Byrons’ letter was part of a 2017 project that had 100 American scholars of the religion each write a letter to the president, vice president and members of Congress for the first 100 days of administration. The aim was to bring a wide range of biblical wisdom and expertise to the problems of a bitter and difficult time and to implore the highest political leaders in the land to heed.
The project became known as American Values, Religious Voices, “and now includes a daily newsletter of 2,000 subscribers, a book, a website with writers reading their missives on video, and a performance in February featuring actors and musicians who brought the letters to life.
A new 350-word missive series is now underway with the Biden administration: one letter per day for 100 days from religious experts, including those in Hindu studies, Bible preaching, Christian ethics, Orthodox culture, Asian philosophy and Old Testament literature. They are delivered to the inboxes of chiefs of staff and legislative directors across the country. (We also put some in the mail every day, for good measure.)
In 2017, they only received one response from a staff member at the time. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) This year, so far, the only interaction has been with U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Who took part in the February 15 live performance of Presidents’ Day animating the letters. The desire for a bigger response is part of the reason the project is back up and running for the Biden administration, with occasional emails with the subject line: Are you reading our letters?
Last time around, said campaign coordinator Rabbi Andrea Weiss, many religious leaders were alarmed by a president whom they saw as deeply in conflict with biblical values. This time, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the deep divide in the 2020 election, Weiss said I was like, we need the letters again.
Writing to the leaders of society in particular, said Byron, is essential because the Scriptures speak of responsibility. They are also calls to repentance. This is why this is such an important project for me. It’s not just that Jesus [on Easter] risen from the dead. He arose so that we too could live resurrected lives. We have a responsibility as people of faith. Not just for Christians or for believers, it’s for every human being, every citizen of this country has a responsibility to hold our leaders accountable, she said.
Letter 73, dated April 2, is from Love Sechrest, New Testament professor at Columbia Theological Seminary. Calling on leaders to sign voting rights legislation, even if it means overturning the filibuster, she cited the book of Ephesians as telling leaders to face the division of society by unifying and revealing the truth. .
It means telling the truth that our multiracial democracy is a recent, beautiful and fragile thing, maintained by organizers from Black, Indigenous, Latin, Asian and White communities, she wrote to Biden, Vice President Harris and to others. Today, if we are to return to the sidelines of hate crimes, insurgency and the politics of grievance, then reconciliation must go hand in hand with structures of truth and preservation of unity. … Proclaiming that strangers and strangers are welcome in the house of God, Ephesians insists that leaders must speak the truth in love because we are in the same boat together. “
Weiss, who is a provost and teacher at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and lives in Philadelphia, said the idea for the letter-writing campaign came the day after the 2016 election. In her classes, she was scheduled to teach the lesson on Exodus eye for eye.
I thought, I can’t do this. I wanted to share the Bible texts, the Psalms and other things that I turned to for comfort, perspective, insight, she said.
The campaign appears to have taken off for several reasons. The first is that many of the letter writers were critical of Trump, in part because of what they saw as his crass and bogus use of religion. They liked that the effort was celebrated in letters to the power elite, the call in all religious traditions for policies aimed at welcoming the stranger, caring for the outcasts and the needy.
Rabbi Daniel Zemel of Temple Micah in northwest Washington said the letters, which he receives through a subscription, are a daily touchstone on what my week can be. In 2017, when he felt like he was in the middle of nature, in a country I no longer recognized as a religious progressive, he was appeased by religiously and ethnically disparate voices expressing similar ideas about American values. In 2021, he says, the project of building a multi-faith conversation continues.
In the petty daily life, I believe in keeping an image of a broader vision of the country. [The Religious Voices project] is that that. I think we need these kinds of things to regain our common Americanism.
Homayra Ziad, director of the Islamic studies program at Johns Hopkins University, one of the returning letter writers, ponders what she wants to write for her 2021 letter. Her 2017 letter was one of the most popular, according to Weiss, although Ziad now looks at her with mixed feelings. Her Letter 92, dated April 21 of that year, focused on the Prophet Muhammad’s sense of humor, which she said is often downplayed in historical writings about her, and how the Islam says that society needs leaders who show empathy, humanity, mercy and mercy. humor.
While she believes humor is a sacred value, Ziad sees in her letter the fear that many Muslim Americans really felt with Trump’s election in 2016. I chose to stay lighter than normal because we had a mortal fear.
As a progressive, Ziad takes a different stance towards the new administration and Congress as she reflects on what to write this time around. But his reflection is no less urgent. She wants progressive religious to be seen and recognized more by the leaders, that they express values which advocate liberation. She wants academics to remove religious values from the Ivory Tower and apply them more to the communities where they live.
We want to translate religious values in a way that everyone can understand, she said.
Byron says she sees the letters more as a sacred exercise, like Paul’s epistle in the Bible; they are intended for his audience or whoever reads them.
For me, that’s the important thing, the genre. I wrote this to be a witness.
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