Letter 27

Karen L. King

Hollis Professor of Divinity
Harvard University

February 15, 2017

Dear President Trump, Vice President Pence, Members of the Trump Administration and 115th Congress,

In these complex times, the tasks before you, and before all of us, are difficult. I have spent a lot of time thinking about Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-48), where he tells us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. What does this mean?

Jesus instructs us not to resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes us on the right cheek, he says, turn the other cheek. If someone sues you for your coat, give away your shirt too. If you are forced to carry a person’s burden for one mile, go for two. Give to anyone who asks, Jesus teaches. Really? All of this can and has been dismissed as naive and impractical, if not downright caving in to injustice and violent force. But it gets worse: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus instructs. Okay, but only from a position of power, right? No, Jesus explains that we should act this way in order to be like God. God sends the shining sun and the nourishing rain to everyone, without consideration. Be perfect, Jesus insists. Be like God.

To do that, we can’t always see ourselves, our group, or our country, as the righteous victims. Aren’t we also the ones who desire to dominate others, who try to possess as much as we can get, who act violently? Aren’t we the ones who seek revenge on our enemies?

I’ve come to believe that when we cultivate Jesus’s point of view, we actually start to see things more clearly. When we act out of love and generosity, we start to defeat the worst impulses of our fallen nature. Instead of meeting despair with violence, pain with hatred, humiliation with vengeance, fear with the false security of feeble fences and fake news, we can lend mutual support for effective problem solving and for building sustained peace and prosperity. We can feel deeply grateful for the shining sun and nourishing rain.

Jesus’ advice is not impractical. It is precisely what might save us.

Sincerely,

Karen L. King

Karen L. King
Hollis Professor of Divinity
Harvard University

 

About the author

Karen L. King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University, was trained in comparative religions and historical studies. She is the author of books and articles on the diversity of ancient Christianity, women and gender studies, and religion and violence, including What is Gnosticism?, The Secret Revelation of John, and The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, “Christianity and Torture” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, and “The Place of the Gospel of Philip in the Context of Early Christian Claims about Jesus’ Marital Status” in the Journal New Testament Studies 59.