Letter 79

Phillis I. Sheppard

Associate Professor of Religion, Psychology and Culture
Vanderbilt University Divinity School

April 8, 2017

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

We are embroiled in a struggle for the soul of our country that may well determine our future capacity to be considered “united states.”

History reveals that we have mistreated whole groups of people by creating patterns of discord and societal divides: violence against Indigenous peoples by the earliest European immigrants, the betrayal of Japanese Americans during World War II, the legacy of the slave trade that haunts us daily. These exclusionary forces have rendered some members of our society nearly invisible or made them targets of physical and emotional violence or victims of unjust deportation. The prophet Jeremiah lamented: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no healer?” (Jeremiah 8:22). The same question can be asked of the United States today.

As part of the upcoming Holy Week of Easter, Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’s celebration of his last Passover. Even knowing his days were numbered, Jesus demonstrated his commitment to humanity when he washed his disciples’ feet and declared: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another” (John 13:34).

This radical form of love and caring for others is how we are called to live our corporate life. Love should be the ethic that shapes our treatment of neighbors near and far. Love should infuse our treatment of the stranger who seeks solace, hospitality, a new home. Love should fuel our drive to pursue justice for those pushed to the edges of society. Concrete, public, transformative expressions of love are the clearest reflections of our relationship with the Jesus of the Easter narrative. This is how we embody this most important lesson of the Christian faith.

In order to turn our hearts and actions in the direction of a Maundy Thursday love, we must acknowledge and confess the painful parts of our past. If not, our original sins threaten to derail us from becoming a nation that strives to provide liberty and justice for all, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, economic status, class, sexuality, religious commitment or gender. We can be a beacon that offers hope for a more loving, just, and welcoming society—if only we imagine this future and work to bring it to fruition.

Sincerely,

Phillis I. Sheppard

Phillis I. Sheppard
Associate Professor of Religion, Psychology and Culture
Vanderbilt University Divinity School

 

About the author

Phillis Isabella Sheppard, Associate Professor of Religion, Psychology and Culture at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, is the author of Self, Culture and Others in Womanist Practical Theology (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). She is a pastoral theologian and psychoanalyst, and her research is concerned with the intersection of race, gender, culture, and religion.