Letter 54

DAY 54

William P. Brown

William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament
Columbia Theological Seminary
March 14, 2021

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

You have inherited a demoralized and fractured nation. It is hard to see a way forward when so many citizens distrust each other, even resorting to violence. May the God of all nations bless you with wisdom, courage, and the desire for justice.

This past year reminds me of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, a place of testing, division, and conflict (Exodus 16-19; Numbers 10-36). The wilderness period was a time of countless failures and missteps, intransigence and denial. Worst of all was the Israelites’ stubbornness in their desire to return to Egypt, the place of their enslavement, when faced with the physical challenges and difficult truths of the wilderness (Exodus 17:3; Numbers 11:5, 18-20; 14:2-4; 20:5).

“America’s pandemic ‘wilderness’ offers its own set of painful truths.”

America’s pandemic “wilderness” offers its own set of painful truths. The “knee” of white supremacy continues to crush the lives of Black men and women. Under the thumb of human supremacy, the climate responds with devastating consequences. Ignorant, hate-filled rhetoric can lead to violence to the point of dismantling our democracy. The coronavirus has exposed the multiple pandemics of racism, poverty, polarizing division, and environmental degradation. The pressing question today is: Do we try to go back to “business as usual” of  pre-pandemic days, or do we move forward toward a more just, equitable, and environmentally sound future?

At the end of their forty year plight in wilderness, Moses implored the Israelites: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 5:15). “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness” (Deuteronomy 8:2). Such remembrance was meant to ensure that out of experience and empathy, we would protect the most vulnerable (Exodus 22:21-23; 23:9).

May we remember. The year 2020 confirmed how vulnerable all of us are, but some more than others, from essential workers to communities of color. Let us not forget as we move toward America’s promise that “the pursuit of happiness” is to be shared by all in a land that flourishes, the wilderness included.


William P. Brown

Dr. William P. Brown
William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament
Columbia Theological Seminary

the author

William P. Brown is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. His writings explore the intersecting issues of ecology, justice, faith, and science from various biblical perspectives. He is the author of several books, including Wisdom’s Wonder, The Seven Pillars of Creation, and Seeing the Psalms. Bill was a member of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, where he worked collaboratively with scientists, philosophers, and ethicists exploring the “societal implications of astrobiology.” Much of Bill’s work is driven by the need to promote dialogue among diverse participants to foster mutual understanding and equity.