First, let me say I DO NOT condone the rioting and violence that is occurring across our nation, following the murder of George Floyd at the knee of white police officer Derek Chauvin. As someone who values that Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” I believe there are other ways we must respond, even in the face of gross injustice. But I also understand that not everyone embraces Jesus’ teachings or His example in this regard, and even if we do, we can all become overwhelmed at gross injustice and feel like our only responses to such are protests and/or violence.
Last night I broke a long standing rule I placed in effect several years ago, and I watched the news for a couple hours, viewing the rioting and protests Live as they were happening. In the two cities I watched, Washington DC and NYC, the vast majority of the protesters/agitators were WHITE, not black.
As I watched the rioting, one announcer made the point that our nation’s founding flowed out of the violent responses of its citizens to unjust laws by its government. Most white Americans celebrate and applaud our nation’s founding fathers who rejected authority, and fought back, violently, to protest and overthrow an unjust government. The Boston Tea Party was one such rebellion. I should note that the organization I founded eleven years ago in Chattanooga, took its name from that act of rebellion and violence.
When I led the Chattanooga Tea Party for nearly a decade (which I no longer do, and I no longer consider the Tea Party movement to represent me), I and other leaders often took solace in these words that were integral to our nation’s founding:
“…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations…reduces them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government…”
While our organization, and none of the other liberty movements I was associated with, ever took up arms, or resorted to violence, I can assure you that there were many in the movement who were more than prepared to resort to violence had the government stepped across an imaginary line. If you doubt this, then explain why it was that gun purchases were skyrocketing during those years? The consistent interpretation that conservatives held was that the 2nd Amendment was not for hunting or sporting but was to protect oneself from a wayward and unjust government. Let’s also not ignore the fact that even now in 2020, white men armed with assault rifles and other threatening armament have recently been marching into state capitols around our nation.
But back to violence in our protests. Let me reiterate that I do not condone or agree with the violence we are seeing erupt across our nation. As a Christian, I believe we are called to love, peace, and humility, and when others persecute us, our response should be identical to that of Jesus, and the twelve apostles. None of us will ever be as violently persecuted as the Founding Fathers of Christianity (where all but one were martyred for their faith; that is the most extreme form of prejudice one can imagine). And yet, not one of them responded violently. This is the model every follower of Jesus should strive to emulate in our lives. It’s a high bar, which I struggle with personally, in the face of injustices.
As we watch and condemn what is going on, what would we have said if we were viewing the protests at the Boston Tea Party? While there are significant differences between the two, there are also many similarities, including injustices by those in authority and with power. So ask yourself, “What would I have done or said, if I was alive on December 16, 1773, viewing the violence of the Boston Tea Party? Would I have condemned it or embraced it? Would I have participated in it?” Today, most Americans praise this act of violence and rebellion, that destroyed a million dollars worth of property.
My intent for sharing these thoughts is not to provoke anger or incite emotions. Rather, it is to challenge us to stop and think; to put ourselves in the shoes of others.
When we judge a person simply by their external actions, we either condemn them or we embrace them, based on the cause they are fighting for. If their protests and even violence affirm our worldview, then we gladly applaud them. However, if their protests and violence are at odds with anything we’ve ever experienced, then it’s likely we will condemn them and find cause to belittle and hold them in contempt.
If we are white Americans, it’s likely we’ve never felt that our life was hanging in the balance when we were pulled over in our cars by a police officer. But many of my African American brothers and sisters have always carried such fear with them. But not only is that fear for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren also. Thankfully, I’ve never known that fear personally, or for my children. But it grieves me to realize that millions of our citizens do, primarily because of their skin color.
Think about that. Then consider that there have been a “long train of abuses” in the eyes and experiences of our black brothers and sisters. Their life is not ours. So until we can figuratively place ourselves in their shoes, we cannot fully comprehend the struggle, the outrage, and the deep rooted hurts they feel each time another man with black skin dies, whether at the hands of someone in uniform, or by a white man in the back of a pickup truck, or a false accusation is called in to 9-1-1.
So what are the solutions to this existential threat to not only the future of our nation, but more importantly to the relationships we should seek to grow with those who are different than us?
