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Letter 18 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 18

Emilie M. Townes

Dean and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter
Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society
Vanderbilt University Divinity School

February 6, 2017

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

The notion of the common good is one of the powerful public ideals that blends our civic and religious beliefs. The common good involves creating and maintaining social systems, institutions, and environments that we depend on to benefit all people. This form of justice is achieved through citizenship, collective action, and active participation in politics and public service—all sorts of strong religious and moral acts.

The idea of the common good originated over two thousand years ago in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. Centuries later, Pope Paul VI defined the common good as “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment” (Gaudium et Spes ). The common good does not just happen. Establishing and maintaining the common good requires the cooperative efforts of citizens and their elected officials.

So, who will you be as you seek to serve the common good in the coming years? At the start of a new administration, we all should be guided by the powerful message in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We should keep this verse in mind as we blend faith in our country and its many people with the need to pull ourselves toward a common good—a common good that is neither selective nor narrow, but instead points us to a sense of welcoming one another into each other’s lives.

In Just Hospitality: God’s Welcome in a World of Difference, Letty M. Russell writes: “Hospitality is the practice of God’s welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God’s actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis” (19). Governing our nation across difference to bring justice and healing to our world is exactly what we need from our elected officials. This is precisely how we can bring about “things hoped for.”

Please focus on the common good for our nation—all of it, all of us—as you govern.

Sincerely,

Emilie M. Townes

Emilie M. Townes
Dean and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter
Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society
Vanderbilt University Divinity School

About the author

Emilie M. Townes, Dean and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, has written numerous publications, including Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). She served as president of the American Academy of Religion in 2008 and was president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion, 2013-2016.