Tennessee governor, the Presbyterian elder, knows his Calvin in vetoing Vandy bill

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Gov. Bill Haslam

By David Tulis

An announced veto by Gov. Bill Haslam pulls up short a bill that many Christians have reason to favor — one that puts Vanderbilt University in its place for a petty tyranny the nonsmokers on its board slapped on their inferiors in the name of tolerance, fairness, equity and fair play.

Vandy’s cocky little rule, one that conveniently gives a pass to fraternities and sororities, will proceed apace, giving the school’s parent body one more reason to suspect that enrolling a son or daughter there may be a slap on the cheek as well as a waste of family capital. Gov. Haslam’s veto adheres to a philosophy of limited government and a reluctance to use even the most well-intentioned power of the state to overwhelm a private institution’s government and to dictate terms.

Mr. Haslam, an elder in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, is following the thinking of the world’s foremost Christian reformer, John Calvin, a French theologian who is credited even by his enemies as having systematized the concept of modern political liberty that everyone from the tea party to Occupy Wall Street to Hamilton County government with its divided powers owe their thanks.

Calvin, whose major work is The Institutes of the Christian Religion, followed Martin Luther and Scotsman John Knox in enunciating limitations of the civil magistrate (or, as we say today, the state) that are the bulwark of western political liberty. With Calvin, the doctrines of government by covenant, interposition by the lesser magistrate and the duty of princes to avoid arbitrary and absolutist ways came into the modern consciousness. The American colonial concept of fractured national government with its competing power centers (executive, legislative, judicial) is a new historical development — and comes from Calvin.

IN A STATEMENT GIVEN REPORTERS, Gov. Haslam describes the Vanderbilt rule as an “all comers” policy, This usage is intended to imply the intent of a rule that forbids a Christian group from requiring Christianity of its directors and forcing such groups, if they are to receive university subsidies, to accept pagans, Wiccans and other worthies. The rule would let an historic revisionist take charge of a Jewish group that believes in the holocaust, a Yankee imperialist to take leadership of a Southern states’ rights group, a patriarchalist to take the helm of the campus feminists, and a Muslim to get his foot in the door of the Hindu fellowship.

As for HB 3576/SB 3597, the governor said:

“I don’t agree with Vanderbilt’s “all-comers” policy. It is counterintuitive to make campus organizations open their membership and leadership positions to anyone and everyone, even when potential members philosophically disagree with the core values and beliefs of the organization.

 “The original version of HB 3576/SB 3597 only applied to public education institutions, and I believe it is appropriate for state government to be involved in policies of public colleges and universities.

 “The amended legislation that the General Assembly ultimately passed, however, also applies to private universities. Although I disagree with Vanderbilt’s policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution. Therefore, I will veto HB 3576/SB 3597 in its current form.”

The veto is the governor’s first, and follows a line of political genius that was sparked in the 1500s when Christendom rediscovered the word of God that had come, over centuries, to be smothered and lost by an ultimately unreformable Roman Catholic church.

The grounds for state intervention in the life of private Vanderbilt University are that the university receives taxpayer funds. The Assembly passed its bill Monday before adjourning Tuesday. A late amendment stipulated that any private university accepting F$24 million or more in state funds is subject to the law. Rep. Mark Pody, a Lebanon Republican, told Andy Sher of the Times Free Press that Vandy gets at least that amount through the state’s welfare program for the sick poor, TennCare.

Among those who pushed for the Vandy intervention is David Fowler, a Christian activist with the Family Action Council of Tennessee, whose work in favor of Christendom is of long standing and great effect.

PERSONAL LIBERTY UNDER LAW and divided government are Christian concepts that national Republicans, Democrats enjoy, even though they have worked for years to overturn the concept. Calvin’s systematic work premised on the sovereignty of God assumes the totality of the fall in mankind and denies the possibility of salvation by man. The modern messianic state disputes this argument, and is constantly arranging to save us and predestine our lives by the U.S. Code.

Calvin in Book 4, Chapter 20, of the Institutes gives useful pointers about the use of authority:

• In discussing the obedience owed Kings, he says, “And, indeed, how preposterous were it, in pleasing men, to incur the offense of Him for whose sake you obey men! The Lord, therefore, is King of kings. When he opens his sacred mouth, he alone is to be heard, instead of all and above all. We are subject to the men who rule over us, but subject only in the Lord.”

• “On this ground Daniel denies that he had sinned *** when he refused to obey [King Darius’] impious decree *** because the king had exceeded his limits, and not only been injurious to men, but, by raising his horn against God, had virtually abrogated his own power.”

• “Although the Lord takes vengeance on unbridled domination, let us not therefore suppose that vengeance is committed to us, to whom no command has been given but to obey and suffer.”

• The following aphorism speaks to Christians living under tyranny. “When tyrants reign, let us first remember our faults, which are chastised by such scourges; and, therefore, humility will restrain our impatience. Besides, it is not in our power to remedy these evils, and all that remains for us is to implore the assistance of the Lord, in whose hand are the hearts of men and the revolutions of kingdoms.”

CALVIN IS STRICTLY AGAINST uprisings and warfare by guerrillas, insurrectionists, revolutionaries, terrorists and others. These are evils to be suppressed by warfare and bloodshed, and lawfully so. But the doctrines of the sovereignty of God that he explores disallow kingly tyranny as well, government by caprice and whim. Another reformed doctrine, that of sphere sovereignty (wherein church, family and state have each a jurisdictional prerogative), underlies the proper use of force.

Gov. Haslam grew up in a Presbyterian tradition of thought. A bright light for the reformed faith, Presbyterianism is full of hostility to tyrants and duty to God — both. His government may not be perfect. But Gov. Haslam rightly vetoed the Vandy bill because it is a use of force in a private conflict in which his government has no authority or competence.

Sources: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983) pp. 674, 675, 689

Calvinism has developed a rich and practical literature about the duty and limits of the civil magistracy and the duty and limits of citizenship in an earthly kingdom such as the State of Tennessee.

Douglas F. Kelly, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World [;] The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments from the 16th through 18th Centuries

Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System

Junius Brutus, A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants (Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos); this book was a bestseller in the colonies in the time leading to the first American war for independence

J.H. Merle D’Aubigne, The Protector (about Thomas Cromwell)

For an excellent analysis for the use of government, see the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647.