Letter 29

DAY 29

Matthew L. Skinner

Professor of New Testament
Luther Seminary
February 17, 2021

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

It’s time for leadership that helps Americans tell the truth about our persistent problems.

That is harder than it sounds, because of all the political pressure to move forward and let the past stay in the past. Yet the desire to “just move on” remains one of our deadliest enemies.

We can learn from the importance that many religions assign to confession. Confession is truth-telling. My Christian tradition understands confession as more than remorse; it acknowledges before God the way things really are. We name and admit the injustices, iniquities, inactions, and indifference for which we are responsible (and from which we suffer), both as individuals and as communities and nations. Authentic confession is not pulling a lever to make God forgive and forget the past. Confessing the truth creates a first step toward changed behavior and repaired relationships. As Christians remember especially today on Ash Wednesday, confession opens the door to healing (Psalm 51; James 5:16; 1 John 1:9; Mark 1:4–5).

“…we will never get close to realizing our great democratic ideals if we refuse to admit our shared history of falling short.”

Many American churches and denominations currently find their credibility in jeopardy. It’s time for confession. Congregations must sniff out and eradicate the anti-Blackness embedded in our doctrines and traditions. We must insist that anti-immigrant sentiment sickens the body of Christ. We must expose and boldly oppose the tenets of so-called Christian nationalism. A number of Christians need to abandon their dangerous urges to yoke themselves to authoritarian power.

You’re politicians; leave that theological reckoning to church leaders. I ask you, as public servants, to lead the wider population by embracing the power of confession. Holding out hope for restoration to come, guide Americans first in laying bare the truths about our nation’s ills, especially those crises that are also imperiling our churches.

This can start by ending our culture’s unceasing denial of systemic racism and confessing this reality. Acknowledge that conversations about reparations have merit. Hold one another accountable when politicians deploy deceptive or militarized rhetoric. Oppose xenophobia and explain the benefits America has reaped from being a welcoming sanctuary for refugees and other expatriated people.

This country’s best days may still be ahead of us. But we will never get close to realizing our great democratic ideals if we refuse to admit our shared history of falling short. It’s time.


Matthew L. Skinner

Rev. Dr. Matthew L. Skinner
Professor of New Testament
Luther Seminary

the author

Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author or editor of numerous books that explore the historical settings and ongoing theological relevance of the New Testament writings, most recently A Companion to the New Testament (3 vols.) and Acts: Catching up with the Spirit. Ordained as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), he co-hosts a weekly podcast for preachers on the interpretation of biblical texts called “Sermon Brainwave,” writes for the website Working Preacher, and serves as the Scholar for Adult Education at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Minneapolis.