Letter 13

DAY 13

Mitzi J. Smith

J. Davison Philips Professor of New Testament
Columbia Theological Seminary
February 1, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

I am an African American woman and proud resident of the state of Georgia! By now, the first Jewish man, Jon Ossoff, and the first African American man, Ralph Warnock, elected from Georgia to the U.S. Senate have taken their seats in Washington D.C. In an overwhelmingly white male legislative body, Senators Ossoff and Warnock are among the “the least of these.”

Representation, representations, and context matter. “The least of these” are contextualized in Matthew 25:44–45: “‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

“I pray that you establish laws and practices that flaunt our commitment to ‘the least of these.’”

Today, the “least of these” are living in poverty, incarcerated, homeless, sick without adequate health care, and suffocating under oppressive structures. Our failure to see and act is to fail Jesus. Matthew 25 convicts our oversight, inaction, and dissonance with God. It summons us to create policies and practices that are commensurate with sightedness and non-victim blaming compassion and demonstrative of divine values and expectations.

I pray that you establish laws and practices that flaunt our commitment to “the least of these.” Commit to a trickle-up agenda rather than exclusionary language. The rhetoric of “the working class” obscures “the least of these” that suffer “daily with their backs against the wall” (Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited). I implore you to consider a living, contextual wage as you continue your efforts to raise the minimum wage. Geography matters. Fifteen dollars an hour is not a living wage everywhere or for everyone.

Like some of you, I grew up in a “working class” and one-parent household. When my mother’s legs failed her, she no longer belonged to the category “working class.” Economically, we were poor. We did not create the poverty we experienced. But when one is poor, it appears one does not deserve quality health care, a living income, decent housing, competent legal representation, or access to quality education. Let us not be ashamed to embrace a radical gospel committed to the elimination of poverty and a just and equal society where “the least of these” flourish.

In unity toward a more perfect Union,

Mitzi J. Smith

Rev. Dr. Mitzi J. Smith
J. Davison Philips Professor of New Testament
Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA

the author

Mitzi J. Smith, J. Davison Philips Professor of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, is an AME itinerant elder. She received a Ph.D. in Religion from Harvard University and M.Div. from Howard University School of Divinity. Dr. Smith authored The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles (2011), Insights from African American Interpretation (2017), Womanist Sass and Talk Back: Social (In)Justice, Intersectionality, and Biblical Interpretation (2018) and co-authored Toward Decentering the New Testament (2019). She edited Teaching All Nations (2014) and I Found God in Me: A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader (2015) and co-edited Minoritized Women Reading Race and Ethnicity (2020). She writes for workingpreacher.org.