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Letter 5 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 5

Lisa Bowens

Assistant Professor of New Testament
Princeton Theological Seminary

January 24, 2017

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

This monumental moment of change in this country’s history necessitates reflection upon scripture in light of our nation’s past, present, and future. At the heart of Christian faith is the belief that the Messiah has come, and that we are called to bear witness to Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection in the midst of a suffering world. How do we do this?

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus announces the two greatest commandments: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:25-37). By juxtaposing these two commandments, Jesus insists that loving God is inextricably linked to loving your neighbor. We display love for God by the treatment of our neighbors, and we can love our neighbors because of our love for God.

After speaking these words Jesus is asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan who assists the victim of a violent crime. Through this parable, Luke teaches that a neighbor can be someone from a different ethnic group or someone with different beliefs, even someone considered an “outsider.” Christians bear witness to Christ’s advent by treating others—particularly the “other”–with love, compassion, and mercy. Religious texts from other faith traditions espouse similar principles. 

In our nation’s history, America has often ignored scripture’s voice, as evidenced in the treatment of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans. At such junctures, our leaders divided these two commandments, professing to love God but rejecting the call to love one’s neighbor. Yet we also have witnessed moments of divine grace-filled interruptions, when love of both God and neighbor prevailed, such as in the abolitionist and Civil Rights movements.

If this nation is a Christian nation, as many claim it to be, then we stand once again at the precipice of decision. Will we divorce love of God from love of neighbor, or will we embody both of these commandments in our laws, actions, behavior, and words? The Christ event, the Messiah’s presence, beckons us to do the latter. 


Lisa Bowens

Lisa Bowens, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of New Testament
Princeton Theological Seminary


About the author

Lisa Bowens, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, received her M.T.S. and Th.M. from Duke University Divinity School and her Ph.D. in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the author of An Apostle in Battle: Paul and Spiritual Warfare in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (Mohr Siebeck, 2017) and her most recent articles are, “Liberating Paul: African Americans’ Use of Paul in Resistance and Protest” and “Painting Hope: Formational Hues of Paul’s Spiritual Warfare Language in 2 Corinthians 10-13” in Practicing with Paul: Reflections on Paul and the Practices of Ministry in Honor of Susan G. Eastman (Wipf and Stock, 2018). She teaches a range of courses that include New Testament Greek, African-American Pauline Hermeneutics, and New Testament Exegesis.