Lessons on Parental Rights Learned from My Hydrangeas

Feb 2, 2024 by David Fowler

Lessons on Parental Rights Learned from My Hydrangeas
Lessons on Parental Rights Learned from My Hydrangeas
And odd sounding title for sure, but I learned something from transplanting hydrangeas from my parents’ yard to mine that I think will serve us well as we think about a piece of state (not federal) legislation that would address parental rights in Tennessee. Like my transplanted hydrangeas, parental rights statutes may not turn out the way you imagine.
Years ago, when my wife and I transplanted some blue flowering hydrangeas from my parents’ yard to ours, our blossoms turned out pink! That was when I learned that the color of the blossoms depends on the composition of the soil in which they are planted. In acidic soils, hydrangeas produce blue flowers and in alkaline soils they are pink.
The point is simple. All law grows out of a certain soil. Like the color of hydrangea blossoms, the soil in which laws develop determines what they look like or, put another way, what those laws mean. And when transplanted, the new soil will determine how they are interpreted, and perhaps even if they continue to live. Different soils, different results.
The Soil in Which Law Exists Today.
Today, almost everyone thinks law grows out of our heads and our wills—we think something would be a good law and, by force of our will as legislators or as part of a political constituency, we enact or “create” it. That’s the philosophical and jurisprudential soil out of which law today comes and into which all enacted statutes are planted.
It’s called legal positivism. In other words, a legal positivist believes law comes about only in a positive way by a decision of a judge, or a statute enacted by a legislator.
Atheists embrace legal positivism because, in principle, they deny the existence of any pre-political, non-manmade law. That also means there can be no universal law that applies to all persons at all times and in all places.
Christians would deny this understanding of law (jurisprudence) propositionally; but we often betray what we say we believe because of the way we approach legislation and draft it.
Over the course of 29 years participating in the drafting and enactment of legislation, I realized that I too often tended to act like a legal positivist, meaning I acted as if law is not something that exists independently of anything we do.
When Christians act this way about law, it indicates that their thinking—which is the foundation of their acting—is no different from that of atheists.
The Change in Soil for Understanding Parental Rights
The whole notion of parental rights as we have historically understood them (and most likely the kind you assume you have) developed from the Middle Ages through the Puritan (English) Revolution. That was the soil from which they grew. That soil was predicated on the belief that “the Supreme Being formed the universe.” (William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England.)
Today, law denies the relevance of a Supreme Being of any kind to law, which explains why so many don’t think law should countenance any objective differences between males and females. There is no given nature to our being that we can’t play around with because there is no giver of any nature other than the individual who chooses it.
In place of God and the words of God as a creator defining His creation, the United States Supreme Court has substituted the words “history and tradition” and “ordered liberty.”
Weasel Words in Law
Those words (judicial standards) are what I call “weasel words,” meaning they have no objective meaning and whatever meaning they may have had is not enduring.
The only way those words have any objective and enduring meaning is if one believes in a God of providence. That kind of God not only establishes objective meaning, but has the final say over the effects of our free acts in relation to law to shape it in in the right ways. It’s like parents who decide what their child’s room should look like and have the final say over whether his or her cluttered room can remain that way or must be straightened.
Without that kind of God, “history and tradition” and “ordered liberty” simply describe facts as they once were and, divorced from the soil in which they grew, they have no enduring meaning.
Those facts can now have the meaning we give them. Like the color of a hydrangea’s blossom, the meaning of those words and the connotation of rights they conjure up can and must change because the only soil we have now is the shifting sand that ever-changing evolution gives us.
Moreover, what it means to be human has changed because the soil in which we now interpret all law, law always being dependent on what it means to be human, is totally different from that of the past.
Therefore, everything in law based on that old understanding of what it means to be human must change, like the color of my hydrangeas, to conform to the new understanding of humanity formed by the soil in which those laws now exist.
What the Change in Soil Means for Parental Rights
The foregoing means that if you and I and legislators don’t account for the difference between the soil from which parental rights developed and that into which parental rights by statute are now to be planted, we won’t get the understanding of rights that our forebearers had and many of us think we have.
This new state statute will be interpreted according to the soil in which it is now planted where history and tradition can be mere passing fancies, if that is what a judge today wants those words to embody.
In sum, there is no security for parental rights except in a cultural soil we believe has been created by a personal God to reveal Himself to us.
Some transplanted things just can’t grow in different soils, especially if it’s sandy and the tides of meaningless history are constantly washing over them.
Isaiah 17:10-11 (NKJV)
Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold, therefore you will plant pleasant plants and set out foreign seedlings; in the day you will make your plant to grow, and in the morning you will make your seed to flourish; but the harvest will be a heap of ruins in the day of grief and desperate sorrow.

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