growing up here, a native Chattanoogan, you didn’t plan events on Wednesday night or Sundays. You would have never had a soccer league meet on Sunday or Wednesday night, or swim teams or any of those things.

E: Did Tennessee have Blue Laws like Texas?

F: You know I don’t know. I was too young to know. I’m sure we did.

E: In Texas, stores were closed on Sundays and you could only sell certain things on Sundays.

F: Like you couldn’t sell alcohol. I’m sure we had at least some of the alcohol laws, but nowadays nobody gives much thought to doing those things, and you’ve pastored a church and you see that so and so’s gone because their kids in the swim meet this week Sunday morning. That would have not happened so that’s been a real shift in our culture, not so much the law, but sort of our culture but the sense of respect for the church in the sense that you don’t mess with the church because that’s such a large number of people. You just won’t get anybody at your swim meet or your soccer game. That’s one of the major things.

Then we’ve seen a shift on the abortion issue here. From an issue we just follow it at the ballot box lately, but shortly after I got into office, our state supreme court said, “There’s a right to abortion” in our state constitution and most of our significant Pro Life laws were struck down, despite the fact that we’re a Pro Life State. We just reversed that at the ballot box, but that’s been constantly shifting area of our culture so those three things I see a lot.

E: Let’s talk about that because it is recent in Tennessee’s calendar at least, this abortion turnover. That was a complicated vote, a complicated campaign to educate folks.

F: And it was an expensive one. But to me, from the standpoint of the Christian community, it should be very encouraging, not just here obviously, but nationally. There were sixteen states that have a State Constitutional right to an abortion. Now there are fifteen. This was the first time that the public had ever voted.

E: Ok, for folks that don’t follow all this. Roe V Wade allowed every state to make a decision whether they were going to legalize abortion or not?

F: No. States at one time almost all the time hadn’t made it illegal.

E: In 1970, it was illegal for anyone to have an abortion for any reason.

F: Right. Some laws in some states were weakening with some exceptions. In 73, Roe V Wade, the supreme court said, You have to allow abortion in all the states essentially for any reason.” There’s another case called Doe V Bolton that was decided the same day that said, “Even psychological and emotional health is sufficient to justifying abortion.”

E: So Roe V Wade mandated all states have to provide abortion.

F: That’s right. Many states, including Tennessee came back and said, “Well, ok we have to allow it, but we’re going to have an Informed Consent Law. We’re going to make sure women know what an abortion does, what it’s like, what the health risks are. We’re going to have a waiting period. You can’t just walk in and say, “Yeah, yeah, I know everything. Just do the abortion.” You have to wait twenty four hours, forty eight hours, regulating clinics to make sure they weren’t done in a doctors office that really wasn’t prepared for emergency responders in the event that something went wrong. All those laws states had. Well in 2000, our Tennessee Supreme Court said, “There was a right to an abortion in our state constitution. It was part of a movement at the time, in the late 80’s and 90’s by Planned Parenthood, to go to the state courts where there’s little legislative history about the constitution, and get states rights to abortion in case Roe V Wade was ever reversed. So Tennessee was one of those states that did not have elected judges. We had some liberal judges. We don’t have any constitutional history and we became one of those test states, so in 2000, that fall, our Informed Consent Law, Waiting Period Law, the clinic regulations, those things all became unconstitutional here. Even though the U.S. Constitution under Roe V Wade allowed them, our state didn’t. So we had to fight for literally eleven years. I was the sponsor of the constitutional amendment when it was first filed to get it on the ballot. Then in 2014, we had a public vote and it was hard for people to understand. What are we doing? Why are we doing this? We did focus groups and people said “Aw no, everybody has an Informed Consent Law. We have one.” “No, we don’t.”  “No, we do.”

