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New author Bill Haslam cautions against 'angry spirit' gripping U.S., urges path of grace for all

Haslam wrote "Faithful Presence" in midst of COVID-19 crisis.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Christians -- and non-Christians -- have a civic and moral duty to find common ground and "move away from the angry spirit" now engulfing our nation.

That's the message former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam offers in a new book out this week called "Faithful Presence". It emerged from his concerns at the bitter, harsh landscape, the even "outright hatred" that exists now across the United States.

The nation is sharply divided with no apparent interest in healing, the businessman and former Knoxville mayor argues.

Brought up on the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, Christians can help heal the split. But too many have become caught up in the finger-pointing themselves, he said.

Credit: Bill Haslam
"Faithful Presence," Bill Haslam's new book.

Politics should be driven by faith rather than politics itself helping to shape one's faith, he writes.

Haslam spoke this week about the book, the times in which he wrote it and his hopes for how it can make a difference.

He hopes readers take away at least two ideas.

"First of all, all this matters. Don't don't just give up. Who we elect really matters. Number two, we all focus a lot on your position on issues. And that's important. I'm not minimizing that. 

"But we should all focus on how we do it as well, how we enter the public square. Are we entering with a sense of pride and a sense of the other folks who are wrong, and I'm here to prove it? Or is it a sense of having what I'd call a, a hard center but a soft outside -- firm in your own convictions but soft on the outside, knowing that some kindness toward the other side might actually be more persuasive than yelling at the other side."

Haslam said there's appears to be small interest in an exchange of ideas about politics and the course of our country. People make up their minds, often after listening to one media outlet's version of events or another, and refuse to think there's any other way to proceed.

Democrats and Republicans are all guilty alike. The same goes for some Christians, he said.

Social media can make things worse, he said. But there are ways to heal, he said.

For one, people can enter the public square, as he calls it, "with an open heart." They can be agents of civility. They can recognize their own flaws and forgive flaws in others, he writes.

They can allow themselves to be used by God, rather than trying to "use God for our own purpose."

Haslam pointed to two historic figures who can serve as models for how to steer through difficult times: Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela.

Lincoln, of course, is widely considered the nation's greatest president, leading a divided country through a Civil War that cost most than half a million lives.

And Mandela was imprisoned by apartheid leaders for decades in South Africa. Rather than hold a grudge when he finally was freed in 1990, he showed grace, Haslam said.

"Instead of -- when he gets in power himself -- lashing out at all those people who imprisoned him, he invites some of them to be back to be part of the government. So, you know, there are folks out there who literally have changed the world. And they've done it out of their own convictions, but they haven't done it out of hatred for the other side," Haslam said.

The Knoxville native, who graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, wrote the book in challenging times: COVID-19 was raging while feuding political parties fired repeated accusations against each other in the midst of a contentious presidential election year.

He said he finished in November. But then the insurrection erupted Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, so he felt compelled to add a foreword.

Jan. 6 was a "seminal event," he said.

"I asked the publisher if I could write a foreword, because, again, regardless of your political persuasion, to have a group of people invade the Capitol and try to change the results of an election -- again, regardless of how you felt about the election and the election process -- is unprecedented in our country.

"And so I think it left a lot of people -- again on the right and left -- saying, How did we get here? And I just felt like it would have been wrong not to mention that day. And, you know, obviously, it's a day that I think all of us hope never happens again."

"Faithful Presence" is available in bookstores and online.