Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
Since the inauguration, I’ve been reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:20-23: “As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’….On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor.” Why these verses?
There’s been so much talk lately of the decline of American democracy, and there are good reasons for this worry. You don’t need me to remind you that the racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and authoritarian rhetoric that have been amplified by the previous administration—and distilled to their logical conclusion on January 6—have revealed an inconvenient truth about the health of our republic.
“The moral habit of being for one another…is the very precondition for bipartisanship.”
We have a chance to change this narrative around, but only if you’ll lead us to recover a sense of what it takes to be a democracy. We’ve been focused, understandably, on the sacredness of voting and the rule of law. But even voting and the rule of law will inevitably devolve into yet additional tools for hyper-partisan exertions of power and exclusion unless we are willing to first see each other as legitimate partners in the democratic enterprise. This doesn’t mean that every grievance and belief that we might hold are meritorious, but it does mean that we must strive to better understand each other’s fears, concerns, and pains. This is a commitment that has, sadly, fallen out of fashion.
Democracy only works if its members are willing to be for one another, regardless of party affiliation. For Christians, this proposition should hardly sound novel—we need only to recall the verses that began this letter. Nevertheless, it is a difficult and uncomfortable proposition. The moral habit of being for one another, even with those with whom we disagree vehemently, is the very precondition for bipartisanship, which has eluded our democracy for too long. My hope is that you will show us how to relearn this demanding moral habit. This is an education that we desperately need if we want our democracy to flourish.
Ki Joo (KC) Choi
Dr. Ki Joo (KC) Choi
Professor of Theological Ethics
Chair, Department of Religion
Seton Hall University