Tennessee Representative Justin Jones Talks ‘Leading with Love’ in Harvard Divinity School Event


Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones discussed his experiences as an activist, legislator, and minister at a Harvard Divinity School event Thursday.

Jones — one of two lawmakers expelled from the state legislature last spring by Tennessee’s House Republicans for involvement in a gun control protest on the House floor — became a stalwart advocate for gun reform following a deadly mass shooting in Tennessee at The Covenant School on March 27. Jones was re-appointed to his seat days after his expulsion by the Nashville Metropolitan Council and won reelection in August.

During the event, Jones criticized his Republican colleagues for voting to expel him.

“These people who love to weaponize the Bible to attack marginalized communities did not even realize the irony that they expelled us the day before Good Friday,” Jones said at the event.


Jones also discussed the complex history of political tension in Tennessee, calling it “the state that is the birthplace of the Klu Klux Klan, founded in Pulaski, Tennessee – but also being the state that is the birthplace of the Nashville Student Movement.”

“There would be no American Civil Rights Movement without Nashville,” he said.

In his first week in office, Jones said, he was verbally targeted in an elevator by a Republican state senator — an experience he said fueled his desire to “make change.”

“It made clear to me that I was not here to make friends,” he said. “Sometimes love and democracy require disruption.”

Despite being a Democrat in a deeply conservative state, Jones said he remains undeterred in representing his constituents.

“My colleagues in my own party told me ‘Don't even speak your whole first year.’ I said, ‘Don’t speak?’ That's unethical, to be a representative, because I speak for the 75,000 people who I represent,” he said.

Jones pushed back on common characterizations of the Democratic Party in Tennessee.

“Even the language they use, the rhetoric of how they make you feel powerless: They refer to us as the minority party,” Jones said. “We're the opposition party, we are the check on power, we are here to be a speed bump as you try and drive our state over the cliff. We're here to bear witness and to raise moral dissent.”

Jones said he often writes dissents to state decisions and submits them to the Tennessee legislative journal to document his stances, even when they do not prevail.

“I make sure to write out my dissent and submit it to the journal because that dissent is a love letter to future generations, to let them know that amidst the madness, there were people who were willing to stand up when they said sit down,” he said.

Jones cited his work as a former minister and current Vanderbilt University Divinity School student as informing his political ideology.

“How are we putting 'In God We Trust' on our state seal, when God cannot trust us to care for the least of these?” he asked the audience, referring to a Bible verse.

Jones called on more ministers to use their position to advocate politically.

“Every damn pastor in Tennessee should have been at the Capitol,” said Jones, in reference to the aftermath of The Covenant School shooting. “Because they're the ones having to eulogize these people being killed.”