E: David, this illustrates the point. Of course when Cindy and I lived in the DC area for twelve years, when we moved there, we knew nothing about. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Then you start getting around people that fight for policy and I find this when you go outside the beltway metaphorically, people don’t understand the importance of policy and you just said for eleven years you fought to get something on a ballot. This is where I encourage our young folks voting, it’s not just a privilege, it’s an enormous responsibility because people like David Fowler, who are going to fight for eleven years to get something in print, in front of a legislative body, that’s going to approve it and push it down to the committee.

How do we help the person in the church pew that’s waiting to go to the Titan’s game or waiting to watch the Final Four? I understand that policy is so important, yet it’s a glacier in the way it moves.

F: You know, shows like this. Having somebody that’s actually willing to talk about it is important. Your a rare bird, in part probably because of your experience in Washington.

E: Not in only this way. (laughter)

F: One of the things that I just mentioned about this. In Tennessee we looked at our abortion rates compared to the rates of the states around us. I would often say to people, “Look, do you really think Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas are that much more Christian and Pro Life than we are? If you don’t, then why is their abortion rate lower?  Is it perhaps because they inform them, or make them wait?

E: Now, clarify for folks. A rate is. Abortion rate.

F: A rate is the number of abortions per thousand of women of a certain age. So their rate, Arkansas may have fewer abortions but they have three million people. Let’s say we have six. But their rate was even lower than ours or Mississippis. So if our rate was as low as those states, we would be having thousands of fewer abortions every year. That began to make people realize so these laws actually save lives. “People die because we don’t have these laws.” “Yes!” Then you began to say, “So what have you been doing to make sure we got a chance to vote on this? That the supreme court took out of our hands.” “Well nothing.” “Well then you’ve been letting babies die.” I hate to be blunt, but that’s what we were doing. What was sad to me, here I am in this state that is over churched in a way, or superchurched compared to the rest of the country.

E: The South.

F: As you rightly noted people did not know. They just didn’t know. The number of people who would come up to me and say, “Well I share your convictions about life. I’m so glad we live in Tennessee.”  And I said, “Well do you realize we are one of the worst states in the nation?” They look at you with this, “How could that be?” Our congressman, seven out of nine are pro life Republicans. Our legislatures are two thirds Republican, how can this be? Well supreme court said something and we can’t fix it. So the answer to your question is one: in some ways pastors need to be more informed and that’s hard.

E: It is hard and indifference to pastors everybody comes to us and says, “The pastor needs to get behind this and this and this and why aren’t you behind common core and same sex marriage, and abortion on demand, and single parents, and domestic violence, and the sex trafficking, adoption, and ..

F: By the way you didn’t visit my sister in the hospital last week.

E: Yeah, not to mention. That’s one of my passions, because as a pastor,you’ve only got bad analogy, four aces in the deck for those who play cards. You’ve only got four trump cards. So you have to be careful where you leverage them. My view has always been life and marriage, my open view are the top. I hate moral relativism, but they’re at the top of the pile. Life and marriage to me are the two big ones, from that flow many good things. That’s where I …it’s not defensive, it’s more clarifying, wow, help me out David. I’ve got twenty five calls. Not to mention the Gideon’s, you know all these great organizations.

F: The Pregnancy Center.

E: There you go. “If you get behind this.” I’ve got forty eight Sundays a year to say something for thirty minutes.

F: Actually one of the things that’s important that I try to help pastors understand, is that you all have different gifts and passions even as we do, but I’ve often said, “God has given to the church everything it needs to do, everything it needs to do.” Most likely in every church there’s somebody that has an interest in these things and I’ll say to the pastor “Look, if your heart is interested in ministries, or if your heart is wherever it might be, is there someone there you trust who could filter that information for you, that you trust? So that you don’t get bombarded by more e-mails that you don’t have time to read, and you delete and…”

E: I didn’t mention Islam either.

F: Oh by the way that’s right. (laughter)

E: I shouldn’t be laughing. I want to change gears. I want to talk about same sex marriage because in a way we’ve won a quarter of an inch at least in Tennessee.

F: On the life issue.

