Knowing Whose Team You’re On

Lt. Governor John Wilder stooped over the Senator’s desk. Put his arm around him. He needed a favor from the Republican whom he had named a committee chair. That was when I learned a lesson in being a team player, a lesson I’ve thought a lot about since the Republican Party took a supermajority of both the state House and Senate. 

The context for my “crisis” was this. During his campaign, Lt. Governor Wilder had promised two different people that we would appoint them to a commission. The problem was that there was only one position open. So he had a bill to expand the number of people on the commission. But the bill had failed in committee.

Now, near the close of the legislative session, Lt. Governor Wilder wanted to have the bill presented one more time to see if he could get a different result.

The problem was that the Environment and Conservation Committee that I chaired, in which the bill was to be heard, had closed for the year, subject to the call of the Chair. While I could call the committee back into session, the Senate rules prevented a bill that had previously failed in committee from being reconsidered unless a majority of the committee members signed a letter to the chair asking that the bill be reheard.

What Lt. Governor Wilder wanted me to do was to be a good team player and help him out. I wanted to be a good team player. The question was, “What team was I on?” There were several to choose from.

The “team” composed of those whom Lt. Governor Wilder had made committee chairs — the “Wilder team;” or

The “team” composed of Republicans who might benefit from or at least enjoy seeing Lt. Governor Wilder squirm and perhaps alienate a friend; or

The “team” composed of the members of my committee who looked to me for leadership; or

The “team” called the “Senate” that had adopted rules by which the Senate was to operate.

I told him I appreciated having been named a committee chair, but being a chair, it was my duty, as part of my oath, to follow the rules of order that had been established. His parting words were to remind me in a very firm way that he had put me where I was and I was not being loyal – a team player.

I tell that story because there is going to be a lot of pressure on Republicans, particularly the freshmen, to be team players, to remember who showed up at their fundraisers, who gave them money, who helped them raise money. But the greater team – I’d submit the more important team — is the Senate, then the people of Tennessee, and even more particularly, God’s.

You see, Biblically, it is clear that power belongs to and comes from God, and it is to him that all holders of power – legislators in this case – will ultimately give account. The power legislators hold is delegated first by God to the people. Then the people delegate the power given them to legislators through their votes. That power is then further delegated and ordered among those elected by those they elect to be their leaders. But the “team” for which they ultimately must be a team player is God’s. The Republican Party is down the list.1

In this I’m reminded of the prophet Jeremiah. He kept prophesying “negative things” about Judah’s future, sort of like some Republicans might think of those who urge them not to forget about the “moral” and “social” issues.

The king’s advisors said of Jeremiah:

This man ought to die because he is weakening the moral of the warriors … and of all the people by speaking to them in this way. This man is not seeking the well-being of this people, but disaster. (Jeremiah 38:4)

And so Jeremiah was thrown into the muck of a cistern.

Was Jeremiah really being a bad “team player” by warning the people they were headed in the wrong direction and needed to repent lest they be destroyed?

Not from God’s perspective. And it is His perspective that ultimately matters.