I believe first and foremost the solution is Spiritual. The center of this struggle is not in the streets of Minneapolis or other cities, but rather in the center of our beings: Our Heart. God says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?”
Even now, it’s possible that your response to my meager thoughts is one of outrage or rejection or condemnation. If so, I believe its possible your heart is deceiving you. Within each of us lies the potential to deceive ourselves into believing the problem is “the other guy; it’s not me.” If that’s my response, I am deceived.
Jesus said in John 8:7 “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” He also said in Matthew 7:5 “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”
The point is, introspection is needed, first and foremost. What part have I played, overtly or covertly, in contributing to injustices in our community or nation? If you say none, then I applaud you and I would suggest you write a book so we can all learn from you. And there is no need to read further. But if you feel any need to continue to examine yourself, here’s what I would suggest is next.
Because the heart, the inner core of our being, is deceitful and wicked, we must regularly cleanse it. This cannot be done overnight but requires a continuous effort to transform what is natural (those responses that are wrong) to the unnatural (those responses that are Christ-like). The only way to do this is through a consistent time in God’s Word. We read this in Romans 12:2:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
As we begin to transfuse our minds with the healing power of God’s Word, our values, thoughts and behavior will be transformed. Recently I read a short Bible Plan in the Bible app entitled “How to Love People You Disagree With” and it included these thoughts:
… we exhibited patience?
… chose not to be offended?
… we quit taking everything so personally?
… we changed the degrading way we talk to others?
… we focused on what we did have in common?
… we chose the big picture?
And I’ll add, what if we “loved our neighbor as ourselves?” which Jesus reminded us is the second greatest commandment. These are a few of the fundamental behavior changes we must pursue.
Nearly a year ago, God led my path to cross with someone I had known for years, but never developed a close relationship with. Ternae Jordan is an African American pastor in Chattanooga whom God intentionally brought me to, so that God could begin to incorporate the above principles in my life. As we’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours together since last summer, my heart has softened as I’ve been able to, in a small way, “walk in his shoes.” Beginning to realize and better understand the dreams, hopes, fears, and frustrations that my brother and his family and friends experience, has softened my heart, and changed my thoughts. I’m eternally grateful for Ternae, and as I think of what God has begun in our lives, I’m reminded of this verse:
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
In closing, while the solutions are not that complicated, they are also not that easy. Cleansing our heart (seeking forgiveness and transforming what we think and believe), changing how we habitually behave and respond, and walking in someone else’s shoes, none of these are natural. But the history of our nation reveals that what is natural is not working. So perhaps if followers of Jesus across this land began to pursue supernatural answers to the age old scourge of racism and prejudice, we might begin to see a mighty work of God in our midst. And as we do, I’m hopeful that God will bring about healing and unity, to what has been hurt and division for more than 200 years.
Addendum: Verses to consider as we seek to “Love our neighbor as ourselves:”
“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” James 2:1
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” Romans 12:14
“Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
“Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.” 1 Corinthians 13:6
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:9-10
“Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2:4
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5:22-23
Greed is a character flaw that runs deep within the heart of America and one that we see too often in business, government and individuals. The sin of Greed is a powerful force that can easily infect us individually, and it’s one I have struggled with at times. So we must constantly be on guard against it. But we should also call it out when we see it reflected in our government and its institutions.
In case you missed it, TVA just filed suit against several individuals to gain access to their farmland “for the taking of a temporary right under the power of eminent domain and award of just compensation to the owners and parties of interest.” It has been reported that the owners of the subject land are not interested in selling their land.
TVA’s lust for the property of others is a sin. But an agency or organization does not sin on its own. Rather, sin is committed by individuals. So when we see an organization, agency or government committing insidious acts, we must resist the temptation to blame the entity alone. Rather, we must look to its members, executives or representatives. Never let this truth pass you by.
There are individuals within TVA who are individually responsible for the Greed that is being displayed in their unjust desire to take and to steal what is not theirs. These individuals may hide behind the three letter agency name they represent, but they are personally responsible, and to blame, for the evil acts of the agencies they lead. And yes, taking another individual’s personal property without their consent, otherwise known as stealing, is evil.
There is a second truth that we can learn from TVA’s latest strategy. Do not be deceived into thinking that just because courts might rule that something is “legal” it is then just or right. This includes ruling that a developer, agency or government can take land from an unwilling party.