E: On the life issue. It may not last but we’ve won a quarter of an inch. Same sex marriage is going the other way. We’re losing incredible ground.

F: Feet at a time. Yards.

E: Our good friend, Jay Sekulow, whose studio we’re sitting in right now. I keep asking him, “Jay, what are we going to do when they knock on my door and say, “Michael, I want you to perform our wedding?” And I go, “Wow, I’m glad you want me to, but I can’t because I’m committed to a heterosexual relationship forum, not a same sex marriage.” Here comes the lawsuit.

F: I think people are not aware of the profound implications, that the imposition of same sex marriage and I even hate to refer to it as same sex marriage, as marriage at all.

E: They keep winning that war. They win the war of the rhetoric. They, I don’t mean that pejoratively or condescendingly, “they” meaning liberal groups that attack what you and I might call Judeo Christian principles or a Biblical worldview, or a monogamous heteral sexual relationship.

F: They are those that believe a different way. I just don’t think we’re aware of all the implications of what’s going to happen.

E: Let me ask you this from a legal standpoint. One of the common things you hear is that, “Well if we’re married we get certain benefits and what not.” In my thirty four year little myopic view of this, what loss is there really for a same sex couple who lives together? They’re not quote “married” in the sight of the law because I can go into an emergency room and visit somebody. I can go, I mean in what way are we harming..?

F: The only thing I think that we do where it can’t be fixed by contract, powers of attorney, beneficiary designations, is that you do get a tax break. If you were to pass away and leave your property to your wife, assuming you have a taxable estate, there’s a deduction so that she didn’t pay taxes till she dies. There are some deductions for gift tax purposes and income tax purposes. If you’re not married you don’t get.

E: Healthcare of course.

F: Potentially the health care.

E: If there’s a primary breadwinner in that relationship, he or she is going to have insurance at work.

F: Family insurance. But other that, but here’s what I think we need to appreciate. We get the tail wagging the dog. The issue is what is a marriage and because of it’s importance we give it benefits.

E: I’m with you. I’m with you, but that’s one of the arguments you commonly hear is that, “Well you’re discriminating against us because we’re gay and we can’t get certain things.” I’m like, “Well those are only a couple of things in life. It’s not like…”

F: Well they are.

E: I agree that you’re back to the…

F: I think the thing that we have to be willing to say which is hard to say is that we all know that you don’t treat things that are different the same, and you should treat the same as the same those things that are the same. If we’re taking a test and you get five questions right out of ten and I get eight questions right and the other guy got ten, we all know that it would be unfair to treat.

E: You all get a ribbon.

F: Well maybe in your school, you didn’t, but I got a fifty, ok?

E: I got a swat from the nuns.

F: But my point is that those relationships are different. They are inherently different and to treat them the same is not right. They don’t want to think that they are different, but that’s where our worldviews comply. I say they are different. They say they aren’t different and that’s where the rub comes.

E: When we talk to our sixty, seventy, eighty year old folks in this country not all, many, who are just tired of this, David. They’re tired of it.They see it on the news. It’s portrayed in sitcoms. Why not just let them have what they want? You and I arch our back and bow up and go, “Wait a minute. God had a design. He made two people in his image bearers, male and female He created them; they come together; they become one; it’s a holy other worldly sacred relationship that transcends mans’ comprehension so we value that image of God.” Then procreation occurs and so forth and so on. The data is endless. A child with two parents of different sex are going to do a better job rounding out the individual; maternal paternal, all those kinds of things. We can throw this data at people all day long, from a Biblical standpoint, theological, from a social science and we’re still losing, why?

F: Well, that’s a multipart radio interview. I think by and large, some people don’t want to hear the truth. Some people will just not accept the truth. You know the scripture says that we “suppress the truth in our unrighteousness” in Romans. It doesn’t say that we can’t know some of it. It just says we suppress it. We torture it. We twist it. We don’t want to hear it. In fact, I’ve often argued with people every time you make an excuse or give me a justification for why you can do something you are stating a principle for what you shouldn’t do.

