There are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James, the head of this commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose Kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.
— Andrew Melville, Christian reformer of Scotland, 1600s
On Thursday Gov. Bill Haslam quashed a bill that would have given state government a regulatory power in the affairs of a private university, Vanderbilt. While the rule may have been good in effect, the method of attaining it was not. It was another big-government solution that would have created a long train of evil consequences. The governor’s spiritual forebears, reformed ministers such as Andrew Melville who fought tyranny in court and on the battlefield, would have agreed.
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.
David Tulis www.nooganomics.com
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I must say, this is one of the most thoughtful, thought-provoking editorials I have ever read. More of us should be as well-acquainted with the roots and foundations of our historically unique system of governance before we lose any more of it. Keep up the good work.
Terry D. Reynolds
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Enjoyed your editorial this a.m.
Calvin's Institutes were very enlightening to me 20 years ago when I began to awaken
for the public college and law school fog that had descended upon me and which the
modern church's pablum did not dissipate. The bill in question is, for me, a hard one, as
it was for even those who voted for it.
I hope you will indulge me to share a few thoughts in response to your comments about
Calvin relative to this bill.
First, I do not see here any kind of rebellion or insurrection as would have been against
Kings as the government that God has ordained for us has placed a measure of His
power in our hands to exercise in the realm of government. So to urge the Governor not
to veto the bill is not a problem for me, if that's what you were trying to say in part of
But, secondly, as for Calvin in regard to the responsibility of the government and
spheres of authority, I think it important that we also acknowledge the other strains of
thought in the section on the Civil Magistrate to which you made reference. As best I
read him over the years, I think it could fairly be said that he believed that part of the job
of the civil government was to defend the sacred faith.
"But as we lately taught that that kind of government [civil] is distinct from the
spiritual and internal kingdom of Christ, so we ought to know that they are not
adverse to each other. The former, in some measure, begins the heavenly kingdom
in us, even now upon earth, and in this mortal and evanescent life commences
immortal and incorruptible blessedness, while to the latter it is assigned, so long
as we live among men, to foster and maintain the external worship of God, to
defend sound doctrine and the condition of the Church, to adapt our conduct to
human society, to form our manners to civil justice, to conciliate us to each other, to
cherish common peace and tranquility."
And, Calvin again:
"But we shall have a fitter opportunity of speaking of the use of civil government. All
we wish to be understood at present is, that it is perfect barbarism to think of
exterminating it, its use among men being not less than that of bread and water, light
and air, while its dignity is much more excellent. Its object is not merely, like those
things, to enable men to breathe, eat, drink, and be warmed (though it certainly
includes all these, while it enables them to live together); this, I say, is not its only
object, but it is, that no idolatry, no blasphemy against the name of God, no
calumnies against his truth, nor other offences to religion, break out and be
disseminated among the people."
And Calvin again:
"Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the
same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations,
Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they
make it not their care. We have already shown that this office is specially assigned
them by God, and indeed it is right that they exert themselves in asserting and
defending the honour of him whose vicegerents they are, and by whose favour they
rule. Hence in Scripture holy kings are especially praised for restoring the
worship of God when corrupted or overthrown, or for taking care that religion
flourished under them in purity and safety. On the other hand, the sacred history
sets down anarchy among the vices, when it states that there was no king in Israel,
and, therefore, every one did as he pleased (Judges 21:25). This rebukes the folly
of those who would neglect the care of divine things, and devote themselves
merely to the administration of justice among men; as if God had appointed rulers
in his own name to decide earthly controversies, and omitted what was of far
greater moment, his own pure worship as prescribed by his law. Such views are
adopted by turbulent men, who, in their eagerness to make all kinds of innovations
with impunity, would fain get rid of all the vindicators of violated piety."
While I suspect that you and I would not necessarily agree with him on these points,
though some reconstructionists might agree with him, the consideration in my mind that
weighed in favor of the bill was the knowledge that:
(i) Vanderbilt was misapplying a federal law (and exemption in Title IX for Greek
organizations) to circumvent the very Supreme Court ruling Vandy pointed to
as justification for its all-comers policy
(ii) almost 50 members of Congress will be announcing today their disagreement
with Vandy's use of this law and its circumvention of federal policy
(iii) Vanderbilt does get millions of dollars from taxpayers (state and federal) many of
whom would not want their money being used to support an entity that is
destroying these campus ministries,
(iv) other private and public colleges were looking at Vandy to see if they could get
way with this misuse of federal law so that they could follow suit,
(v) our civil rights laws already interfere with private institutions/businesses, most
notably in this instance for the purpose of protecting a person's religion, and
finally and perhaps most importantly,
(vi) the "intrusion" was for a fixed, definite time of 13 months so that Congress and all
other interested parities could try to find a way out of this mess without these
Christian ministries being soon disbanded at Vandy.
Just some other thoughts. Thanks for your thoughtful engagement.