Declaring something to be “legal” has never set the bar of what is right, nor righteous. Whenever man establishes an arbitrary standard, that standard can always be reversed or revised, thus affirming the truth that man’s laws are fallible.
There is only one standard that is true, right, infallible, and righteous. And God has weighed in on all matters of significance and consequence, including Greed in general, and taking someone else’s property in specific. There are literally countless passages in the Bible that instruct us about this topic, including the ten commandments, moving boundaries, taking the property of the weak, and so many more. To be clear, all of us are “weak” when compared with the multi-billion dollar budgets, holdings, and resources of TVA.
So, when it comes to TVA’s abusive effort to take what is not theirs, using the power of a court, via the threat and cost of a lawsuit, rest assured that evil intentions are at work. But remember that these decisions are not simply some impersonal government agency’s policies at play. Rather, know that it is a man or a woman, or even several men and women, who are willfully conspiring to take what is not theirs to advance their own selfish desires.
In this specific case, I have met some of the individuals responsible for this Greed via TVA. Some are members of local, bible-teaching churches. Yet their faith is at odds with their choices in their workplace. They are doing to their “neighbor” what they would never want done to themselves. In so doing, these men and women are violating a foundational value that they would likely say they embrace. What a sad reality. But they are not to be condemned but rather challenged in a respectful and even prayerful manner. We should all remember that we are all frail and too often struggle with our own shortfalls and character flaws. But we must still share truth regardless.
Just as God judged Ahab and Jezebel for stealing a citizen’s farmland several thousand years ago, I believe He will judge these men and women who are seeking to steal the farmland of several of their local citizens and their families. Since God is “the same yesterday, today and forever,” He does not change with the whims of man, or the rulings of a court. His Truths remain, as does His Justice.
So the good news is this. Sooner or later Justice will prevail, and Greed will be exposed and punished. Of course, most of us like to see justice prevail in the short-term though. So if you agree with these sentiments, please share this article with others. Perhaps God’s Truth, or a groundswell of opposition in our community, will cause the men and women responsible for this latest TVA effort to reverse their course of Greed.
“Listen to me, you who know right from wrong, you who cherish my law in your hearts…” (Isaiah51:7)
Oftentimes in life, the values we claim to hold are tested in ways that may not always be apparent. But when those tests come, it may reveal that the values we lay claim to, are often not the ones we put into practice. (Sadly, I know this to be true in my life all too often, when I’m honest enough to acknowledge it.)
This truth has been playing out in our community for the last couple weeks in a way that perhaps you’ve never fully considered. The issue at hand is an effort by TVA to “appropriate” private land for its “greater” use. For those who are not familiar, TVA is a nearly 90 year old federal agency that provides electricity to nine million customers across seven states, and operates annually with a multi-billion dollar budget.
Red Line is proposed path of TVA line across Mr. Vital’s property
The controversy involves TVA seeking to extend an electrical service line across the land of a personal friend and local businessman, Greg Vital. Amongst Greg’s many business holdings is farmland in Georgetown Tennessee, which is home to his buffalo operation.
What is unknown by many is the fact that TVA purchased a parcel of land over a year ago. Their plan at the time targeted Mr. Vital’s property as the route to extend their power lines across, to reach their newly purchased parcel. But only in the last couple weeks did TVA finally inform the public, including Mr. Vital, of their plans to appropriate his land for their proposed project.
If ever there was a David vs Goliath battle, this is it.
At a public meeting this last week, I had the opportunity to meet with several TVA representatives to ask questions as well as express my objections to the manner in which they had contrived their plans. While the TVA reps were pleasant, it was clear that they were less than forthcoming with some of their answers.
The concept of eminent domain is one that most Americans are familiar with, but it’s likely the majority of us have seldom been confronted with such a threat. To have an entity that is all-powerful, both economically and politically, confront the little guy, simply because he owns something they want, is an intimidating and often overwhelming struggle. But in such battles, Goliath is typically the victor and David more often than not walks away with a few stones in his pocket.
Most of us know the Golden Rule, and we would likely claim it as a guiding force in our lives.
“Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”
But there is sadly another rule that involves gold as well. It’s this one:
“He who has the gold, rules.”
