Dear Tennessee representatives who voted to expel two of the Tennessee Three:
I know most of you profess Christianity. I hope you and yours had a joyous Easter.
I wish our state could have. Alas, the venomous viper of power sunk its fangs painfully deep into this year’s Easter celebration, our great state and the already flagging reputation of American Christianity.
While others vilify one side or the other, I am taking flak from some on the left for my saying I found the behavior of the “Tennessee Three” — although rooted in desperation and motivated for justice — to have been politically inadvisable at the least but only immature at the very most.
Yes, decorum is essential for function, and breaches in protocol must be addressed. But you probably were taught by your grandparents the same thing I was: “There is more than one way to bake a cake” and “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
The behavior of the Tennessee Three in no way rose to the level of expulsion. I had hoped you Christian house members in particular would have remembered “blessed are the peacemakers” and would use your voice for calm and Christ-like prudence. I had hoped for creative, peace-promoting leadership.
Instead, your grossly heavy-handed overreaction ignited discord that contributes to a negative perception not just of our state but of Christianity.
What do I mean?
This morning I was greeted by a social media meme by a pastor in Australia. It said, “I didn’t realize Tennessee was spelled with three Ks.” Meanwhile, a friend who was raised Christian but struggles with faith called me. Over and over, the behavior of Christians has contributed to this person’s doubts about whether faith really does anything good.
“I didn’t realize Tennessee was spelled with three Ks.”
The votes you cast are yet another stumbling block to so many like my friend. My sense is that many politicians like you go to churches where you are insulated by like-minded folk who will re-elect you. This leads to losing sight of how many non-Christians see your voting record as oppressive.
That is part of the complicated paradox of politics. Democracy requires a majority, but the majority is not consistently on the healthy side of issues. Often, a supermajority (of any party) becomes unhealthy simply by virtue of absolute power corrupting absolutely. This leads to behavior like unethically gerrymandering districts — you know, the way Jesus carried out politics.
However, Tennessee native son Alex Haley said, “Find the good and praise it.” So, kudos to Rep. Charlie Baum of Murfreesboro, the only member of the supermajority to vote against all three motions for expulsions.
My heart aches from the whole debacle. I follow many of you on the news and social media and see you frequently make comments and posts about your Christian faith. We share faith in Christ who died on a cross. What held him erect on that cross was his backbone. He commands us to take up our cross and follow him. That requires backbone to do what’s hard rather than the easy path to re-election.
I hope our state will see an increase in creative leadership that does not follow the example of Pilate crucifying those deemed to be problems. Rather, may we — of all political affiliations — follow in the tradition of Solomon’s wisdom and in the courage of Jesus to stand against the status quo rather than kissing the viper of power.
Brad Bull is a descendant of one of the earliest European settlers in Tennessee — the Revolutionary War-era gunsmith who founded of Bulls Gap. He is a third-generation graduate of a Tennessee Baptist college and an ordained Baptist minister whose playlists include Dolly Parton, Third Day, and Disturbed.
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