First Presbyterian Church in Downtown Knoxville hosted former Mayor of Knoxville and Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, on Sept. 16 as he met with retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade to discuss his new book, “Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square.”
Haslam’s novel relishes over the presence of religion in politics, outlines his largest inspirations as both a family man and American politician and discusses his hardest decisions as the Governor of Tennessee.
Judge Gary Wade opened the conversation with a brief introduction of the book.
“‘Faithful Presence’ tells us not only about the political climate today, but it tells us a lot about Bill Haslam,” Wade said.
“I don’t know that I would have run for office, mayor or governor, if it wasn’t for my faith,” Haslam said.
Judge Wade asked for elaboration on many of Haslam’s greatest inspirations, including Abraham Lincoln, C.S. Lewis and Nelson Mandela. Haslam outlined his affinity for past President Abraham Lincoln.
“He held the country together with strength and conviction that all of us would love to see again today,” Haslam said.
Wade referred to Lincoln’s “House Divided” address that urged American citizens to understand that the country cannot survive half free and half slave. Wade asked Haslam his thoughts on being back in that divided place today.
“I think we are. The motivation attribution asymmetry between Republicans and Democrats is greater than that between Israelis and Palestinians,” Haslam said.
Haslam also spoke about his belief in Nelson Mandela’s modeling of forgiveness, noting that using Mandela’s ideals are a good model for us today.
Yet sometimes, Haslam had to put his own beliefs aside, making decisions for the betterment of the state of Tennessee. When asked if the Bible should be the state book, his answer was no, for although he fosters a personal connection with God, he felt like making the Bible the state book was crossing a line into an unnecessary territory.
The pair then discussed the former Governor’s hardest days in office. For Haslam, deciphering his worst days was simple: the three times executions were scheduled.
Cyntoia Brown’s case, and Haslam’s decision to grant clemency, garnered an entire chapter of his new book. When asked about Brown’s impact on him, he noted that he feels incredibly grateful for getting to meet someone with such a great influence on him.
“In life, a lot of times your story intersects with other people, but you don’t really see the other folks' side,” Haslam said.
“I’m a very privileged, white guy from Tennessee, she’s a biracial, adopted child that grew up in Middle Tennessee, our backgrounds could not have been more different. But you really did see what Paul talks about in the Bible, ‘all that goes away and you are one in Christ,’ and it was just this incredible privilege to get to see the other side of the tapestry that you don’t get to normally see,” Haslam said.
As Wade and Haslam closed the conversation, Haslam faced the question of the future of America. Haslam stated his answer with confidence.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less, and I think that’d be a pretty healthy prescription for us today,” Haslam said.
This article has been edited to include additional information.