These two “Golden Rules” are clashing head to head in the TVA controversy at hand.
Back to the meeting this last week though. As I was pressing the TVA folks about their proposed project, the Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus, popped into my mind. So I asked them a simple question: “Are you a Christian?”
They replied “Yes.”
I then asked them if they believed in the Golden Rule as taught by Jesus, which teaches to treat others the way they wanted to be treated?
“Yes” was again their answer.
So I then asked, “Well, if you believe in the Golden Rule, does it only apply in your personal life? Or do you also believe it is a principle we should practice in our professional lives as well? Would you want someone to treat you the way you are proposing to treat Mr. Vital?”
Silence met my answer. I don’t know if the silence was because they truly did not know the answer, or if it was the reality that the rule they claimed to embrace was being violated by the agency for whom they worked.
As I pressed them further, I asked them if they would ever consider going onto their neighbor’s land with the intent of taking a portion of his land for their own personal use, particularly if that neighbor objected? Their answer was an obvious “NO” and it illustrated how at odds their personal beliefs were with the TVA plan they were supporting and leading.
It would be easy to blame this controversy on a multi-lettered government agency. But the truth is government agencies are made up of individuals. Each individual has his or her own set of values. If our values are deeply rooted, then they should surface in every area of our lives. So when we see the strategy of “appropriating” the property of others via eminent domain (another word for theft), and then that strategy is hidden for over a year (another word for deception), one must wonder what values drive the TVA employees who are overseeing and approving of such strategies? Can they profess their personal dedication to the Golden Rule, integrity, and transparency, while ignoring or contradicting those values professionally?
There’s a story in the Old Testament that deals with eminent domain and it involves King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. This husband and wife pair were two evil peas-in-a-pod and they regularly defied God and His values throughout their lives. One day Ahab wanted to purchase a plot of land from a local farmer. But the man did not want to sell it. So, Ahab’s wife used the most extreme kind of eminent domain. Jezebel had the farmer killed and then gave his land to her husband, King Ahab. Ahab got what he wanted while the citizen not only lost his land but also his life. But that very day God pronounced a fateful judgement on both Ahab and Jezebel. (Read I Kings 21)
Of course, no one is accusing TVA of threatening an American citizen with loss of life. But there is no question that TVA is conniving to take the personal property of an American citizen.
America’s forefathers each pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to defend the values of liberty and personal property. When a government agency uses eminent domain, secrecy, and deception to secure private land from an unwilling party, there is no greater threat to the values for which our founding fathers fought.
I’ve often heard it said by critics of biblical conservatives that they should check their values at the doors when they leave their church or personal residence. But this debacle at TVA should teach us otherwise. If we claim certain values are deeply rooted convictions, then they should flow over into every area of our lives. Otherwise these values are merely preferences and have little affect in guiding our behavior in all scenarios.
So time will tell which Golden Rule prevails in the “TVA vs Vital” matter. Will it be the rule taught by Jesus, or the one too many of the elite of our world love to impose on their neighbors, the power of force and intimidation to gain what the one with the gold desires?
If you want to remain informed or be a part of the solution, you can go to Facebook and Like the Page “Stop Destroying Tennessee Farms” to get regular updates on this ongoing battle.
Imagine for a moment you are driving down the highway on your way to purchase a car in a town half-way across the state. You are excited to pickup the slightly used, sporty convertible for your spouse as a birthday gift. Because it’s a weekend, banks are not open, so you are carrying a substantial amount of cash to be able to pay for the car on the spot. It’s the only way you can take the title for the car with you when you purchase it.
All of a sudden you see blue lights in your mirror. You had your cruise set on the speed limit of the rental car you’re driving, but even so, your pulse quickens. You know you are doing nothing illegal, but just being pulled over causes you some anxiety.
As you pull to a stop, the officer exits his car and approaches your vehicle. He asks for your drivers license and registration. You provide your license and the paperwork for the rental car. (You planned to drop off the rental car in the town where you’ll pick up the convertible.) As the officer returns to his car, you’re uncertain why you were pulled over. Unbeknownst to you though, apparently your vehicle marks the description of an alleged drug dealers car about which the police received a tip. But they have mistaken you for him.