E: Great, say that one more time.

F: Every time you make an excuse or give a justification for something that you’re doing, you are implying there’s a general rule that does exist. So when you say, “Abortion is alright because this is not really a human being, it’s a fetus.” In fact, I argued with some Jewish ladies who came to my Legislative office, a quick little soundbite story behind the curtain. They came in and say, “We appreciate that your religious convictions are against abortion, but we don’t think you should use your religious views to inform public policy decisions because not everybody shares your religious views.” I said, “Well I usually don’t talk in religious terms. You tell me what we’re aborting and then we can decide the ethics of it.” Long and short of the story was that they said, “Well it’s a potential human being.” I said, “Well I want to understand the word, “it’s a potential human being.”

E: Wow!

F: “Are you saying that every recorded instance of a woman carrying a pregnancy full term, has been a human being there’s the “potential” that she could deliver a dog, a cat, fish, I mean help me understand “potential.” They kind of looked at me and I said, “I’m not being facetious.”

E: Right.

F: What do you mean by “potential?” They said, “Well we mean that under the Talmud, until the baby is quickened.” And I said, “Woah, woah, woah. You just referred to your religious views.” And I said, “You all know that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being. So what you have to do redefine…” Well this is not a human being or maybe we say it’s not innocent because it’s interfering with my education, my career, it ‘s going to ruin my relationship with my boyfriend so it’s not innocent. So anytime we make an excuse we’re saying there’s a general rule and we know that rule. It just doesn’t apply to me and we forget that. So everytime somebody gives me a reason for why they can do something, I’m saying, “So what is the general rule you are conceding is true? We’ve forgotten that God is established creational norms for things like marriage and we’re saying by our law we can overrule God’s creational norms which is Psalm 2. Why are the nations raging and saying “Lets burst the bonds and tear apart their fetters?” And God sits in the heavens and laughs at them and says, “Hey, wise up O King and show discernment” before I get too upset about this.

E: So a neighbor, a gay couple, moves next door to David Fowler.

F: I had one, two women, who were great friends. One of their fathers died I cried with them. When the pastor refused to acknowledge the partner at the funeral, I went over and I said, “I want to apologize for that pastor because I know that this was painful. This was essentially your in-law and I apologize that your grief wasn’t recognized.” I love them and ironically they would get “Yes on one for the marriage amendment” bumper stickers and stuff delivered to their door when I wasn’t home. Then they’d say, “ We got a box of stuff for you.” They knew where I stood. I didn’t have to go preach to them. When one of them had a niece or nephew that was being sexually taken advantage of by a high school person, whose door to they knock on and say, “I can’t get the school system to be responsive?” Mine! Did I say to them “Oh, well I’m glad you recognized there are boundaries to human sexuality finally. Let me help you?” You know we hadn’t seen them in a while. We’ve moved. I hoped they would know that I still have the same deep affection for them without having changed my view of marriage.

E: I often tell our church to state the truth, to smile, to be kind, gentle and firm. I find the fear of you know….it’s sort of like in the day when we used to talk about sharing your faith. People were terrified to knock on the door to share a little pamphlet or a religious survey. Now this is the third rail. You do not speak the words gay, homosexual, transgender, in any derogatory way lest you get this wrath back at you.

F: Or lose your job.

E: Get sued.

F: It’s very hard. I’ve often said this. Jesus was truth and grace. Grace without truth is meaningless. Who needs grace if there’s no truth to offend to violate? But truth without grace is just mean and so we need to have truth and grace. For grace to be meaningful we need to have truth, for truth to not be mean, we need to have grace.

E: We’ve been talking with David Fowler, the President of Family Action Council of Tennessee. We’ve just gotten started and we’re done. And we’re done. We’ll have to have you back.

F: Hey, I’m down the street, so any time.

E: We’ll do it again. This is Michael Easley inContext.  

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