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Illustration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., map of the border wall at Mexico, the medical symbol, and photo of Bill Lee

Gov. Lee Passes First Hard Policy Test

On Monday, Governor Bill Lee attended an event honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I know how hard it was for Gov. Lee to do what he did when the keynote speaker gave his address. In my eyes, he passed his first hard policy test as governor. And Dr. King might have understood the true nature of the test he passed.

Lee Takes the Road Less Traveled

It is really hard for a politician to attend an event at which there is a good chance his or her policy views will not be welcome, and harder still to stick to them when they are put to the test at the event.

I know from experience. I vocally supported school vouchers during my Republican primary race for state Senate. Soon after I was elected senator, I was asked to attend a Parent Teacher Association meeting in my district. I knew that PTAs did not support vouchers, but I went because I represented the people that were there. Sure enough, I was asked about my position on vouchers. I gave the same answer I gave on the campaign trail.

Likewise, Gov. Lee had to know that some of his policy positions would not align with those hosting the King event. But he went. He is the governor of those in attendance. He said he intended to honor Dr. King’s legacy on civil rights.

The Keynote Speaker’s View on Honor and Love

At the event, the keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. William Barber, seemed to equate honoring Dr. King with “loving” him, but worse yet was his equating love for Dr. King with agreement with every public policy Dr. King supported (or might have supported had he lived). That is logical rubbish.

I have honored people with whom I have had some strong disagreement on particular issues, and I love people with whom I, at times, have strong disagreement, such as my wife.

‘Loving’ Dr. King Means What?

Then, the keynote speaker compounded his mistake by equating love for Dr. King with support for government-directed universal health care and opposition to a wall as a means of border security.

Making that leap in logic was, of course, the speaker’s prerogative, but he went from speaking his mind to taunting Gov. Lee. After looking at Gov. Lee, he asked all those who agreed with him on health care and border security to stand.

I have no doubt that Dr. King would have remained seated had he been at an event where the speaker asked those in attendance to stand for policies Dr. King thought wrong. So, for Gov. Lee to have stood, given his clearly articulated policy views, I think he would have dishonored Dr. King’s legacy of principled action even in the face of hostility.

But why might Gov. Lee disagree on these policy positions (assuming they really are those of Dr. King) and would Dr. King have still respected Gov. Lee despite that disagreement?

Lee and King on Universal Health Care

As to universal health care, Gov. Lee acknowledged in his inaugural speech on Saturday, “Too few Tennesseans have access to health care that they can afford.” But, unlike the keynote speaker, Gov. Lee believes civil government has a limited jurisdictional authority. He went on to say in his inaugural speech:

Government is not the answer to our greatest challenges. Government’s role is to protect our rights and our liberty and our freedom. I believe in a limited government that provides unlimited opportunity for we the people to address the greatest challenges of our day. The truth is that most of the things that have created the greatness of Tennessee don’t have very much to do with government at all.

I think Dr. King could have appreciated that if Gov. Lee believes these things, they would naturally bear upon his view of health care being provided by civil government. The two men might disagree about the jurisdictional authority of civil government, but I don’t think Dr. King would have seen the basis for the disagreement as racially motivated or a personal attack on him.

Lee and King on Border Security

That latter thought leads to the matter of the wall and border security. But I think this issue needs to be framed by an earlier statement in Gov. Lee’s inaugural speech about why Tennessee was “one of the most prosperous [states] in the nation”:

[M]ost of all, it happened because of the favor of God Himself. In spite of our inadequacies and our weaknesses, He has been strong on our behalf. He has blessed us indeed. And as governor of Tennessee, I will daily ask Him for his wisdom, guidance, and direction. We will need that wisdom. . . .

Recognizing that the wisdom he (and all of us) needs is beyond him may explain why Gov. Lee could believe that national borders are not bad things and that a wall is a good thing if it best secures those borders. Gov. Lee may believe, as he does regarding our prosperity, that God is the ultimate cause of them, too.

In Acts 17:26–27 (NKJV) we read that God “has made . . . every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” and for a reason, “so that they should seek the Lord.”1 If so, then securing them is not a bad thing.

Would Dr. King Approve?

Gov. Lee’s policy positions may not be right (though I think they are), but I can’t help but think that Dr. King would have said that it is God, not him, who deserves the greatest honor and our deepest love, and when there is a conflict between honoring and loving a person or God, God and His Word come first. And I believe that if Dr. King thought his own policy views were contrary to God’s Word, he’d have been sitting, too.

NOTES

1. I had never before noted this reason for national boundaries or thought, as a Christian, about what national boundaries might have to do with encouraging people to seek the Lord. Though I do not think national boundaries are justification for opposing all immigration or for keeping people in the misery found in their native nations, the stated reason invites Christians to consider whether our thinking about national boundaries and their integrity as only a matter of security is fully developed from God’s perspective. Obliterating or failing to recognize the legitimacy of boundaries seems to imply that God does not know what He is doing and to assume that boundaries are strictly and solely of human making for human/nationalistic purposes. I wonder if Rev. Barber, as a reverend, took this into consideration in developing his opposition to a border wall.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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