When the officer returns, he asks you if you have any large amounts of cash in your car. Being honest, you acknowledge you do. He then asks you to exit the car and begins to search the car. Upon spotting the cash in the middle console of the rental car, he takes possession of the cash and all of a sudden, what was to be an exciting afternoon of driving a convertible back on a sunny, mild spring day has become your worst nightmare. There will be no convertible in your future this day. And the large amount of cash you were carrying has been confiscated. Who knows whether you’ll ever get it back. A scenario very similar to this occurred right here in Tennessee as reported in this short investigative video.
Civil Asset Forfeiture (CAF), also known as “policing for profit” is an unconstitutional scheme that allows police to seize assets that they allege were involved in a crime and then keep or sell those assets. The owners may or may not be charged with a crime themselves but their assets can be retained by the police. The state of Tennessee has sanctioned this unconstitutional activity and some police officers (not all) are abusing this “legal” practice. Regardless of their motivation though, it’s something that should change.
CAF allows law enforcement agencies to confiscate private property from unsuspecting citizens on just the mere suspicion that a crime has been committed. That agency then uses the confiscated money or property to supplement their department’s budget. An officer doesn’t need to write a ticket or arrest the subject, and the accusation doesn’t have to be specific. All the officer needs to do is give the subject a receipt for the confiscated property to comply with state law. If the citizen resists the confiscation of his property, the officer can then arrest him and take him to jail, for resisting a peace officer.
Simply put, the officer can make an on-the-spot personal decision that whatever a citizen has in his possession was obtained from the commission of a crime. For instance, if a young man with long hair is driving a new Lexus, the officer can confiscate the vehicle if he merely thinks the car was purchased with drug money. No proof is needed, and the victim will never be arrested or prosecuted, let alone convicted of a crime. That citizen will simply lose his property. Being innocent until proven guilty is turned upside down with CAF.
Sadly, I’m not describing Nazi Germany, but rather it’s happening today in America as reviewed in thisarticlefrom Institute for Justice. (By the way, Trump’s new Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a full supporter of CAF as a tool for fighting drug trafficking.) The problem is, there has never been a distinction made between innocent civilians and drug traffickers, and CAF makes no allowance for Due Process as guaranteed by our Constitution.
This abuse of power has been going on for quite some time. It is a flagrant violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and Tennessee is among the worst abusers of this tactic as revealed in this article “Police Officer Pockets $6,000 From People Who Had Their Cars Taken Through Forfeiture.” Although this practice has been used for some time under the guise of fighting drug traffic, there has not been a serious effort to put an end to it.
Until Now. Thankfully, there is a bill in the Tennessee state legislature that seeks to address this abusive practice.
Tennessee HB0421 and SB316 have been introduced by Representative Martin Daniel and Senator Todd Gardenhire respectively. The bills are an effort to end this unconstitutional practice. (The bill summary is below.) The House Bill is due to be heard in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 1st. It’s well known that law enforcement will have a heavy presence at the hearing in an attempt to defeat Daniel’s bill. It is important to offset their influence before the committee convenes.
The six video links below, each about six to nine minutes long, are the result of a multi-year investigation by Channel 5 from Nashville. Watch them and you’ll see senior Tennessee law enforcement officers, including a District Attorney, justify the unconstitutional practice of CAF. A warning though, these videos may make your blood boil.
Below the video links is a list of the Tennessee House Civil Justice Subcommittee members, including the Chair. If you live in Tennessee, please make a quick phone call to each member and simply ask them to Support HB0421. And if you can also send an email, asking them to do the same, that would also be helpful. These committee members need to hear from you and me. (If you don’t live in Tennessee, I would encourage you to do some research to determine where your state stands on CAF.)
Without hearing from citizens, our legislators will assume that voters approve of law enforcement’s practice of unconstitutionally confiscating private property.
There is an effort to travel to Nashville March 1st to attend the Committee hearing. If you would like to go, please let me know and I’ll provide you with more info.
As introduced, establishes a new procedure for the seizure and forfeiture of assets as the result of criminal activity; requires conviction for the underlying criminal conviction before forfeiture can occur; requires clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture; and provides that all forfeited or abandoned money be deposited in state general fund and all property forfeitures be sold and the proceeds go into state general fund. – Amends TCA Title 39; Title 40; Title 53 and Title 55.