Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
Our nation’s profound divisions require an extraordinary quality of leadership. You must discern how to foster healing without compromising the truth. That balance requires wisdom, courage, and magnanimity.
These divisions are especially tragic: not only do they reflect diverse opinions and social experiences, but they are the result of deliberate harm. Like parched twigs on the forest floor, distrust is a fuel primed for combustion. Bad actors have lit the match with devastating results. Now tens of millions of Americans question the legitimacy of our most recent election and therefore of your leadership.
Jesus’ teachings encourage us to communicate the truth in straightforward ways. Jesus instructs his disciples: “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’” (Matthew 5:37). No wonder, then, that the apostle Paul rejects the premise that he would communicate both yes and no at the same time (2 Corinthians 1:17-20).
“You must discern how to foster healing without compromising the truth.”
Integrity makes its home in simplicity. Nevertheless, wise leaders must discern how to engage people who distort the truth. Jesus models this principle in two conversations. One seeker sincerely asks Jesus: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). Jesus rehearses some of the Ten Commandments and then challenges the man to sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus. Jesus offered a direct answer; but, unwilling to accept Jesus’ invitation, the man departs in sadness.
Another inquisitor approaches Jesus with the same question; but this man aims to examine Jesus, not to learn from him. Jesus refuses to answer his question directly. First, Jesus asks the man to demonstrate his own grasp of the Torah. Then Jesus tells the famous parable of the Good Samaritan and asks: In the parable, who turns out to be the true neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37). Faced with a person of bad faith, Jesus doesn’t answer questions, he asks them—a strategy he employs in other hostile situations (Luke 20:20-26).
How remarkable that Jesus answers the same question in such different ways. Jesus discerns the difference between honest conversation and bad faith. We citizens rely upon you, our leaders, to tell the truth and build a culture of truth. And we need you all to protect us from deception.
Greg Carey, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament
Lancaster Theological Seminary